During the next few days, a lot of attention will be paid to the obvious differences between Martin Brodeur and Jonathan Quick -- most specifically their ages. A Stanley Cup Playoffs virtual newbie vs. a Cup veteran, Quick is the 26-year-old yin to Brodeur's 40-year-old yang, to be sure.
Upon closer examination, however, it is the similarity in each goalie's approach to stopping the puck that is the most relevant reason for their success this season. The two goalies left standing this spring are among the most creative and unpredictable goalies in today's game. Their resulting dominance is no coincidence.
In what is often a copy-cat league, the unorthodox styles of Brodeur and Quick may well serve as a tipping point in what may signal a new era in goaltending. Each goalie utilizes "old-school" reflexive techniques as a base, adding in modern butterfly play -- with Quick exhibiting more of the latter -- to be considered true hybrid goalies in an era dominated by straight butterfly stylists.
In fact, Brodeur and Quick's uniquely hybrid styles fly in the face of what has been the dominant trend in NHL goaltending.
In the past decade, a formulaic system highlighting size and "blocking" saves in place of skill sets such as agility and "reactive" saves has evolved into the norm.
Coaches like Francois Allaire and his acolytes created something of a post-Patrick Roy religion based on this quasi-robotic goaltending style. Suddenly, goalies were squaring up and dropping to their knees on every shot, then using geometric probabilities to block the biggest portion of the net as possible.
This play-deep-and-let-the-puck-hit-you system has worked well for some of this generation's most dominant goalies -- Roberto Luongo, Antii Niemi, J.S. Giguere, Ilya Bryzgalov and Jonas Hiller. As a result, thousands of young goalies followed their leads, being churned out of goalie school factories like clones.
As such, goaltending became as predictable as a cup of Starbucks coffee.
But shooters, as they are prone to do, adapted.
Frustrated by goalies appearing to be too big and filling the net to the point where shots would almost always hit these goalies in the chest and pads, shooters began countering with more "deception" plays (head fakes and pumps), purposely bouncing rebounds off pads and crashing the net, and scheming with teammates to create tips and screens that forced these robo-goalies out of their comfort zones. The latter technique is the most dangerous to blocking-style goalies and, not surprisingly, is how most goals were scored on in this spring's playoffs.
Shooters paid attention to what goalies are doing and found the flaws in the drop-and-block predictability of many of today's netminders.
"Goalies have become way too predictable," says pro goalie coach Chris Economou, who operates his Goalie Guru training facility outside of Philadelphia. "It is forcing them to get back to more of the old school and use more athleticism and reaction to make saves."
Indeed, what the craftiness of the game's pure goal scorers has done is force goalies to react, to use instincts and reflexes to track pucks and hustle laterally from point A to point B. In other words, to break from "the system" and just do what it takes to accomplish the most important task: stopping the puck.
This is why Henrik Lundqvist makes head saves like a soccer player (something never taught at a goalie school, but should be!), Pekka Rinne bounces about the crease as if on a bungee, and Quick pops into the splits like a road hockey sprawler. These three goalies -- did I mention they are the three current Vezina Trophy finalists? -- aren't doing this to showboat. Rather, they are doing it to get the job done in the most effective manner available.
If Dominik Hasek is the godfather of this creatively chaotic hybrid approach, the grandfather is the anti-robotic Brodeur.
Marty has always defied the modern school and employed the old ways -- standing up on wide-angle shots rather than dropping, poke-checking rather than playing it safe deep in his crease, diving rather than sliding in a full butterfly. It's a hybrid style that looks a lot like that of the Cup-winning goalie of this past year; the Boston scrambler, Tim Thomas.
So if the dominance of Brodeur and Quick (and Thomas before them) during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs signals anything, it is that the art of goaltending is back.