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Unmasked: Scorers can Reverse popular technique

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com

Unmasked is a weekly column by Kevin Woodley exploring the personalities, the trends and the analytics which define NHL goaltending.

It didn't take long for the goaltending world to start debating post-integration tactics.

The first goal of the NHL season came on a sharp-angle shot from just above the goal line by Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty that beat Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier under the left pad.

A few hours later, San Jose Sharks forward Tommy Wingels scored on a similar bad-angle shot against Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, who dropped into the same technique as Bernier: Reverse, or Reverse-VH.

Goaltenders and goaltending experts on Twitter already had a #ReverseVHFail hashtag ready to go.

With the NHL season not even a day old, there was already concern this relatively new tactic for sealing the short-side post was being overused by goalies and exploited by shooters.

"It's a constant give-and-take with the shooters," Ryan Miller, the new No. 1 goalie with the Vancouver Canucks, told NHL.com "It's been that way the whole history of hockey. The butterfly was the end-all, be-all for a while, and I'm sure back in the day when goalies started stacking the pads, shooters couldn't find a way around it because there weren't curves on the sticks as much so it would be hard to get a quick chip over the goalie and if a guy was brave enough to do it.

"Now you have guys covering logical shooting areas, so shooters are changing their angles, and when the goalie changes his angle they are going to shoot for the opening."

It's all part of the cat-and-mouse interplay between shooter and goalie that is as old as the sport itself.

The irony on opening night was Quick was the trendsetter who made the Reverse style so popular. Though it was already being taught in Sweden, Quick's use of it in 2012 when the Kings won the Stanley Cup and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy was the catalyst for widespread adoption of the technique at all levels of hockey in North America.

So what exactly is the Reverse, or Reverse-VH as some call it?

To best understand the technique and why it's called Reverse, it is necessary to understand its post-seal predecessor, the VH, or Vertical-Horizontal, style. The V stands for Vertical because goalies place their short-side pad up against the post vertically, and H stands for Horizontal because goalies leave that back-side pad down on the ice along the goal line.

VH was developed by Francois Allaire, now the goalie coach for the Colorado Avalanche, and Jean-Sebastien Giguere during their time together with the Anaheim Ducks. That style was designed to reduce rebounds off the far-side pad which ended up in the slot off angle shots. With the vertical pad sealing the short-side post, it gained popularity as a technique to defend against sharp-angle attacks and jam plays.

Goalies liked VH because it allowed them to hold their skate edge on the lead pad, which made it easier to push explosively off that post on cross-crease passes and net drives, eliminating the delays inherent in the torso rotation and knee lift necessary to transition from a full butterfly position. But soon, holes in the technique were identified and exploited by shooters. The VH style allowed goalies to block pucks but left little ability to control rebounds or find pucks down near that lead skate.

Goalies at all levels, right up to the NHL, became guilty of overusing VH, applying it in save situations for which it was not suited.

The VH still has its place. New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist showed that by using it effectively on this robbery of San Jose Sharks forward Patrick Marleau:

But sometimes, as in this bad-angle goal by Rangers forward Rick Nash against Jaroslav Halak and the New York Islanders, it is hard to seal the holes:

Refinement was necessary. Enter Quick with a style that was nearly opposite of VH, hence the name Reverse-VH.

In this technique, the lead pad is placed along the ice against the post (either tucked inside or with the skate on the post), and the back pad, though not vertical, is off the ice and used to either drive a tight seal into the post or as a rudder to build momentum for pushes back off the post and into the middle of the net.

It appealed to goalies because the Reverse is less rigid, does not lock the goalie's hands up in a blocking mode, and makes it easier to cover loose pucks down low. It also takes away more of the passing-lane options through the crease and puts more of the goaltender's frame inside the net rather than up against the post, filling space on bang-bang plays in the low slot.

The results have been helpful to several NHL goaltenders.

Sergei Bobrovsky added Reverse after coming to the Columbus Blue Jackets, taking his cue from goalie coach Ian Clark, who studied it while coaching in Sweden and added elements to it. Bobrovsky didn't give up a dead-angle goal in the abbreviated 2012-13 season.

Roberto Luongo also added Reverse into his game last season, eliminating some of the VH holes that were exploited by other teams.

"It's changed the way I play low plays completely," Luongo told NHL.com. "I'm much more effective and in control this way, and it's easier to react because you're not locked in like VH."

Like its predecessor, some believe Reverse has been overused the past two seasons. Just like the butterfly, if a goalie uses Reverse too often or drops into it too early, shooters will find a way to take advantage, just like they did with VH.

This time, the adjustment from shooters seems to be coming a little quicker. Maybe that's because they are getting help from goaltending coaches.

Not only do most NHL goalie coaches provide scouting reports on opposing goalies, but many shooters are attending goaltending schools in the summer to work on in-tight skills and find holes in the latest techniques being developed.

Vancouver Canucks forward Alexandre Burrows spent several weeks during the past two summers in Montreal as a shooter for Allaire at his camp.

"You see what they are working on, what they are trying to cover," Burrows said.

And what that leaves exposed?

"Exactly," he said.

Just ask Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Steve Mason, who was burned by a slick shot from Toronto Maple Leafs forward James Van Riemsdyk during a preseason game.

Does that mean this new save technique failed Mason? Or did he just choose the wrong time to use it?

Choosing the right save selection at the right time and executing it properly is a big part of avoiding any #fail. With coaches picking out tendencies and shooters picking them apart, not defaulting to the same save selection too often or too soon becomes critical.

"It's not just, 'I am going to go cover this and I am good,'" Miller said. "You are taking logical areas away and then you still have to be ready for everything else."

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