This week, we’re going to spend a little time talking about a subject near and dear to my heart: the struggling goaltender and the fear of failure after an unsuccessful stretch of games.
I’ll use myself as the example and build from there. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve gone from feeling very fluid and natural in net to slow, overly reactive and ultimately ineffective. It’s resulted in some pretty ugly games, none of which I want to remember. On Tuesday, I finally had a game I would consider to be “okay,” in that we won and I stopped the shots I was supposed to stop along with a few I wasn’t.
Sitting back and thinking about it, I was trying to figure out what I was doing mentally that had caused me to lose my mojo. How had I gone from feeling so calm and easy to fighting for every little save? The answer, I had come to realize, was not a simple one, but the end result of a few different issues.
The first issue was a break in my routine. I play pretty regularly (M, T, Th, Sa at a minimum), but when I started having trouble, I had fallen off of my regular rotation. Missing my Saturday rink time, which is a two-hour practice, I didn’t get a chance to fine tune after a bad Thursday showing. No big deal in the long run, as I’m not going to forget how to goaltend, but it seems to have planted a little doubt in my mind.
The second issue I noticed was a lacking desire to replay the bad goals after a bad game to make sure my mistakes weren’t replicated. Having had a stretch of solid games, I was on autopilot. The last thing I wanted was to upset that proverbial apple cart (pardon the expression) and start getting too analytical. The problem with that line of thinking is that, sometimes, that’s exactly what a goalie needs to do. We all like to emphasize our positives and assume that the negatives were a blip on the radar as netminders, but outright ignoring real-world results is just a bad idea.
The third issue that had become apparent was a tentative, overly mental approach to my game. In the weeks prior, I had been aggressive, a little reckless and very confident in my ability to make a risky play work out in my regard. This cavalier approach is key when looking at the difference between a one- or two-goal game and a three-or-more-goal game, in my opinion. Greater risk usually leads to greater reward, so while playing it safe can get most of the job done, taking the appropriate risks at opportune times can be the difference between a win and a loss. Look at the things Dominik Hasek, Jonathan Quick, Henrik Lundqvist and Tim Thomas did when they were stealing games. It wasn’t all cookie cutter and it didn’t always look logical or pretty, but they ultimately knew what they were doing.
As I fell into the abyss, however, I found myself trying to make more percentage-based saves. I was trying to just go into a butterfly and let the puck hit me, blocking instead of tracking and reacting. Thinking way too much to be effective in-game, I feared that taking the risk would lead to further failure rather than possible success.
Going back to Tuesday night, I made a conscious decision to think about what I was doing before the game. I took the time to replay those bad goals and bad decisions on the drive to the rink. Walking through the in-game scenarios and replaying them correctly helped me get myself back on the rails. My depth and angles were better, my reactivity was quicker and I was taking better charge of my crease.
Extrapolating this experience a little, I started to think about the struggles Ilya Bryzgalov was having last year. How, at times, Bryz looked disinterested or flat. Going through those mental images, though, I’m seeing more of a guy who’s not willing, be it consciously or subconsciously, to put himself out there. His percentage-based save attempts and non-aggressive depth when challenging shots were all ultimately signs of a goalie lacking confidence and not quite sure how to dig himself out of it.
There is, of course, the Francois Allaire influence that wants a goalie to do this, but even in looking at clips of him back in Phoenix, he did deviate from this somewhat stylistically simple approach to make some more acrobatic saves when the situation dictated. He didn’t seem to do the same in his first season here, however, and I think a lot of it comes down to that simple fear of failure.
We’ve, of course, dissected the poor guy from every angle possible. As fans with unlimited access to video replay, we’ve discerned how he should’ve played each goal. What I’m really getting at here is that he knew and saw the same things we did. His comments indicated this much. The difficulty, especially in a new city with new coaches and a new team, is how to effectively address these problems and turn failures into successes.
Peter Laviolette took a reasonable risk by letting him run with the ball regardless of how he performed. At the time, I felt this was solely driven by his contract, but in retrospect, there’s a greater level of risk that this approach afforded Bryz, and it did pay off during his ridiculous run prior to breaking his foot. I know this is an impossibility once beer and ticket prices are factored in, but if we as fans work to foster an environment that rewards his risk taking rather than decries it, he will regress to what I believe are his norms of a 0.915-0.920 SPCT goaltender as he gets his mind right and finds himself a way out of the woods.
I say this because, like it or not, he’s our guy for years to come (barring his staying in Russia, post-lockout).