Crashing the Crease: Stick Discipline

This week, we’ve received the news that we’re likely looking at a lockout. This was great for me, as I really love the prospect of prolonged revenue sharing discussions.  I like hockey, don’t get me wrong, but I’m also pretty sure that the on-ice action isn’t why we’re all fans.  There’s actually very little doubt that an HBO 24/7 series chronicling the boardroom discussions leading to the pending shutdown of NHL hockey would rival the tension and entertainment value of an OT game in the Stanley Cup Finals, and I’m glad the league recognized this fact.

Still, even with how excited I am for the lack of hockey we’ll see come October, I fully understand that the next few months will essentially be a sea of numbers, thanks to such topics as the Collective Bargaining Agreement itself, operating revenues and escrow accounts.  Given this, I’m going to leave the numbers game alone for a week.  I do plan on revisiting the topics of goaltender value and time-dependent performance, but rather than rush those topics, I wanted to return to a bit of technical analysis for your consumption.

With the intro aside, I’ll introduce this week’s topic:  stick discipline.  It’s a topic that has been touched on before in the Killer Rebounds article, but it is a critical component of successful goaltending, and one that will be useful to watch whenever the season starts up again.  I’ll go out on a limb and say that Ilya Bryzgalov struggled with it over the season, and it did cost him goals.

Stick discipline is about keeping the stick involved in the play, particularly while moving and watching the play progress.  A goalie with good stick discipline tracks the play with his stick and keeps it engaged as he moves.  It doesn’t trail his movement or float around a few inches off the ice (remember, the biscuit is only an inch thick).  Rather, it’s there when he moves laterally, as he makes subtle adjustments and even during desperation attempts.  Over the course of a season, stick discipline can be tracked and measured by looking at how involved the twig is in breaking up passes and making saves, but for the purposes of this article and as per my promise above, we’ll skip that.

Good goalies will not struggle with getting set for a straightaway shot.  Their bodies are well trained at keeping the stick in front of the five hole and sealing it off.  It’s a basic part of the position that most will learn and conquer early on in their playing days.  In the image below, you can see Bryz keeping his stick in position to cover the five hole even while tracking a high shot (the puck’s off to the right):

Image courtesy of Times staff / ERIC HARTLINE

For however solid Bryz was on shots that came from north-south motion where guys were skating towards the net, I did noticed a drop off in stick discipline as the play moved east-west, or from side to side.  Often times, Bryz’s stick would float or trail him as he made a quick, reactionary tracking movement.  While his style is not one prone to moving in a  deep crouch at all times or leading heavily with the stick and planting it where he’s aiming to be, he really left himself in a bad position sometimes.  The video linked below drives this point home, in my opinion.

Elias goal

As he follows the play, his stick lags behind, almost like it’s not part of his game.  Although it’s not a five hole goal that beats him, he almost never looks fully set, stick-side.  He recovers his floating stick position for the Elias shot that eventually goes in, but I think he does so a little late, and I would argue that this indirectly causes him to leave that hole.

In the next video, the sequence starts as Bryz misses the dump in.  While not tied to stick discipline, it’s the starting point for the goal.  Also of significance is that his awareness level seems to be lacking.  You see his retreat to the net is a little slow, and he doesn’t appear to be fully set (being set in general is starting to look like another issue…).  His stick, in particular, is in mid-air as he realizes a pass is coming from Zach Parise, who is along the near boards.  The play continues with a pass to Travis Zajac, and while he gets a piece of it, his stick is last to arrive on the scene.  It looks close, but the stick never seems to get further than the leading edge of the pad his trailing leg (his right pad).

Zajac goal

With better stick discipline and some better situational awareness, I do think he makes the save there.  Yes, it’s a cross-crease pass to a largely unmarked attacker driving the back door.  I’m not saying it’s an easy save.  I’m pretty sure, though, that with a cleaner technique, he’s got that.

For Bryz to improve on his stick discipline, he’s going to have to mentally focus on it and practice it heavily through the season.  I say this because what I saw was a muscle memory issue.  Granted, last season wasn’t his best, but he’s grown accustomed over decades of play to moving in such a fashion.  It’s not something that I would ever expect to see change drastically, but it does need refining based on last year’s work.

Image courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America


  • Capo

    I never liked how Bryz doesn’t get his stick down on five whole shots, that being said, he probably never going to change. He’s worked with two of the best goaltending coaches in the league, Francois Allaire in Anaheim and Sean Burke in Phoenix, and he still plays this way. Once a goalie is set in a certain way it is usually very difficult to change. He’s been successful playing that way, and even though it scares me he stops more five hole shots than he lets up.

    • Justin Brennan

      Capo, I think of Burke and Allaire very differently. I’ve not seen as much of Burke’s goalies, but I do remember that calming influence he seemed to give to Esche. He also seems to work well with big goalies, getting them to use their size well while still incorporating a little more of that fight and old school reactivity. Allaire’s goalies seem to block more than save, and while I’m no expert, it looks like Bryz is fighting his own instincts sometimes.

      Bryz, in my honest estimation, was a product of the team in Phoenix, or at least his numbers were. That Anaheim team he played behind wasn’t a joke, either. While I do expect him to be better next year (whenever that starts), I think he really needs to make some technical adjustments. It’s never too late to teach a dog tricks. Osgood and Belfour extended their careers this way. He definitely can utilize that stick better and learn how to do so, if he commits to it with Reese.

  • Ian

    Part of the reason why Bryz doesn’t use his stick on 5-hole shots is due to Allaire. If you’ve ever read Allaire’s book (or watch other Allaire goalies), the thought behind it is to use the the knee pads/landing gear of the pads to stop the puck. It’s also the reason why some of his goalies will have a very narrow butterfly. Of course, he still save selections that Allaire suggests using the stick in front of the 5 hole. It’s one of the first habits that I try to break with the goalies that I coach if I see them doing the same thing. It drives me crazy, almost as much as the poke check that Bryz will use at times where he’s holding the stick high up on the shaft and the opposing player is about 10 feet away.

    • Justin Brennan

      Ian, spot on. Look at Giguere, and he was the poster boy for not incorporating the stick when saving a shot five-hole. It was a narrow b-fly emphasizing five-hole coverage (remember thigh boards?).
      I’m not a big Allaire fan, either. The other Crashing the Crease author, Kevin Appel, is a supporter from what I know, but I’m not big into the style and methods he seems to prescribe.

      The issue here, IMO, is that as the NHL cleaned up the Skudra-era gear, that Allaire technique gets tougher to implement successfully. Adding to the issues by subtraction, without a Pronger to clear the porch, it becomes even more of a risk.

      Don’t even get me started on that telegraphed poke check “technique” Bryz has. It’s like an open invitation to walk around him as he’s left to sprawl and reach.

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