Crashing the Crease: Release Points

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In my last post, I touched upon the concept of a release point and what it means to a goaltender when it comes to stuffing a breakaway attempt. This concept was also briefly touched on in my first post about Ilya Bryzgalov.

The release point is pretty obvious: the location on the ice where the puck comes off of the stick of the shooter. For a clapper from the point, it’s right before the follow through, as the puck’s velocity carries it away from the stick. For a snap shot in tight, it’s that instant where the shooter’s arms stop moving and the puck continues on its merry way.

At the end of the day, this is a critical part of stopping the puck outside of breakaways, as well. In a lot of ways, goalies are making the save partially based on instinct and “reading” the stick blade. Others have touched on the topic, so I won’t go into the math, but for that aforementioned clapper, the goalie has less than half a second to actually react to the shot. Thus, my instinct is to do the following:

  1. Identify if the shooter’s likely to release the puck.
  2. Find the closest attackers so I know where not to put the rebound and who to watch for a slap-pass.
  3. Get on-angle with the puck (not the shooter), stay big and take away the net by gaining depth (for a refresher on angles and depth, see my first article linked above)

As I do this, I’m committing to the shot. I still have some capacity to retreat and make a play on that aforementioned slap-pass, but by and large, I’m hoping my defensemen will tie up sticks and skates so I can focus on the shot.

By now, if I’ve done everything right and I’ve gained the proper depth, there should be nothing to shoot at. The methodology isn’t too dissimilar for wrist shots or snap shots. So, given all of this, how do guys still score on what appear to be straightaway shots, especially in the NHL? There are a few ways, including traffic and just sheer power (or bad goaltending), but a lot of what good shooters do comes from subtle shifts in the release point.

On a clapper, when the shooter winds up, the puck appears to be in one spot. If he’s given the puck a little lateral motion, say along the blue line, that lateral shift of a 6-12 inches opens up all sorts of corner real estate on the net. Same thing on a wrister. Pulling the puck in towards the skates or pushing it out right as the shooter’s ready to release changes what the puck sees in terms of available net, and that’s ultimately what allows a formerly straightaway shot to find open net space, and what makes goalies look really stupid to the untrained eye (as opposed to simply unprepared for the well-trained eye).

So, what does this all look like? Hat tip to Kevin Appel, the other half of CtC, for recommending this video, as it perfectly illustrates how a shooter can change the release point to fool a goalie right around the 3-4 second mark (as well as use the defensemen as a screen, which is a topic for another day).

Essentially, what you’re dealing with as a goalie is part-reaction, part-reading the play prior to the shot. By having a shooter move his release point, he’s rendering that early read null and void, making it a purely reactionary exercise. An extreme example for most of us beer leaguers, but when a guy like Jagr releases a wrist shot near the top of the circles and changes it up on you at the last second, you better pray he missed his target, because basic human reaction time will prevent a vast majority of goalies from actually making that save.