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Goalies try to stay sharp during season pause

Binnington, Holtby, Murray agree demands of position are difficult to recreate in quarantine

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

We all know goalies are different. By nature, they must be.

Jordan Binnington got his first job at the age of 8, when he tried out for the Vaughan Rangers of the Greater Toronto Hockey League. He took a shot in the face. Didn't flinch. The coach skated over to his dad and told him he'd made the team.

"It must have been like, 'This guy's nuts. He's going to be our goalie,' " Binnington said.

The crazy part now is that Binnington and his brethren can't face shots. The NHL season has been paused since March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

Binnington of the St. Louis Blues, Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals and Matt Murray of the Pittsburgh Penguins -- the past three goalies to win the Stanley Cup -- spoke on a video call arranged by the NHL on Monday, and it was clear their position has been uniquely affected by the situation.

NHL players have been self-quarantining for more than seven weeks, unable to train at their team facilities. Except for a few exceptions in Europe, they have been unable to skate, let alone practice.

At least forwards and defensemen can try inline skates. At least they can stickhandle and shoot on dry land. Some have synthetic ice. Lots have nets and targets.

Goalies? They have the hardest time recreating the demands of their job. There is nothing quite like trying to stop a disc of vulcanized rubber rocketing through the air while you're on ice balancing on thin steel blades.

Video: Murray, Holtby, Binnington discuss NHL Pause

Holtby has been at home in the Washington area, staying busy with his two kids.

"I'm not doing much right now, to be honest," Holtby said. "In the summer, I take a few months off completely, anyways, just to try and get my mind completely away from everything. So, it's going to be tough once there's kind of a game plan."

Murray has been at his lake house north of Toronto, staying busy with his two dogs. He said one of the reasons he's there is the home has a gym.

"The same thing [as Holtby], though," Murray said. "Not doing too much. Just maybe throwing a tennis ball off the wall here or there. Just trying to keep the body in shape and making sure that my body's ready for when we start back up again."

Binnington has been at his condo in the St. Louis area, going for walks, learning the guitar.

"At first, I was working out a little bit, thinking it was going to be a short-term thing," Binnington said. "And then after you kind of realize it's going to be a little bit longer, I took some time for myself and kind of gave the mind a little break and picked it back up. I'm just doing what I can. Like they're saying, I think we're all in the same boat. You've got to get creative with what you're doing."

Imagine coming back to practice to face Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin taking his trademark shot from the left circle.

"It doesn't go where it's supposed to," Holtby said. "It's like a pitcher in baseball throws a 95-mile-an-hour knuckleball. It's just … it moves like crazy."

Now imagine coming back to a game to face Ovechkin.

"Just kind of like [Holtby] said, it's like a knuckleball, honestly," Murray said. "It's like … probably because of that huge toe curve he uses. But sometimes it, like, drops a foot or a foot and a half. Sometimes it wobbles midair. Sometimes it starts off going high glove side and dips and curves low blocker. Like, it's crazy the movement that he has on his shot and the speed behind it too."

How do you stay ready for that under these circumstances? Well, you don't. You can't.

And that's one of the reasons the NHL will take its time if and when it resumes the season.

The NHL and the NHL Players' Association created a Return to Play Committee of executives and players to discuss issues like these. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has said there are two safety concerns for all players: one, protecting them from the coronavirus, and two, making sure they're in game shape before they play again.

The first step toward returning to play would be for players to train in small groups at team facilities. Even then, it would be difficult for goalies to see the type of shots they need. But the next step would be a training camp of about three weeks.

"It's going to be difficult," Holtby said. "But we're all going to be in the same position, so I think everyone will just make the most of it, try and figure out a way to do the best we can."

Binnington isn't flinching. Does he look nervous?

"I think that we'll have ample time to kind of turn it back up when need be," he said.

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