Just because the goalie knows where you’re going to shoot doesn’t mean he can stop it.
That’s one of my favorite offensive lessons from my playing days. Don’t over-think it and don’t get too fancy, because it is possible to just straight up beat the goalie, even if he knows where you’re going.
We’re being re-taught the lesson with regularity by Steven Stamkos nearly every time he plays - goalies know where he’s going to be parked, they know he’s got a cannon, they know where he’s shooting, but they just can’t get there. He puts them in a position where they have to make a tough save and he usually comes out on top.
I started to put it together watching Jeff Tambellini and Frans Nielsen in shootouts in Bridgeport – at one point, both guys scored on seven consecutive attempts. Jeff swings a little wide, drifts back to the middle of the ice and absolutely rifles a snap/wrister high glove (incredible because he’s a lefty). Frans winds in, shows shot and at the last-second pulls it to his backhand and tucks it under the bar (it’s amazing to see how consistently he can place the puck in the exact spot).
Given that I relied pretty heavily on deception to score, this blew my mind. Goalies absolutely knew what these two were going to do, but they executed the moves so well it still worked. (At one point in my dad’s career he scored a breakaway goal on Mike Liut who said to reporters after: “Bourne only has one move,” to which dad responded something like “...then I guess my best move is better than his best save.”)
And that’s the key.
There are some unavoidable holes in goaltenders that are created by movement and good players have learned to exploit them, taking what’s obvious over doing what the majority of younger players try to do: get cute.
When I was coming up to and through college, I never wanted to do what it seemed everyone else was doing and sometimes that left me handcuffed.
I used to think, “How do goalies not know that’ s going to happen? How can a guy score using such a default move?” Well, it’s pretty obvious: catching a well-placed hard snapshot from in close isn’t easy. Since a goalie has to honor that a player might shoot, it can be hard to get down and across before a guy can get that backhand off.
Those moves make the goalie make the save, which is more effective than stickhandling yourself into the corner or missing the net.
I always wondered why coaches wanted to strangle us so bad when we’d take a pass on a 2-on-1 and cut back across the net instead of shooting. That moving goalie is full of holes while trying to push across – even if you don’t hit your spot it’ll usually go in.
People are often in awe of all the “breaks” goal-scorers get - how the puck just seems to find holes for them when they shoot. But half the battle is shooting at opportune times in opportune places. As goal-scorers, we need to play the percentages and test goaltenders as often as possible.
Goalies can be intimidating. More and more these days they’re tall with huge gear and play their angles well. But they still make plenty of mistakes and offensive talents needn’t wait for the net to be empty to fire.
Lefties have low blocker, righties have high glove. These are well-known default shooting spots for a reason – they’re tough saves to make, so force those goalies to make them.
Next time you’re on a breakaway, or a 2-on-1, remember the lesson I learned from Tambellini and Nielsen – just because the goalie knows what you’re going to do, doesn’t mean he can stop it.
Justin Bourne last played for the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL and is currently a columnist for USA Today. He excelled with the University of Alaska Anchorage before going on to spend time in the Islanders organization with Bridgeport and Utah. His father, Bob, spent 14 years in the NHL and won four Cups with the Islanders. Justin will blog regularly for THN.com and you can read more of Justin's blogs at jtbourne.com. Follow Justin on Twitter.