Sports

FLUTO SHINZAWA I SUNDAY HOCKEY NOTES

Technology gives goalies edge in advancements

Technological advances have helped goaltenders such as the Canadiens’ Carey Price (above) hone their games.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images/File
Technological advances have helped goaltenders such as the Canadiens’ Carey Price (above) hone their games.

This is a great time to be a goalie.

The degree of coaching a goalie receives is the best of any position. There are countless summer goaltending clinics. During the season, a goaltending coach usually has two or three charges, which maximizes the level of attention for each puck-stopper. A coach responsible for forwards, in contrast, is responsible for more than a dozen players. The proof lies in the numbers.

Eleven years ago, Martin Brodeur won his second Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie. Brodeur’s save percentage was .917. Such a number today would put Brodeur on the bench, not on a stage at the end-of-season NHL awards show. Carey Price, the current favorite for the Vezina, has a .932 save percentage through 40 games. Goalies are reaping the financial rewards. Henrik Lundqvist makes $8.5 million annually. Last month, Sergei Bobrovsky signed a four-year, $29.7 million extension. Price is a bargain at $6.75 million annually. Teams are willing to pay premium bucks for the sport’s elite goalies.

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Then consider that goalies of the future will only improve as technology progresses.

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At Tufts, the hockey team is using an iPad and GoPro camera as tools to help its goalies. The devices are part of a package developed by Double Blue Sports Analytics, launched by Dan Kerluke, a former University of Maine player and assistant coach. Users place the camera on the glass, preferably above the goalie. The camera captures every sequence that is critical to a goalie’s analysis of the game, such as shots, saves, screens, passes, entries off the rush.

Either during or after the game, a goaltending coach tags the events on an iPad. If an opponent takes a shot from inside the blue line along the wall, the coach will drop a pin on the approximate location. The coach will note if a goal is scored off an extended cycle. A tap on the screen will tag where the puck beat the goalie — high glove, low blocker, five-hole. During video sessions, the goalie can study every save made and missed. Even if a goalie’s coach is elsewhere, Double Blue’s iPad application allows for remote instruction. Once a goalie’s game is captured and tagged, the video is uploaded to a cloud server. The coach downloads the clips and makes notes and corrections via voiceover, telestration, and annotation. The coach pushes the video back to the goalie for review.

“If he’s given up eight high-glove goals, you can click on the shot chart and see all the videos attached to those eight goals,” Kerluke said. “Instantly for a goalie coach, you can go through those high-glove goals and find out what the deficiency is, then work on something in practice to make that improvement. As a goalie coach, to aggregate 10 games’ worth of goals against can be 30 or 40 hours of work. This technology extracts that simply and gives it meaning.”

The point of all this is to provide more context to a goalie’s game. Stopping a point shot without traffic is one thing. Turning back a double-tipped knuckle-puck is another. Yet on the scoresheet, both count as one save. Lundqvist and Semyon Varlamov have similar numbers. But the Avalanche aren’t as good as the Rangers. They’re chasing the puck more often than controlling it. Varlamov, therefore, is most likely making tougher saves than Lundqvist.

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Technology such as the iPad and GoPro setup will help goalies and their coaches identify strengths and weaknesses. But they can also help teams devise systems to help their goalies.

For example, Double Blue tracked Pekka Rinne and Tuukka Rask through Dec. 15. Of the 743 shots Rinne saw, 39.4 percent came off the rush. In comparison, 33.1 percent of Rask’s 642 shots against were off the rush. With this information, the Predators could practice tighter neutral-zone play to decrease the number of shots allowed off clean entries.

Double Blue also analyzed how Rinne and Rask performed on Grade-A scoring chances. Most goalie coaches concentrate on the house area. This starts from the front of the net and extends to the tops of the circles in a home plate-shaped plot. According to Double Blue, Rinne had an .885 save percentage on Grade-A chances. Rask’s save percentage was .846.

This reinforces the notion that a save is not just a save. The goalie who turns back more high-quality shots is more valuable than the one who lets a few of those in. Yet if teams simply look at save percentages, it’s impossible to understand the variables — shot location, quality of opponent, game situation — that can affect the statistic. The goalie is a team’s last line of defense. A goalie’s mistake, unlike goofs from a forward or a defenseman, show up on the scoreboard.

“As fast as the puck is being shot, it’s a game of inches,” Kerluke said. “That goalie being half an inch over with his glove not projected and being too deep, that’s the difference between winning and losing a game. That’s the difference between making the playoffs and not making the playoffs. At the NHL level, one win in the playoffs could be worth $2 million. Making sure goalies have a comprehensive overview is vital.”

MIGHTY ARE FALLING

Kings in danger of missing playoffs

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By Monday, when the Kings conclude their five-game road trip against Columbus, the defending champions may be too far out of the race to chase another Stanley Cup. Three games into their road swing, the Kings were 0-3 following losses to the Bruins, Capitals, and Panthers.

Entering this weekend, LA was in a bad spot. Not only were the Kings out of the top eight in the Western Conference, they were part of a four-team cluster, along with Colorado, Minnesota, and Dallas, fighting to crack the playoff structure. It’s not good to be out of the postseason race now. It’s even worse when there are three other clubs in the same boat.

The Kings are used to scrambling for a lower-seeded playoff spot, then punching the gas when the postseason starts. They were the No. 8 seed in 2011-12 and won the Cup. Last year, they finished the regular season as the No. 6 team.

But last year proved the Kings, like all champions, enjoyed good luck and good health. Alec Martinez, who scored the double-OT winner in Game 5 of the Cup Final, played on the third defensive pairing with Matt Greene. Martinez played 19:41 in the deciding game, which took 94:43 to complete. In Thursday’s regulation loss to Florida, Martinez logged 20:01 of ice time.

Martinez is a good bottom-pairing defenseman. But following the departure of Willie Mitchell and the domestic violence case pending against Slava Voynov, Martinez and Greene have had to play second-pairing minutes.

Robyn Regehr, a healthy scratch for Game 5 last year, is on the No. 3 pairing. So is Jamie McBain, who couldn’t even crack Arizona’s lineup after receiving a camp invitation in September. Drew Doughty is averaging 29:20 of ice time, second most in the league after the Wild’s Ryan Suter. Doughty is a wonderful player. The Kings have no choice but to ride him hard. Like most players, Doughty is more effective when he’s not playing half the game.

The Kings play hockey the right way. They play a 200-foot game. Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter are reliable three-zone centers. GM Dean Lombardi and his amateur scouting staff have regularly hit on high-end players (Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson) and undrafted free agents (Jake Muzzin, Martin Jones). But they’re learning the hard way that pursuing consecutive Cups while undermanned is a very difficult thing.

ETC.

Here’s a scoring idea to bounce around

If there is one shot that makes goalies’ hair go gray, it is the long-distance bouncer. It’s impossible to read which way the puck will carom after its first bounce. Sometimes the ice is chewed up in front of the net, which makes it tougher for a goalie to determine the puck’s trajectory. All a goalie can do is drop, make himself big, hope the puck hits him, and that he can control the rebound. It’s curious, then, why players don’t try this more often.

Tuukka Rask learned this the hard way against John Tavares on Jan. 29 at Nassau Coliseum. Tavares gained control of the puck and carried it through the neutral zone. As he approached the blue line, Tavares flipped the puck into the air and on net.

Rask was caught in no-man’s land. He wanted to catch the puck. But Rask recognized that he couldn’t get out of his crease quickly enough to glove it before it bounced. So Rask went down. After one bounce, the puck skipped toward the net. Rask stopped the puck, but couldn’t settle the rebound. Tavares followed up his shot and tucked in the second attempt. The same night, Oliver Ekman-Larsson made Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier look silly. After the Coyotes won a faceoff, Ekman-Larsson chased the puck down at the defensive blue line. He then sent a floater on goal. Bernier couldn’t stop it.

Dennis Seidenberg has had good luck from afar. In 2011-12, Seidenberg beat Senators goalie Craig Anderson with a long-distance shot. The year before, Seidenberg faked a dump-in, catching the Lightning’s Mike Smith leaning the wrong way. Seidenberg’s neutral-zone shot found the back of the net. It looks like an easy play. Seidenberg said it’s not so simple. A shooter has to be confident to try the maneuver. Opponents don’t give you enough time to aim and fire a skipping puck. Coaches regularly remind players to send the puck into spaces where speeding teammates can fly into it.

One of the best at this skill, according to Seidenberg, is Philadelphia defenseman Kimmo Timonen. “He just skates up the ice, does a little lob, a knuckle-puck for it to bounce,” Seidenberg said. “On some ice, it just bounces like crazy. He used to do it regularly. They’re hard for a goalie to stop. You’re in between. You don’t know where it’s going. It’s like a catcher, I guess.”

Tavares’s value is on display

If Tavares stays healthy the rest of the season, the Islanders captain deserves to be in the Hart Trophy conversation as the league’s MVP. Entering Saturday, Tavares had 23 goals and 26 assists while averaging 20:26 of ice time. Among forwards, only Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Claude Giroux, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Steen were being used more than Tavares. The 24-year-old creates offense with both power and grace. He’s strong enough to bowl over defensemen and keep them from taking the puck off his stick. At the same time, Tavares’s elite skill lets him walk around opponents. The Bruins pulled David Pastrnak away from Milan Lucic and David Krejci because they were afraid that Tavares would be too much for the rookie to handle. That’s the definition of a game-changing player.

Timonen given the green light

Friday was a good day for Timonen. The Flyers defenseman skated on his own for the first time after receiving clearance from team doctors. Timonen had been in limbo because of blood clots. Doctors have informed Timonen and the organization that the clot in his leg is not in danger of moving. “I kept that hope alive,” Timonen said in a news conference on Thursday. The Flyers have missed Timonen in a big way. The 39-year-old is Philadelphia’s best all-around defenseman. He scored six goals and 29 assists in 77 games last season while playing in all situations. Because of Timonen’s absence, the Flyers are not in a good position to rally for a playoff spot. GM Ron Hextall’s heavy lifting will be to rebuild the blue line, with or without Timonen.

Kane’s absence causes ripple effect

The Jets disclosed on Friday that Evander Kane will require shoulder surgery. Recovery is expected to take 4-6 months, putting the left wing out for the rest of the season. The injury was one reason why Kane didn’t play on Tuesday against his hometown Canucks. Another factor was a disciplinary issue, according to the Winnipeg Free Press. That morning, Kane arrived at a team meeting at Rogers Arena in athletic clothing instead of a suit, thereby breaking the team’s dress code. Kane did not react well after Dustin Byfuglien chucked his clothes into the shower. It is unclear whether Kane refused to play that night or if he was scratched. Kane’s absence against the Canucks forced coach Paul Maurice to shift Byfuglien from defense to wing. Byfuglien landed three shots on goal in 18:49 of play in Winnipeg’s 3-2 overtime loss. He will remain up front. Byfuglien is good at both positions. But he’s better on defense.

A winning number for Sommer

Worcester coach Roy Sommer notched his 600th AHL win on Wednesday when the Sharks beat Lehigh Valley, 4-3. Sommer became only the third coach to win 600 or more AHL games, joining Fred “Bun” Cook (636) and Frank Mathers (610). All of Sommer’s wins have come under the San Jose umbrella: Kentucky (1998-2001), Cleveland (2001-06), and Worcester (2006-present). This will be Sommer’s final season in Worcester. The club is moving west and will compete in the Pacific Division next season. The team will share the SAP Center with the varsity.

Contract limits Neil’s options

The Bruins have always liked Chris Neil. The Ottawa bruiser plays a Boston-style game: tough along the walls, strong on the puck, always willing to engage opponents with hits and fights. The Bruins would be interested under normal circumstances. Neil would be a good bottom-six fit on the right side. He would join former teammates Zdeno Chara and Chris Kelly. But Neil has one year left on his contract. The Bruins are wary of acquiring a player with term beyond this season because of the uncertainty of next season’s cap and their pending restricted free agents (Dougie Hamilton, Reilly Smith, Torey Krug).

Loose pucks

One reason why goaltending will continue to improve: Young goalies learned correct technique when they were teenagers. For example, Malcolm Subban has used the reverse VH (lead pad down, trail pad up, stick on the ice) throughout his OHL career. It’s become habit for the 21-year-old. Conversely, for an older goalie such as Antti Niemi (10 years Subban’s elder), coaches weren’t teaching the technique when he was learning the position in Finland . . . Jimmy Vesey and Harvard lost to longtime friend Matt Grzelcyk and Boston University in the first round of the Beanpot on Monday. It’s possible the teams could meet in the NCAA Tournament. Through 20 games, Vesey had a team-leading 18 goals. The junior left wing has some elements of Brandon Saad in his game. Vesey could become a second- or third-liner for the Predators, who took him in the third round of the 2012 draft, 19 slots ahead of Grzelcyk, who was drafted by the Bruins . . . On Jan. 31, Deryk Engelland and Luke Gazdic engaged in a heavyweight tilt. Moments after they dropped their gear, Engelland noticed the fists-up Gazdic could have tripped over one of their sticks. Engelland pointed out the stick to Gazdic, who stepped over it before engaging his opponent. Engelland proceeded to hammer Gazdic with a string of rights. Such manners.

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.