Sam Gagner's Perfect Shot

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As a goaltender, nothing frustrates me more when a goaltender gets blamed or labelled "soft" or "weak" on a goal that is not their fault. The fact that it is usually not followed up with a reason doesn't help.

I did my best to convince Kevin that the goal was the result of a perfect shot by Sam Gagner and as a goaltender himself, I don't think it will take much to get him to come around. At the time I thought Carey Price had played it as well as he could, after watching the replay of the gamecast and the reverse view I still felt the same way.

Not being a goaltender, it is easy to see why many would view it in this manner. Price was in a tough situation to start (caused by P.K. Subban's terrible rookie decision) and I want to illustrate why I think he handled it about as well as he could and was vicitimized by an unbelievably accurate shot by Gagner.

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At this point in the play, Jaroslav Spacek has done a nice job of filling the lane with his body and clogging the passing lane with his stick. Ales Hemsky has made it easier for Spacek because of the way he has turned his body and limited Gagner's passing options. If he was heading harder for the net then Price may have had to cheat a little more than he is. Looking at Gagner's shooting angle, Price is slightly off, but it is because it is imperative that he respect the pass at this point.

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As Gagner approaches, Price is still respecting the pass by slightly cheating. With his focus on the puck he cannot see that Spacek has made a clean pass difficult and that Hemsky has cut off his pursuit to the net allowing a back checking Mathieu Darche to become a factor and limit Gagner's options. Very poor job by Hemsky.

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At this point, Price has made the recognition that Gagner has no option but to shoot and begins to close out his angle. The red area indicates what Gagner's options are as he begins his release. The 5-hole is quickly closing and Price's lateral movement has offered very little holes except high glove side. In a still frame it looks like Gagner has a ton of room, but Price is in transition closing off the options. Think of it in the same terms of when a goaltender flashes his five-hole or glove hand and takes it away. You will see what Gagner sees now will close up in a hurry over the next couple of frames.
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I think criticizing Price in this instance is criticizing the result. If you go through the whole game there are plenty of plays where Price was not positioned as strongly as this, but the shots were not as accurate as Gagner's game tying goal, and it is ultimately ignored or not mentioned. Playing goal in 2010 is about playing percentages and if this same scenario plays out with 95% of the NHL we are lauding Price for a great save because not many players in the league can thread the needle like this.

Earlier in the game Price didn't get his usual explosive lateral push against Ryan Whitney and left a wide open net in which Whitney had 5 times the net to shoot at and hit the post. Even if he scores, nobody blames Price, but a small technical error goes unnoticed because the play seems unstoppable and we are analyzing the result, not the action.

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If you remove Hemsky from the situation and Gagner scores that same goal, then the blame would lie directly at the feet of Price for remaining to deep in his net and not offering up the proper angle. The fact is, on a two on one you cannot aggressively play the shooter because it removes any possibility of a backside recovery. With Price's size and lateral agility he can play slightly deeper and keep his options open a lot longer than most goaltenders.

Last season Price would have guessed on that play. This season he kept his options open, didn't commit too early and remained patient until the shooter made his move.

Gagner made a great shot. In the words of the immortal Patrick Roy "sometimes you tip your hat, say nice shot and give it to him".

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