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Eyes on the Price: Can’t fault Montoya

Al Montoya and Jimmy Howard dueled into overtime as the Habs salvaged a point, and a couple of young guns made their presence known

NHL: Detroit Red Wings at Montreal Canadiens Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.

Artturi Lehkonen and Anthony Mantha showed the value of this cinematic advice as they provided a bit of late excitement to an otherwise sleepy Tuesday evening at the Centre Bell.

On the heels of their emotional weekend sweep of the Ottawa Senators, the Canadiens dropped an anticlimactic 2-1 overtime tilt to the visiting Detroit Red Wings.

Al Montoya, getting the start after Price’s back-to-back weekend duty, was up against it from the start. The Habs found themselves shorthanded within the first minute of the first period, and for the first time in several weeks the penalty kill looked completely ineffective. Before half the faithful could get comfortable in their seats, Justin Abdelkader (8) had outfought Montoya for the opening goal.

Despite the inauspicious start, the night wasn't a total loss for the Habs. Montoya held the fort through the remainder of regulation, as he has done several times this season, and Lehkonen notched his tying goal with 2:29 left in the third period to salvage a valuable standings point on a night that the Ottawa Senators grabbed two from the Bruins in Boston.

Detroit then took total control of the overtime period, outshooting the Habs 6-0, as Montoya desperately willed the home side toward a shootout.

With less than a minute to go, Detroit’s Anthony Mantha (39) finally put a blistering shot past Montoya to give the visitors a deserved victory.

Mantha, all 6’5” of him, exhibits some pretty sweet puck control to get into a shooting position, then fires one between Shea Weber’s legs to beat Montoya glove side.

Although this wasn’t the most exciting of games, it did feature pretty strong performances from both Montoya and Jimmy Howard. Red Wings fans have a legitimate reason to wonder what would have happened to their season had Howard not missed the middle third of it due to injury, as the former Olympian was playing some of his best hockey in the fall. Al Montoya did what Al Montoya does, and gave the Habs a chance. In the end, Howard lost his shutout, and Montoya the game, on very similar goals.

Both veteran goaltenders are victimized by shooters who “change the angle” on them. (Google searches abound for further reading on this topic, and HabsEOTP’s own Jack Han addresses this as well as other goal-scoring secrets in this article from 2015)

Without delving into the full mathematical details here, the gist is relatively straightforward. Changing the position of the puck just before releasing a shot is more than just a deceptive visual move. As with so many goaltending concepts, it’s a matter of trigonometry. Moving the puck can enlarge the available path to the net on the shooter’s targeted side, presuming the goalie remains stationary. As we’ll see, it can also cause the goalie to move away from the shooter’s ultimate target. The move has multiple variations.

Zdeno Chara, for example, scores on Carey Price on February 12 by extending the puck away from his body and shooting far side.

We previously examined Auston Matthews’ “inside-out” attempt to beat Price on an overtime breakaway.

Lehkonen and Mantha both “change the angle” of their shots by pulling the puck closer to their body before they shoot to the short side. Targeting the short side like this has the added benefit of reducing the shot distance (trigonometry again), giving the goalie a split-second less time to react to the deception. Put it all together, and goals happen.

In actual practice, the effect of changing the angle is frequently enhanced by the almost involuntary reactions of the goaltender. Goalies will often shift, nearly imperceptibly, to the side of their initial read of the shot threat, further enlarging the opposite side target.

Watching Montoya closely in slow motion during Mantha’s goal, it’s possible to see him move just barely to his right as he loads into his stance after his initial read of Mantha’s threat.

This gives him a very slight momentum to his right as he drops into his butterfly, as evidenced by the finishing position of his left pad, and his slight body lean back to his left as the shot passes by him.

Lehkonen’s tying goal is an even better example. His shot is from a greater distance, but the effect is the same. He begins his shooting sequence by showing Jimmy Howard the puck to the right of Niklas Kronwall (55), to Howard’s blocker (far) side.

By the time he releases the puck, he has pulled it significantly closer, and the shot path has changed to Howard’s short side.

Howard begins the sequence pretty well-aligned with where Lehkonen’s shot will ultimately travel. As he drops into his stance, though, with the puck visible to Kronwall’s right, Howard resets his position slightly to the right. When Lehkonen shoots short side, Howard drops into butterfly, but his position makes the short side accessible past his glove.

Howard’s reaction says it all. He sees the puck go in past him on the left, looks back to see where he has positioned himself, and throws his gaze heavenward to ask the Hockey Gods how he could have ended up where he did.

NHL: Detroit Red Wings at Montreal Canadiens Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Although it’s fairly easy to explain why Montoya and Howard give up these goals, it’s hard to fault either of them.

It’s important to remember that shooters and goalies don’t exist in a vacuum. Good shooters study goaltending techniques, and good goaltenders study shooting techniques.

Lehkonen and Mantha are two young guys who have clearly done their homework and practiced their craft, and both expertly exploit their advantage when the opportunity arises.

The Don would be proud.