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Shootout preparation inexact science for goalies

Some watch video ahead of tiebreaker while others trust their instincts

by Kevin Woodley / Independent Correspondent

Jordan Binnington learned the hard way that too much information before a shootout can be a bad thing.

While heading to a shootout during a game in the American Hockey League, Binnington got intel from a teammate, defenseman Petteri Lindblom.

"He's Finnish and we were playing another Finnish guy and he told me, 'This guy always does the same move, always to one side,' and he went the other way and scored," said Binnington, now the goalie for the St. Louis Blues. "I was laughing, like what can you do at that point, right? It was textbook: Never listen to anyone."

Binnington, whose .789 shootout save percentage ranks ninth among goalies to face at least 10 shots during his two seasons in the NHL, says he has adjusted how he prepares for shootouts. He remembers watching Brian Elliott go to the bench before a shootout to watch iPad highlights of the shooters he was about to face in a game when both goalies were with the St. Louis Blues, but said such preparedness can be too much information for him.

Video: VAN@STL: Binnington stops Boeser to seal SO win

"I used to be a guy who likes to see what their tendencies were and their go-to moves, but lately you just know if a guy is a shooter or he has really smooth hands," said Binnington, who has stopped 11 of 15 shootout attempts in his NHL career. "You never know what's coming really, so I kind of like it unpredictable and just make your read and compete out there and see what happens.

"I kind of like going into it blind and just trusting your instincts and reads on the player coming down and tendencies you've learned."

Shootouts can be a tough thing for goalies. On Tuesday, Chicago Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner bemoaned his shootout ability, saying that his .521 career save percentage (49 of 94) and 8-22 record in the shootout is as much mental as it is physical and that he would not be upset if a coach wanted to replace him for the tiebreaker procedure.

Every goalie has his own methods for preparing for shootouts, but Binnington may be in the minority with a preference for limited information about the opposition. He's not alone, though, when it comes to the dangers of having too much information.

There is a fine line between anticipation and guessing wrong, several goalies said.

"Guys are so good nowadays and there's a few that kind of play off of you now, so they'll look to see what you're giving them first," said Vancouver Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko, who stopped all six attempts he faced in his lone shootout appearance this season, a 4-3 win against Binnington and the Blues on Oct. 17. "So, you can't really play for one thing or another, but you can at least have an idea of what they like to do."

Video: VAN@STL: Demko extends his pad to turn away Steen

For most, that means reviewing video provided by their goaltending coach before the games.

"I'll go one time through it on maybe their top five guys," said Demko, who has allowed two goals on 12 shootout attempts in his NHL career. "Right when I get to the rink it's on an iPad for me, so I'll just quickly go through it. It will [show] what their tendencies are and then give like five or six different examples of what they might try to do. It's good to have an idea but it's not something that you can really look too much into."

Sometimes, when a shooter's trend is clear and easy to recognize, preparation usually pays off.

But other times it can backfire.

Think of it in baseball terms. Hitters know a pitcher's best pitch and expect it in crucial situations. Same for goalies in the shootout. They know a shooter's go-to move and anticipating it increases the odds of success, but also the opportunity for spectacular failure if the shooter goes against his tendencies.

The work that goes into breaking down one-on-one trends and tactics has changed since the NHL introduced shootouts in 2005-06 to decide games tied after overtime.

Strategies were simpler when goalties only had to worry about breakaways, which are a different experience, because of the limited time and space a shooter has on a rush.

Back pressure from a defender on a breakaway makes it easier for goalies to try to match the speed of an oncoming shooter and time their retreat to arrive near the edge of the crease when the attacking player reaches the lower hash mark of the face-off circle. This allows the goalie to make sure he has enough backward momentum to get to the goal posts in case of a deke.

For many, the intention is to encourage the deke, which requires a left-or-right reaction from the goalie, compared to a shot, which has many more variables in direction and elevation for a goalie to counter.

In the shootout, the attacking player is not confined by time or space. He can go in any direction, except backward, and at any speed in his advance toward the net.

A goalie still wants to arrive at a specific spot relative to the top of their crease when a shooter hits the hash mark, but the shooter's ability to alter speed or route in the shootout, unlike a breakaway, places an increased emphasis on patience for the goalie.

Committing too soon is a problem, especially when a goalie is expecting one move in the shootout and the shooter delivers another. This is further complicated because many shooters use the same path to the net to set up a variety of finishing moves.

"A lot of guys have different routes for different moves, but players get smarter and smarter and nowadays a lot take the same route every time and do different moves," said Blues backup Jake Allen. "As a goalie, you think he's going to do this, but they do another move."

For that reason, Allen has also ditched the iPad that was a staple of preparation for his former St. Louis teammate Elliott, who is now with Philadelphia Flyers.

Video: STL@NYI: Allen forces Beauvillier wide to seal SO win

"If you're a goalie in this League, you should know tendencies from understanding the game and watching," Allen said. "I do think it definitely helps a bit because players are creatures of habit and confidence. Sometimes they'll think they want to do a different move, but they'll get in there and they'll just go back to the same moves that they've scored on."

The lesson for goalies: It's important not to anticipate that move too soon, even when pregame video work suggests its coming.

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