Life as an NHL goalie is not easy, and when the playoffs start, it gets much tougher. The intensity picks up and teams play even more physical around the net.
Prior to the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Montreal goaltender Carey Price
talked with the Montreal Gazette about how he expected the Flyers to be physical with him.
"Every round, the traffic gets worse," said Price, "It's a log-jam in front of the net. That's how goals are going to be scored in the later rounds and at the end of game. It's going to be a lot of pushing and shoving and a lot of garbage around the net."
According to Detroit’s Chris Chelios
, the biggest issue he has with how the game is being played is the running of the goalies.
The bad news for NHL goalies is that it is an effective strategy.
Teams are using the strategy of bumping the goalie and getting in the way to score goals. Flyer forward Scott Hartnell
spent as much time in the blue paint as Caps goalie Cristobal Huet
in Round 1.
NHL goalies are under siege. With the high-traffic area that goalies reside in, how can they stay focused on stopping the puck?
It is no easy task as they look through the myriad of sticks and bodies. Add the deafening roar from a hostile crowd and you have a chaotic environment that would challenge the most focused of pros.
For goalies, this is the way of their life, though.
Entering the crease each game, there is the understanding that there will be company. And the company only becomes more frequent and more ill-mannered as the playoffs continue. Accepting this fact allows a goalie to prepare for the bumping that will occur in their crease.
The Flyers were effectively able to distract Huet at times during their first-round series. At one point, he came out of the net to hit Danny Briere
after Briere had harassed him. This was after he said he would not allow the Flyers to get him off of his game.
As difficult as it may seem, the goaltender must focus on relevant aspects of the game environment – the puck and the movements of the players without the puck. The goalie must move to see the puck and move out to a screen, and at the same time try not to do too much or he will be caught out of the net or off-balance. If the goaltender is distracted or delayed in his response, the result is quite often a red light going on behind his back.
Price said he learned this lesson the hard way. He allowed himself to be bothered by players crowding him in the crease.
"They just say don't concern yourself with what's going on," Price said. "It's not my job to be shoving guys around in front of the net."
A goalie's biggest weapon in battling the distractions is composure.
Staying cool and calm under fire is the difference between winning and losing. This is an area that Stars goalie Marty Turco
has improved greatly. Before, he seemed to get too involved in the traffic in front of the net; now he is under control and in position.
Staying composed is not an easy task with the threat of oncoming forwards not slowing down as they enter the crease.
What helps goaltenders stay composed are reminders of critical focal points – their positioning and the puck.
Just as important as staying focused is the ability to refocus; goalies must have a short-term memory. They cannot dwell on previous goals allowed or the frustration of players bumping into them.
Goalies must mentally “erase” the distraction and replace it with productive and positive thinking such as “be a wall.” This kind of refocusing routine allows goalies to bounce back after bad goals and refocus on the relevant aspects of the game.
Many goalies use routines to help keep these focal points in mind. Routinely, goalies take a swig of water, adjust the equipment, and lean against the post before coming out of the net prior to a faceoff. Routines are a powerful ally for NHL goalies. Like a pilot, it gives the goalie a set checklist to prepare for action.
Goalies will need to stay composed in their net using set routines. Because, as we have seen, the physical play on goaltenders will be a primary objective of opposing forwards.