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State of the Goalies

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
Goalie development coach Mike Buckley addressed the media following Thursday’s on-ice session at development camp. Here are the top takeaways from that chat.

The Pens organization may be the deepest in the National Hockey League in terms of talent at the goaltending position. They already have two of the best in the NHL in franchise netminder Marc-Andre Fleury and the best young goalie in the league in 22-year-old Matt Murray, both of whom have led Pittsburgh to a Stanley Cup championship.

But the Pens also have a plethora of young, talented tenders throughout the system in Tristan Jarry (second round, 44th overall, 2013 draft), Filip Gustavsson (second round, 55th overall, 2016 draft) and Sean Maguire (fourth round, 113th overall, 2012 draft).

With so many different goaltenders in the fold with different strengths, weaknesses and styles of play, it can be a challenge for the team to work with them all.

“I equate goaltending to golf,” said Buckley, who completed his third season in his current role. “Totally different shots, totally different situations. You’re not competing against the goalie at the other end, in a way you are, but you can’t judge and compare goaltenders because everything is so different.”

Buckley, along with goalie coach Mike Bales, also have to walk the line between teaching proper technique while also fostering each goalie’s natural instincts and tendencies.

“My philosophy is to balance them,” Buckley said. “If someone is overly reactive and not reading the play, I’m going to do more play-reading drills. If someone is overactive and over-anticipating, I’m going to bring them in a little bit with more technical detail.

“I find you always have a good balance and keep that happy medium, and a goalie never feels threatened to change.”

Most goaltenders take a few years to reach their highest potential. It takes time and patience. However, that was not the case with the breakout sensation Murray. After winning American Hockey League Goalie of the Year in 2014-15, Murray led the Pens’ to their fourth Stanley Cup championship in franchise history while in the midst celebrating his 22nd birthday barely a month ago.

But just because Murray’s development has been so accelerated, that is not how the typical goaltending prospect develops.

“He’s an anomaly,” Buckley said of Murray. “His maturity level, ability to grasp concepts and changes in his game and make adjustments, it’s unlike anyone I’ve ever seen to be honest with you. His work ethic compliments that. He’s still going to have his ups and downs. He’s still a young goalie. You have to remember that. He’s obviously on the right trajectory.”

Murray experienced his fair share of ups and downs during the playoff run. And although he received some criticism for his post play, most notably goals by San Jose’s Joonis Donskoi and Brent Burns. However, Buckley noted that those goals are common mistakes, especially by young goaltenders.

“That’s an easy fix. You just have to put in the time,” Buckley said. “When a goalie has a weakness, sometimes it doesn’t get exposed until a real pressure situation. We saw that pressure situation with San Jose.”

Jarry had an up-and-down year in 2015-16 while making his professional hockey debut with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He started the season strong while splitting time with Murray. However, his play suffered a little bit after Murray jumped to the NHL and Jarry had to shoulder the entire load himself.

“His first pro year had two parts. His first part of the year was really, really good. Second part he struggled a bit, but it was a really good learning experience overall,” Buckley said. “Matt Murray got called up and he became a starting goalie. When you’re thrust into that role as a 21-year-old, everyone takes a different amount of time to get that rhythm and become a starter at that level.”

Jarry, who led Edmonton of the Western Hockey League to a WHL championship and Memorial Cup title in 2014, was able to round out his game toward the end of the season, and was a member of the team’s playoff practice squad The Black Aces.

That learning experience with the Aces was huge for Jarry’s development.

“He saw the pace. You can’t sit back. You can’t take a day off,” Buckley said. “There is no such thing at this level as taking a day off. Everyone will leapfrog you. You have to come to the rink and bring it every single day. That was really good for him to see that.

“He understood pro practice habits and the impact it has on your game. He’s already back to where he was at the midway point of last season. Really happy with him.”

The Pens’ newest goaltending addition is Gustavsson. The team’s scouts had him ranked as the No. 1 goalie in the 2016 draft and were ecstatic that he fell to them at 55th in the draft.

The scouts raved about Gustavsson’s poise and calmness in net, as well has his ability to anticipate and read the play.

“He’s always under control,” Buckley said. “It shows me that he has a really strong mental game. He’s never in a panic. He understands the game really well.”

But, like most Swedish goaltenders, Gustavsson tends to play deeper in his crease. Due to the larger ice surface overseas, most goaltenders are taught to stay closer to their goal line. However, the North American style of play demands a more attacking approach.

“Over here with bigger bodies, a lot more traffic, you have to be smarter with your depth and a little more aggressive,” Buckley said. “You find what depth that they’re comfortable at. You can’t force them to be out too far because they won’t feel where the net is behind them. It really depends on their skating ability, their play-reading ability, their size.”

Buckley is confident that Gustavsson can make the adaption and the different technique and style despite the different ice-surface size.

“If you read the play really well and understand the game I don’t think it’s a huge difference,” he said. “He reads the play really well so I think he can be more aggressive. I think he’s going to adjust just fine.”

Maguire will make the jump to the pro ranks next year after completing his four-year college career at Boston University. He finished his collegiate career strong after missing the entire 2014-15 season, posting a .920 save percentage and was named the Beanpot MVP after making 41 saves in a 1-0 overtime loss to Boston College.

“Sean had a terrific year at BU last year. He bounced back after missing a season and really proved to be one of the better goalies in Hockey East,” Buckley said. “He can be a little bit anxious in net. That’s where, for him, getting a lot of pro games, whether it’s in Wilkes-Barre or even in Wheeling, wherever he’ll get the most games will benefit him the most. That will calm his game down and give him the experience he needs.”

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