No Red Lights: Hockey: Why Are This Year's Playoff Goalies So Good? - Goalie News And Instruction By Roxanne Gaudiel

Why Are This Year's Playoff Goalies So Good?

This NY Times article argues that this year's crop of NHL Playoff goalies have the lowest GAA, which is a trend that began with the modern goalie pad. While the article does highlight the evolution and importance of goalie pad design, there is more to this topic. It is true; since the days of no helmets, deer-hair pads and gloves that leave stingers, equipment has vastly improved in the last 10 years. The biggest improvement culminated in Vaughn's Velocity series. These pads changed the way pads were designed, worn and functioned. There were two key improvements to these pads: First, they fell with their face flat. This means that when a goalie dropped into a butterfly, the pad rotated so that the face of the pad (the blocking surface) was flat to the puck. In older pads, the pad's face would be angled, making the balance points on the pads much more narrow.  This becomes a problem because it is harder for the goalie to not fall forward or backward. With the flatter surface and stable balance points, goalies could have more control over the positioning of their upper body and body weight.  And the second key innovation is the knee protection. Unlike the fallacy that some NHL goalies speak of (that the extended thigh board is needed to protect the knees), the padding the protects the knee from slamming into the ice has greatly increased the goalie's psychological play. They no longer have to dread going down because they no longer have bruises on the inside of their knees. But even after these reasons, a goalie's pads cannot fully explain why goalies are doing so well this year.

A goalie's pads alone cannot explain the recent lack of scoring in the NHL. Even the chart offered in the NY Times article (see picture) cannot definitively, or even possibly, indicate that goalie's pads have decreased the number of goals scored. For one, pads are not as big as they were about 4 years ago. So it is not that pads are bigger because they could not have been much bigger than in the late '90s and early 2000's. It might not be that pads are big insomuch as they are easier to use. Leg pads have gotten exponentially lighter, which makes a huge difference when trying to leap across the crease.

This article evokes another question, which is along the lines of a "what came first? The chicken or the egg?" Is it the newer goalie pads that account for the lower number of goals scored? Is it that goalies have better control over their pads now? Or is it the amount of goalie coaching that these goalies have received?  I argue that it is the last position, which is more correct than the other answers.

The discipline of goalie coaching has made huge strides in the last 20 years. This has mainly been a product of the times -- those older goalies, who were once Pro's in the 1950's and 60's, were then becoming goalie coaches -- as well as a change in how the teams' represent their goalie. The old thinking of "put the biggest kid in net" has long past. There is a recognition that one of the most athletic kids on the ice should play in net because the position is so important. There is also the recognition that to improve a goalie's skill, it is no longer useful to just "throw rubber" at him. Just like a systems or skills practice, a goalie's practice should be tailored and focused.

Maybe it was that goalie pads were good enough now that goalies could practice hard (without fear of being de-brained). And that could have allowed goalie coaches to really workout a goalie. But at the end of the day, goalies have much improved their skills and understanding of the position. It is no longer acceptable to just stop the puck. Your hand angle, body angle, balance and movement are all scrutinized during practice and games. Improving on these sections of the game will definitely result in fewer goals being scored, especially if the goalie still reacts to the puck. But even if those are factors, they are dependent upon one infalliable truth -- today's goalies are coached more than the goalies of yesterday. Beyond that, it's just a good year to be a goalie in the NHL Playoffs.

**the other misleading data point that this article uses is that the chart only displays the GAA of the top five goalies in the NHL playoffs.  So really, what this article means is that the best goalies are getting better. But it does not mean that they rest of the goalies are improving as well. The real question is what is making the best goalies in the playoffs play better than the goalie's of yesterday?**