April 26, 2011
Shooting for a goaltender's pads is a tough concept to wrap your head around when you're a young kid. When a coach first suggests it, you feel like explaining the concept of what defines winners and losers at the end of 60 minutes, which is how many times you shoot it past those overstuffed garbage bags.
But the concept eventually grows on you, and climbs the rungs from semi-useful, to valuable, to essential.
Even at the highest levels I played, we practiced this constantly, usually in the form of the same drill — a D-man would skate the puck out from behind the net, and two forwards would get low in the D-zone. The first would get to the wall and receive the pass while the center supported the play. There'd be a chip off the wall for the center, then the winger has to bust down to the far end, as the center will be shooting for the far pad.
Always shoot for that far pad.
It emphasizes two things: One is obviously shooting for a rebound, but just as importantly, it highlights the mid-lane drive. You need to head right for the far post if you hope to tap home that easy put-back.
The crazy part about this drill is, the goalies know what the players are trying to do, but they simply have no options on the play, short of applying glue to their pillows. A hard low shot can really only be blocked, and if it's placed right, it should kick that big juicy rebound out to the oncoming forward, who's drooling at the sight of a loose puck and a goalie down and out.
It's so heavily emphasized because today's defensemen are so good at taking away time and space, and goalies are so good that poor angle shots have no hope. If you hang on to the puck to get a better look there's no guarantee you'll have any chance to pull the trigger.
Think the Los Angeles Kings are a fan of the play?
Last night all three goals they scored came off a puck fired towards the net low, which forced Niemi down, and forced him to kick out a rebound. Jarret Stoll(notes) didn't score in the game, but he created two of the Kings' tallies — it's nice when you have a guy like Ryan Smyth(notes) that you can trust will be dutifully going to the crease to clean up scraps.
Here, Stoll is coasting towards the boards, and unlikely to beat Niemi from that spot on the ice. He guns it at the far pad, and...
The best part of KISS hockey (keep it simple, stupid) is that it boils down to work ethic — that middle lane drive is crucial in making sure the pad-pass isn't just a wasted shot on goal. When that forward is pushing towards the net the goaltender's life is made more difficult, and it forces the defenseman back (which creates room for his teammates if the shot/pass doesn't come).
The other two Kings goals, while not as textbook as the example above, were still based in the same logic.
On their goal that ties the game up at one, Trevor Lewis(notes) takes the pass from Doughty and moves it wide to Jack Johnson(notes), who recognizes Lewis is driving to the net, and that he's about to receive pressure on the boards. He chucks it to the danger zone, which is either going to end up with Lewis getting a stick on the puck, a fat juicy rebound, or a cross-corner dump.
Nice finish, 1-1.
The goal that knotted the game up at 3-3 was a more controllable rebound; but again, Stoll throws it low and hard at the net, and a player — once again, Trevor Lewis — is heading towards the cage.
That time, he was rewarded.
It's the best coolant for a white hot goalie (and the best defibrillator for a flat-lining offense). When tenders are at their best, they're angling rebounds to the corners, and soaking in everything above their pads like a sponge. But when it's six inches off the ice, you take the opportunity to control the game out of their hands.
It's not the most complicated hockey, but when your team isn't the most offensively gifted, it's a fail-safe play that can create something out of nothing without taking on a whole lot of risk.