"Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence."
-Vince Lombardi

Last night, three goaltenders were flawless in helping their teams achieve two points in a shootout, and one of them did everything but let in a goal to maintain a perfect game for a 1-0 win. As Marc-Andre Fleury notched the win, the Penguins moves 3 points within first place in the Eastern Conference.

How do they do it? As a goaltender it may seem like the weight of the whole game can be on your shoulders. In many instances this will put a burden on the goaltender from performing at their best. On the other hand, there is the goaltender that finds personal enjoyment and excitement towards holding the key to winning or losing in their hands. The demeanor of a confident goaltender is due to an applied detailed focus on technique in practice and through constant repetition over time. Naturally, as the situation then appears in a game it will fall into a category of being familiar, and readable, even in the most stressful of times. Overall, it is important to remember that when striving for perfection - one must have fun doing it!

Today, we will describe several aspects of breakaways and the shootout. First off, before diving into a detailed breakdown, take a look at two of the four games from last evening that went into sudden death.

Penguins vs. Rangers

(Fleury / Lundqvist)

Canadiens vs. Capitals

(Price / Varlamov)

After watching both videos, of various 1 on 1 scenarios at display, ultimately what matters is that when the game is on the line the goaltender must just stop the puck!

It would be nice if it were just that simple. In today's game players have become more aware of goaltenders tendencies as they analyze their approach, and they now have an arsenal of moves and tactics to put the puck in the net.

Now, lets discuss several key areas that will help aid in a goaltenders approach to the breakaway.

The Breakdown on Breakaways
  • Prepare: As hockey has evolved over time, the game has now adapted a strategic and organized planning approach to predict and prepare for situations before they happen. With such additions of video analysis, goaltenders may now know the tendencies of a given offensive player and decide to anticipate this and adjust their tactical response accordingly.

  • At the higher levels of the game, where shooters have greater velocity, more accuracy and quicker releases, the ability to react to a shot from a point-blank range is difficult at best. Alternatively, the goalie that forces a deke option allows a goaltender to form a logical, manageable and productive strategy.

  • Initial Depth: Aggressive and Conservative. As soon as the goaltender identifies the breakaway is materializing, then establishing their aggressive first depth position is appropriate. The volume of depth will be dictated by two aspects.

    1.The mobility of the goaltender.

    This includes the power of c-cuts playing a role in the timing of the retreat, toning down the activity of the feet to maintain stability, and lastly adding patience to prepare for the proceeding threat of reacting to a shot or lateral drive.

    2.The distance that will assist in the encouragement of forcing a deke, but a distance that is manageable.

    Excessive depth is counterproductive.
    It forces the goalie to move back prematurely or too quickly which can destabilize the tactical response. The goaltender's target depth is to be arriving at or near the top of the crease as the attacker commits right or left on their deke. To make this happen, the goaltenders gap will gradually decrease as the breakaway unfolds. This reduction of gap will help support the objective of forcing a deke.

  • Develop anchors along with ice awareness. After depth establishment and upon the r etreat process, the goaltender must shift their stance from a relaxed state to being compact and aggressive focused by adjusting their flexion and width.

  • As the goaltender stabilizes during the retreat by calming the feet and legs down, the key is patience.The patience required is to fight off the deke. Obviously, the player is going to deke. The player isn't going to just skate to one side. The player is going to try to get the goalie to bite by dropping or shifting weight. The goaltender must wait for true commitment which is indicated by a more aggressive move of the body. The stick, hands, head or shoulders will be the focal point of the deke. The crucial point of the players body is when the torso commits - this is a clear indication.

  • Leading into the save process:With good timing through this process the goaltender should be near the top of their crease as the player transfers their deke and moves laterally to one side. This requires the goaltender to transition to a lateral movement. At this point the goalie moves almost directly into the save of choice. Regardless of the save, the goaltender wants to build coverage from the bottom up. Given the proximity of the player to the goalie, assuming everything is unfolding as planned, the top of the net will be difficult to hit following a deke.

  • Angle of Lateral Thrust and Save Extension:Often the deking player will try to wrap or reach around the extending goalie. Converting to a lateral movement, it is also crucial that a goaltender competes against the length of the attacker's reach. This can be combated as the attacking player runs out of room with the goaltenders extension proceeding towards the post (ideally slightly in front) and to the goal line.
  • There are several other areas and visual cues to promote strong execution on breakaways. Goaltenders can note player tendencies such as: Is the offensive player approaching from their off-side wing with more angle to the far-side (possibly having an advantage to shoot), their handedness and how they are carrying the puck on net (behind or in front - with an open blade or off to their side, and also when the player stops skating and begins to glide - resulting in them having less mobility and only the use of their reach.

As the shootout has dominated many league standings, the goaltender's ability to deny breakaways can be crucial to a team's seasonal success. At any level of play, the difference between making the playoffs and missing the playoffs is but a handful of points. The dominating shootout/ breakaway goaltender can be the difference in achieving a post-season seed.