Game 1 didn’t go the way Oilers fans wanted it to. Both teams looked tentative to start the game and the “let them play” rules of the playoffs hurt Edmonton more than they hurt Winnipeg.
Here are some key plays from the goaltending side of things. Mike Smith looked good in the first period. He was beating passes, square and centred to the puck and made a few good saves because of it.
Here’s a couple of those saves:
This 2 on 1 is Mike Smith’s game in a nutshell. He starts deep, in the middle of his crease and doesn’t back in as the play gets closer to him. This gives shooters the impression that the net is getting smaller as they get closer to him, as many goalies will start out in the white ice and back in, which gives shooters more net as they get closer. He gets a great push and beats the pass. He’s in great position and set for the shot and he makes a good glove save, although he’s unable to catch the puck. A little bit of extra movement (if you slow the clip down, you can see that his glove goes down up down) right as he makes the save, causes the puck to squirt free. Regardless of where the puck ended up, it’s a very good save in a big early moment of the game.
A few minutes later, Smith made another good save on this tic tac toe play by Winnipeg. Again, his deep in the net positioning lets him follow the passes without overreacting because he has such a short distance to travel. On this play, it also lets him follow the one touch pass from in front of the net without getting tangled up with Andrew Copp in front of the net. With the goalie interference rule being mostly based on gut feeling and intuition, it’s good for goalies to avoid having to trust the refs to call it.
Edmonton’s goal is scored on a broken play when Hellebuyck couldn’t find the puck. When he did, he wasn’t centred in time and couldn’t fill the hole under his arm. I think this goal was mostly just a random bounce and a good job by Edmonton of getting bodies in front of the net and making some of their own luck picking up the rebound.
Winnipeg’s first goal is a rebound Smith would probably like to have back. It hit him pretty squarely in the chest and should probably have been controlled. Those bounces happen sometimes, and he may not have seen the initial shot all the way, as there were some bodies in the way. Even having said that it’s not a good rebound, it’s also not in a terrible spot. It’s right in front of him, he’s already in good position and the player coming in at him doesn’t have a lot of time to make a move. Instead of swiping at it, Smith could have just stayed in his butterfly and adjusted side to side if needed. It would have been more exciting than it needed to be, but I think the odds are still in his favour to make the save at that point. The swipe opened up a huge hole and he was punished for it.
The game winning goal is mostly just an unlucky bounce. Good things happen when you throw the puck at the net. A lot of the time, people try to fit goals like this into a narrative and I think that’s the wrong approach here. Good job by Toninato to get his stick on this shot, he was lucky it went in and Smith had no chance here.
Edmonton’s best chance to tie the game came on back to back shots from Ethan Bear and Connor McDavid. They weren’t really great scoring chances and Hellebuyck used good positioning to make rather simple saves. The save on Bear’s shot was a little bit awkward as he used a one-pad save in the wrong direction (what I mean by wrong direction here is, from this angle, he doesn’t need to extend towards his glove side to reach the shot, a butterfly would have been a more simple, consistent save selection.) Then, on McDavid’s shot, he makes a pretty routine save.
Overall, I think the goalies did their jobs in this game. I think it’s fair to blame Smith for the first goal, but you’re not going to win a lot of games scoring only one goal and he made some good saves early on. Hellebuyck, was good, but didn’t have to be spectacular.
Rob Gherson is a former professional goaltender from Toronto. He was drafted in 2002 by the Washington Capitals and played 5 years of pro hockey in various organizations. He won the Calder Cup in 2008 with the Chicago Wolves. He played 4 years in the OHL. He is currently a goalie coach in Toronto and recently founded Conscious Goaltending, a company with the goal of simplifying and improving goaltending knowledge across the hockey universe from the hardcore goalie nerd to the rookie shooter.