The best goal scorers in the NHL don’t have their one move that they go to – they can see a goalie and where their weaknesses are.
The level of offensive skills in hockey has increased dramatically – but the goaltending has improved, too. So how can we as coaches give our players an edge to score more goals on opposing goaltenders?
We caught up with Thomas Speer, USA Hockey’s national goaltending coach, NTDP assistant coach, and manager of the Warren Strelow National Goaltending Mentor Program.
USA Hockey: If your NTDP forwards came to you and said, “How do I make a goalie’s life difficult?” what would you say to them?
Thomas Speer: There’s a lot there. If you look at the NHL two or three years ago, it was, ‘how do we get more goals, we need more goals,’ because the goalies were so good, we need smaller gear, etc. Now, we’re not talking about making goalie gear smaller because every night, there’s a 5-4 game because the goals are being scored. It’s two-fold. One, the refs are calling penalties, so the guys are able to make plays, and second, players are getting much more elusive in their deceptive passing and shooting.
So if you’re trying to make a goalie’s life difficult, you have to be able to hide your passing. Be deceptive in your passing – and get shots off quick. Goalies are so fast left and right now, that if you’re holding onto pucks and making the easy, obvious play, goalies are going to save it. Now you have to add deception with quick shots and hard shots. There’s a lot there, but that’s why goals are going up in the NHL right now.
USA Hockey: How can youth coaches help their players score more goals?
Speer: Have your guys watch the NHL. It’s hard to say, ‘Hey, be Auston Matthews’ – that’s crazy – but add deception to your passing. If you’re stickhandling and you’re coming in on a goalie and you open up to shoot, it’s probably a good time to pass, because that goalie is now frozen, and he’s waiting for that shot to come in. Adding deception – if you want to shoot, maybe hold onto it and make him think you’re going to pass so you can back him up.
USA Hockey: How crucial is it to get traffic in front and get screens?
Speer: If a goalie can’t see the puck, then he or she is just playing percentages, right? He’s just trying to get close to a tip or a shot. Back in the day, when I was playing, they’d be right on top of you and they would tip it, and goalies got really good at stopping that, just by getting close to the tip-point. Now guys are starting to scope out, they’re five, six feet away from the goalie, so now the goalie can’t really get close to them. So getting out and being able to tip pucks or going out wide, those are impossible for goalies to stop. At least for now – we’re working on it.
USA Hockey: What should a player be looking for on a breakaway?
Speer: If you look at shootouts, goalies are really good at them. They have the statistical advantage. The best goal scorers in the NHL don’t have their one move that they go to – they can see a goalie and where their weaknesses are. Sometimes they do the same move over and over because goalies are giving them the same thing, but if a goalie’s really far out – you know, I probably shouldn’t shoot, because I have nowhere to shoot. If he’s deeper, or he’s out but he backs up quick, maybe I can shoot. Being able to read what a goalie is doing is important. You should know what you’re going to do by the top of the circles, because after that you’re guessing and hoping.