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Goaltenders must keep shooters guessing

Changing technique essential at NHL level to avoid being predictable

by Kevin Woodley / Correspondent

When Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray set out this summer to improve upon his Stanley Cup-winning debut, he identified a few scenarios that cost him some goals and made technical tweaks.

Murray worked to solve some post-integration tactics, making sure he wasn't committing too soon to a post seal or getting caught flat along his goal line when he did. But for all the focus on tightening up small details that is now a big part of every NHL goaltender's routine, it's interesting to hear Murray talk about the need to not get caught up in technique, and instead remain somewhat unpredictable as a key to continued success.

"It's a foundation for sure, but when I get in trouble is when I get too technical, kind of freeze up a little," Murray said. "My game now is a lot more about flow and being unpredictable, because people watch video on you too."

While opposing goalie coaches try to identify areas of his game that might be exposable, Murray looks for them as well while also trying to make sure he doesn't give shooters the same look as those video breakdowns.

Video: TOR@PIT: Murray uses his body to turn Brown away

"They know your tendencies, and if you play every scenario the same every time, people are going to learn that and learn how to beat it," Murray said during the World Cup of Hockey 2016, when he played for Team North America. "So it's about staying unpredictable and maybe throwing out a poke check every now and then, maybe coming out and taking a guy's legs out every now and then or whatever it may be. You just don't play every breakaway or every shot straight up every time."

So much of the focus on goaltending in recent years has been on the trend toward contained play, with more goalies retreating into the blue ice and prioritizing shorter routes into early angle. That's why it's interesting to hear a young goalie like Murray say his biggest adjustment from junior to professional hockey was "being more aggressive."

"You have to dictate what the shooter is going to do," Murray said. "You can't sit back and wait. You have to dictate the pace of the game, and being more aggressive is a good way to do that."

Video: TOR@PIT: Murray kicks out pad for a sprawling save

Taken on its own, that quote might make some think Murray is trying to become the second coming of Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, one of the most aggressive goalies in the NHL. Far from it. Murray still plays a controlled game and mostly stays in contact with his crease, but there are other, more subtle ways to change what a shooters sees, such as holding his glove higher late last season, but only in certain situations.

Murray is not alone in the quest to not become predictable.

"There are always things you try to adjust," New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "If I look at me now and 11 years ago, you see differences. You try to develop over time, adjust your game so it fits and not get too predictable."

That might sound odd coming from a goalie whose staple since coming to the NHL has remained a deeper, goal line-out approach to positioning, but Lundqvist has made some situational adjustments over the years. The key for him is staying patient on his skates no matter where he is on the ice.

Video: NYR@VAN: Lundqvist lays out to stone Granlund

"Obviously, guys watch video and they read, but at the same time the key for me to my game is patience," Lundqvist said. "If I am patient, it doesn't matter how I play, I wait for them."

Like Murray, Vancouver Canucks veteran Ryan Miller said it's important to dictate to shooters rather than waiting on them.

Miller's approach to skilled Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau in a season-opening shootout victory on Oct. 15 was a perfect example of being subtle with his unpredictability. With Gaudreau coming in fast and holding the puck in a shooting position at the hash marks, Miller dropped his right knee to the ice briefly, rather than holding his butterfly, which seemed to cause the Flames forward to pull the puck back and hesitate before finishing up with a deke that Miller stopped.

"He's really shifty and I felt like I needed to change his mind to show him something," Miller said. "I wasn't going to let him go five-hole on his first option and I think he changed his mind and had to go to a strong push for me. I'm trying to just change their mind; that is my approach to breakaways anyways: show them something they don't want to see. It worked out."

Video: CGY@VAN: Miller slides across crease, robs Gaudreau

Though young goaltenders are creating and studying "zone maps" designed to predetermine stance, positioning and even save selection based on where the puck is, goalies in the NHL want to avoid that level of predictability.

"You can get away with it definitely at certain ages," St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen said. "I got away [with it] a lot in junior, but then when you get to the pro level a lot of things change. You see kids now that are 14, 15, 16 and are better skaters than you, have better post leans, are better puck handlers, but there's more to it. You can understand the mechanics of goaltending but once you get to a certain level, there is just a lot more to being a goalie."

For some, unpredictability is one of those things.

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