Remembering Never

Justin Goldman

2010-05-24

Evgeni Nabokov

There are many moments during a game when a skater can afford the luxury of taking their eyes off the play. They can catch some air in the penalty box, quickly re-tie their skates or re-tape their stick on the bench or even take the rare shift off to recover from a gut-wrenching blocked shot.

 

Not so for a goaltender. They must be so attuned to the puck's movement that even the most sudden bounces must be stopped. Juicy rebounds off lively back-plates, crazy caroms off the glass, deflections, re-directions, hard shots from bad angles – it doesn't matter. If the goalie sees the puck, he must effectively make saves, control rebounds, recover quickly and be ready for the next shot. (*1)

 

The most difficult area on the ice for pro goalies to keep their eyes on the puck is below their goal line. No matter how hard a goalie tries, their eyes must detach from the puck, at some point, in order to turn their head from side to side. This is a fleeting but crucial moment for the goalie, as they must work extremely hard to re-attach their eyes to the puck as quickly as possible. If they fail to see a pass being made from behind the net, they are forced to guess on shots. As a result, they have to depend on instinct to make the save, instead of solid positioning and awareness.

 

Why the lesson in vision, you ask? For Evgeni Nabokov, three crucial goals allowed in his last two games were a direct result of losing sight of the puck on plays below the goal line or in his crease. These goals were momentary flaws in an otherwise awesome playoff run, but they still shed light on an area of weakness in Nabokov's game.

 

Dustin Byfuglien's overtime goal in Game 3 was a perfect example of a quick play from behind the net. Nabokov simply lost sight of the puck at the wrong time and was left totally helpless on the one-timed shot over his glove.

 

Brent Seabrook's opening goal in Game 4 came after Nabokov made a fine stand-up save, but left a tiny rebound just above his crease. Stuck in an erect stance, Nabokov was unable to cover the puck with his gloves. Bodies crashed the crease and blocked his vision of the puck, which was nestled behind his goal stick and in front of his leg pads. When Nabokov dropped to his knees, the puck was pushed underneath his pads and just over the goal line.

 

Dave Bolland's game-tying goal was another play where Nabokov failed to track the puck around the goal and execute cleanly. Although Bolland's play was routine in fashion, it was earlier in the shift where Nabokov spent too much time turning his head back and forth. Late in the period and late in his shift is when Bolland powered his way to the front of the net and put a deflected shot over a discombobulated