I’m sure last night’s game left a bad taste in your mouths, so I won’t go into the narrative of the game here. Let’s go through the important goaltending plays from the night and maybe I can help it make a bit more sense to you.
Edmonton got off to a good start, putting tons of rubber to the net and were rewarded twice halfway through the first period. The first goal of the game came on a broken play, where a blocked point shot ended up on the stick of Leon Draisaitl. Draisaitl made a very nice play to stickhandle around Hellebuyck and stuff it in. From the goaltending side of things, Hellebuyck got caught chasing the puck here and went right at Draisaitl’s stick instead of working back toward the post. Hellebuyck usually plays a lot of his game going towards the post, but a split second of over exuberance cost him here.
On Edmonton’s second goal, a quick stuff play down low ended up in a scramble and the puck popped to Draisaitl who banged it in. Hellebuyck went into RVH as the puck went to the goal line, which is what nearly every goalie in the world would do here. The only thing that might have helped him on this play, other than his defence picking up some sticks and knocking guys down is squaring up a bit more on the initial stuff. That could have helped him keep the puck on the short side and maybe it doesn’t pop to Draisaitl. Definitely not Hellebuyck’s fault here.
Early in the second, exhausted after a long shift, Ethan Bear threw a puck up the middle that was picked off by Paul Stastny and created a great scoring chance for Winnipeg. Nothing too complicated about the save. Mike Smith stepped up to the top of the crease, sensing pressure coming from Bear from the far side which limited Mason Appleton’s ability to cut across the ice, he set his feet and made a good pad save. This was a big save in a big moment of the game to preserve Edmonton’s two goal lead.
Winnipeg’s first goal of the game came on the power play. After Smith cleared the puck down the ice himself, Winnipeg moved the puck around well and set up a few good scoring chances. Smith had to make 3 saves, one of them knocking his stick out of his hand before Ehlers ripped a shot far side that beat him over the glove. There was a lot happening on this play. First of all, Edmonton had plenty of time to get Smith his stick. Someone should have picked it up and handed it to him. Second, Perreault probably could have been called for interference when he poked Smith’s stick further away from him. It’s a borderline call, because he didn’t push it far and was “pushed into it,” but I think it should have been called. Finally, regarding the actual goal, this is a tough play. Perreault moves across Smith’s line of sight right as Ehlers releases the puck. This is the hardest screen to deal with as a goalie. You don’t often see it coming and you don’t have time to really do anything about it. Add in that Smith doesn’t have a stick, and Ehlers makes a really good shot, I don’t think there’s much to blame Smith on for on this play. Not having a stick doesn’t affect him much in terms of the possible save selection here, but it adds a layer of complexity to the play. The best way I can describe not having a stick is that it’s an uncomfortable feeling and affects your reaction time by adding another level of thought to the mix.
Edmonton restored their 2 goal lead on this textbook zone entry and two-touch shot by Kassian. This is a tough save to make, but Hellebuyck made it more difficult than it needed to be. He left his feet too early on the long pass, as he could have beaten the pass on his feet instead of sliding. Because he slid instead of t-pushed, he ended up going right past Kassian’s stick and gave him a lot of extra net to shoot at.
This is getting long, so I’m going to skip ahead to Winnipeg’s game tying goal. A lot of people are going to blame Mike Smith here and I think it’s more complicated than just Smith whiffed on this. First of all, I’m not sure why McDavid rimmed this puck around the boards and then Puljujarvi didn’t help by gliding past his defence man. In terms of the goal, again, Winnipeg had a screen skate right past Smith’s eye line right as the shot was released. He got caught leaning on the wrong side of Andrew Copp at exactly the wrong time. I know it’s not the answer a lot of people want to hear when it feels better to throw blame around, but it’s mostly just bad luck. The only thing I will say about Smith here is that his fingers up glove position contributed to this goal. The puck went right under his glove as he was trying to get it down on the puck. Going down on pucks with your glove can be awkward and he couldn’t get it there in time. That’s just how he holds his glove though and it works for him a lot of the time.
Hellebuyck’s best save of the night came in overtime when Gaetan Haas caused a turnover that led to a 2 on 1 for Kailer Yamamoto. This save was rather similar to the Smith save on Bear’s turnover earlier in the game. Hellebuyck stood his ground and made a big, blocking butterfly save. Yamamoto slowed down before his shot, hoping Hellebuyck would back up and open up more net, but since he wasn’t retreating on the play, it didn’t make a difference. Yamamoto had time to change the shooting angle, but didn’t. Really good save by Hellebuyck.
The overtime winner is a tough one to analyze. It’s a bang bang play off a face-off. It’s a set play. Smith was aware of the situation and looked to be ready for the quick shot. He’s more in his stance than he usually is on puck drops. The shot just beat him. Some will point to the fact that he’s deep in his net, but I disagree with blaming him for that. It’s how he plays, and it lets him make a lot of saves that he wouldn’t make otherwise. I actually made a short video about it on Thursday. There are two adjustments I’d make in this situation. The first one is a bit unorthodox. I’d just square right up to Ehlers off the puck drop. Forget about lining up to the face-off dot. Because, Smith is deep, if there’s a quick shot on net on the draw, he’s still fine and it eliminates the second adjustment I’d make, which is, he just didn’t get a hard enough push to Ehlers. A harder push and he’s more centred, and has more time to react. That could make the difference between a 3-0 series and 2-1.
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.