Analysis: Kuznetsov’s ‘slow goal’ and how goalkeepers can stop him in shootout
Speed kills. And for Washington Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov, that sometimes means snail’s pace.
Like Monday night, when Kuznetsov used a super slow approach to dramatic effect in a shootout when he scored on Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Frederik Andersen.
Yes, there are a lot of fancy manipulations. Kuznetsov holds his head high the whole time he skates towards Andersen. He never looks at the puck once he crosses the blue line. And that’s pretty impressive.
But all that magic with the puck is just a distraction. Kuznetsov wants Andersen to focus on the puck, not how fast he approaches the net.
By the time Kuznetsov releases the shot, Andersen is almost on the goal line. He is wide and low in his stance. The veteran Hurricanes goaltender gives Kuznetsov way too much open goal to shoot. And all because of Kuznetsov’s snail’s approach.
Every goalie plays shootout attempts differently. I liked getting out of the fold, almost to the hash marks. I wanted to have reflux. And I knew I wasn’t the best reactionary keeper. So I wanted to force the player to make a move.
Andersen is different in his approach to the shootout. He likes to be passive. Andersen barely gets his heels out of the blue paint as Kuznetsov approaches with the puck.
Different shots. Different people. But Andersen got burned during this attempt because he badly managed the gap between him and Kuznetsov.
I’ve been in Andersen’s skates when a shooter holds a stickhandling clinic. And I can tell you firsthand that it’s really hard not to be completely focused on the puck, especially once your opponent reaches the hash marks. The more the puck moves, the harder it is to find clues as to what the shooter might do next.
From 15 feet away, any shot can beat the goaltender cleanly if placed well. And I’m sure that weighs heavily on Andersen’s mind in this attempt. Constantly manipulating the stick, Kuznetsov repeatedly changes the angle of the puck.
Andersen knows he can’t keep up with the speed of Kuznetsov’s hands. No goalie can. He is therefore forced to expand his position as the Capitals forward gets closer. Andersen effectively hedges his bets. He knows that Kuznetsov can shoot anywhere. And at any time.
It’s an understandable tactic. But Andersen needed to stay closer to the top of the crease for it to work. Kuznetsov goes so slowly. There’s no way he can get around the Hurricanes goaltender. Still, Andersen finds himself deep in the blue paint with a big gap between him and the puck.
To me, that’s why Andersen was poor in shooting during his 10-year NHL career. He is too passive. Anderson’s initial lack of depth prevents him from handling the gap well.
In 41 career NHL shootouts, Andersen has won 18 times and lost 23. Among NHL goaltenders with 30+ games of shootout experience, Andersen ranks 35th of 51. Not horrible. But also not intimidating.
Compare Andersen’s results to those of Marc-Andre Fleury, who won his 62nd NHL shootout on Sunday when the Minnesota Wild defeated the Chicago Blackhawks. The win, which included that save over former teammate Patrick Kane, made Fleury the NHL’s all-time leader in shootout wins.
Kane’s attempt on Fleury is not a carbon copy of Kuznetsov on Andersen. But there are similarities worth pointing out. Kane might start flying towards the Wild crease, but he ends up braking around the hash marks.
But Fleury too. Instead of backing into his net, Fleury is slowing his retreat and staying close to the Blackhawks’ best offensive player.
Fleury is top of the crease when Kane drops the puck. Compare that to Andersen, who is a foot deeper in the blue paint when Kuznetsov reaches the same spot on the ice.
Good spread management is important and Fleury excels at it. But he’s also willing to think outside the box. The Wild backstop will throw a fake pokecheck. Or try to bait a shooter. Fleury is unpredictable. And I think his .735 career shootout save percentage is proof that Fleury’s creativity gives him an edge.
I would love to see more of that from Andersen. Be a little more free on the net. But also by keeping a good distance from the shooter.
Shootings are not an exact science. Unexpected things can happen in the seconds it takes for the puck – and the player – to get from the center of the ice to the goal line.
For shooters and goalkeepers, awareness is paramount. It’s not just about seeing the puck. Or an open place to shoot. It’s about creating variables and doubt for the adversary.
Kuznetsov accomplished both on Andersen. His stickhandling and speed were big variables. And it made Andersen doubt what was going to happen next.
It’s no wonder Kuznetsov has scored on nearly 41% of his career shot attempts. He attacks with a plan. And Kuznetsov has the skill to execute it with confidence.
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