Why are goalkeeper attempts on the rise?

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Doesn’t it look like goalie attempts are on the rise? I think so. And I’ll be honest: I don’t have any stats to prove it. I don’t think they exist even if I wanted to find them. Everything is anecdotal.

But for someone like me who has lived and breathed goalkeeping for nearly 35 years, I trust my point of view: goalkeepers are scoring and attempting goals at a rate never seen before. And the genie won’t be returning to the bottle anytime soon, unless opposing teams get their act together.

Boston Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark has already scored this season. And his goalkeeper partner, Jeremy Swayman, narrowly missed out earlier in the campaign. New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin took a shot and missed. Pyotr Kochetkov — the Carolina Hurricanes’ rookie sensation — buried one in the AHL this year — just like the St. Louis Blues’ Joel Hofer did for the Springfield Thunderbirds in the 2021 Calder Cup playoffs -22.

I mean, watch Wednesday’s game between Pittsburgh and Colorado. Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry tried twice mark in the empty net. He missed both times. But I don’t remember a keeper ever taking two cracks in an open cage game.

Jarry already has a goal in the AHL, so it’s nothing new for him. But I think there are several reasons why other attempts occur. And Wednesday’s game was a perfect illustration.

See the score? It’s 4-2 in favor of the Penguins. So Jarry has room to breathe. Even if he returns the puck and the Avalanche scores, his team is still ahead. He therefore has the confidence to go after the open net.

This is the key. Because it was the common goalkeeper refrain that they weren’t ready to go unless their team was leading by at least two goals.

NHL teams are retiring their goalie for the extra forward earlier than ever. Coaches used to wait until 1:30 left in the game before even thinking about it.

Analytics changed that line of thinking. And again, this is anecdotal from what the numbers geeks have told me, but metrics have shown that taking the goalkeeper out with three or even four minutes left gives teams a better chance of scoring .

NHL teams therefore adapted by shooting earlier than before, and when they lost several goals. Ten years ago, teams rarely opted for the extra striker when they were leading by two or three goals. Now it’s commonplace. And in doing so, it gives keepers more time – and confidence – to shoot.

The mentality of shooting for the open net has also changed, and not just for goalkeepers. The old school thinking was that a player had to cross the red line before shooting. The coaches didn’t think the risk of taking a clearance — and the subsequent face-off in the defensive zone — was worth it.

I always thought that was so stupid. Going up two goals puts a dagger in the opposing team. If a player misses the open net, then what. Win the face-off and get the puck out of the defensive zone. At the very least, the Icing Call would run some time off the clock. I’ve always thought aiming for the open net was worth it no matter where the player was on the ice surface.

I think a good number of coaches and players have finally agreed with my line of thinking: that an aggressive approach to scoring goals into empty nets is more conducive to victory than sitting around and hoping the opponent does not score.

This feeling has filtered down to the goalkeepers. And here is the key: they to want to mark. There is a strong desire among the goalkeeping union to join this special goalscoring club. And unlike in the past when many goaltenders couldn’t break glass with their shot, most are able to get the puck at least to the far blue line.

Goalkeeper goals have become a matter of opportunity rather than ability. They can all shoot the puck. Shooting and passing with authority is a necessity for professional goalkeepers in today’s game.

But what blows my mind is how NHL teams continue to shoot the puck in poor areas and give goaltenders a chance to shoot. A lazy edge around the board is an easy choice. A dump directly at the goalkeeper is downright stupid. Yet it keeps happening.

There are nights when the best goaltenders in the NHL barely touch the puck outside their crease. And that only happens when a team is diligent about where they put the puck on offloads. The corners are safe. Rims around the glass are a viable second option. However, some teams are horrible about it: they systematically give the puck to the opposing goaltender.

Why players are so mentally lazy is beyond me. The pre-scouts are detailed. Teams know which goaltenders can handle the puck. Yet some players just don’t think when they throw it.

The tired old phrase « get pucks deep » certainly comes to mind. Players are so focused on getting the puck under the goal line that they forget to put it in a favorable spot for recovery. It’s stupid hockey personified. And that gives goalkeepers the chance to go into the open net.

In 2001, I scored while playing for the Springfield Jr. Blues of the NAHL. I was 17 and it was the first goal by a goaltender in league history. It was the best moment of my life at the time. The adrenaline rush was something I can’t describe.

Scoring a goalie goal had been a dream ever since I saw Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Ron Hextall score the first goal in 1987. I was four at the time and the visual never left me. I wanted to score a goal as much as play in the NHL.

I see the same enthusiasm in today’s NHL goalies. The desire burns more than ever. They all dream of scoring. And the main difference compared to yesterday is that today’s goalkeepers have all the skills to make it happen.

Mike Smith scored in 2013. Pekka Rinne scored one in 2020. And Ullmark’s goal was on February 25, 2023. Years passed between each of them. But here’s my prediction: Another NHL goaltender will score in the next 365 days. And it will soon happen again.


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