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Unpredictability can be huge edge for goalies

Breaking from patterns, tendencies pivotal in order to solve shooters in NHL

by Kevin Woodley / Independent Correspondent

VANCOUVER -- Robin Lehner said he believes unpredictability is becoming increasingly important to making saves in the NHL.

"There's more and more video, more and more pre-scout, and players are just getting better and better, so you definitely have to be more unpredictable," the Chicago Blackhawks goalie said. 

That unpredictability just might not take the form many assume. 

Unpredictability doesn't necessarily mean having to do something outrageous, such as when Lehner abandoned the traditional butterfly save selection to make a pad-stack save against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday, a move he has broken out in various iterations on multiple occasions this season.

For Lehner, unpredictability is often as simple as a half-butterfly stance. 

"Patience is more important now than ever, but I just go more one-knee-down saves the last couple of years because the regular butterfly just doesn't cover enough up top," said Lehner, tied for ninth in the NHL with a .923 save percentage among goalies having played at least 15 games. "You have to be really, really patient to make those types of saves but unpredictability is getting bigger and bigger anyway."

Video: CHI@COL: Lehner pushes across from huge save

Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson said something similar after reviewing video of a save he made during a preseason game against the Montreal Canadiens. With Canadiens forward Charles Hudon skating in on a partial break for a clear wrist shot from the left hash mark, Anderson held his ground just inside the top of his crease and used the one-pad down, or half-butterfly, save Lehner described. Anderson only dropped his right knee, keeping his left leg and glove up as Hudon's shot barely missed high and wide on that side. 

"It's hold your ground, try to read the shot," Anderson said. "So as he pulls and drags, you kind of read he's going high glove. You get burned if he fans and goes five-hole, but for the most part, if you drop into a full butterfly there, he scores. It misses your shoulder, it's in the net." 

Lehner, who said he learned a lot from Anderson during parts of five seasons as teammates with the Senators, pointed to those half-butterfly saves as more important than occasional pad stacks, especially against a generation of players that grew up learning how to score against the butterfly stance. 

"If there's a guy shooting from the slot and he hits his spot, there's only one way of saving it and it's an unorthodox save," Lehner said. "If he hits the spot and you do a regular butterfly, he's scoring, end of story. 

"As soon as I see they're into a dangerous zone, I stop being technical. I start looking at sticks and at [the shooter's] face and start predicting, leaning and cheating -- predictable cheating. It's about unpredictability, not making a perfect save." 

Using the same save, in the same situation, over an extended period allows opposing shooters to target vulnerabilities, something Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur pointed out when he was asked about the recent run of lacrosse-style goals on the @TheRink podcast. 

"Players are good, they look at goalies and when the puck is behind the net [goalies] are on their knees, so what is available? It's the top of the net," Brodeur said. "That's a spot that's vulnerable for a goalie just because they are on their knees all the time."

Dallas Stars goalie Anton Khudobin is on his knees less than a lot of goalies. He leads the NHL with a .932 save percentage playing an active, almost combative style that reminds some of a toned-down "battle-fly" style first coined to describe the hybrid style used by former Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas. 

Video: DAL@SJS: Khudobin turns away Kane at doorstep

Khudobin also sees the value of not being too predictable. 

"The more unpredictable you get as goalie, the harder it probably gets for the [shooters]," Khudobin said. "I've never been focused on a certain style. My style is just to stop the puck, to be honest. Whatever is in my head, whether it's standing up, one-knee-down, reverse-VH, regular-VH, I don't know."

Khudobin insists it is more about being comfortable with a wide variety of save selections, selecting the right one at the right time.

It's not as if these are new concepts. 

New York Rangers veteran Henrik Lundqvist has been making patient half-butterfly saves his entire career, and Alexandar Georgiev has continued that trend among Rangers goalies during his first three seasons in New York.

"Being not the hugest guy, you have to be able to read shots really well now," said Georgiev, who, like Lundqvist, is 6-foot-1 and will regularly make stand-up saves. "There is no way a smaller goalie always can go down every shot because the players will know pretty fast."

Though unpredictability has its place, fundamentals remain important. Getting to the proper position and set as early as possible remains a staple of success. As for what a goalie does once he gets there, it can't be all one-pad down and butterfly slides into pad stacks, called a butterstack, even if each is are more common again. 

"It's kind of a fine line," Canadiens goalie Carey Price said. "You don't want to be a loose cannon out there, either. But, yeah, there's definitely benefits to throwing a butter stack in every once in a while."

Given the examples this season, it feels as if those instances may be arriving more regularly.

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