Eyes on the Price: Guest starring Shannon Szabados and her highlight-reel save

Szabados did her best to hold the fort against an emotional Team USA in an opening day preliminary game at the IIHF Women’s Worlds.

The 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championship is much bigger news this year than it has ever been.

The United States Women’s National Team’s recent public battle with USA Hockey resulted in a significant agreement for the future of the women representing the United States in international competition.

On the Canadian side, Hockey Canada’s women took the ice without long-time captain Hayley Wickenheiser, who hung up her national team skates at age 37. The Canadian women also welcomed two-time Olympic gold medal goaltender Shannon Szabados back to international competition.

The Canadian women faced a buzzsaw in their first game, with the Americans riding the confidence of their political victory and widespread public support, as well as an overall advantage in team speed and a system to take advantage of it. Team USA dominated possession, and Brianna Decker and Gigi Marvin provided the goals for the host team in their 2-0 victory on Friday in Plymouth, Michigan.

Depite the scoreline, Szabados played well, holding her own and giving her team a chance to get going. It didn't take long for Szabados’ highlight reel to begin.

Americans Alex Carpenter (25), Meghan Duggan (10), and Hannah Brandt (20) execute a typical short-pass zone entry across the left blue line. Brandt and Carpenter isolate Team Canada defenceman Jocelyn Larocque (3), and Brandt springs Carpenter on the wing.

Carpenter drives on angle to the net from the left faceoff circle, while Kali Flanagan (6) fills the right lane. Erin Ambrose (23) is left to defend the 2-on-1 in front of Szabados.

Before focusing in on Szabados, a quick stick tap to the US attack. This is really nifty offensive hockey, executed flawlessly and at top speed, thwarted only by an excellent goaltending play. Ironically, it’s very Soviet in its approach, with short passes and sequential 2-on-1 generation. It’s a testament to the team’s leadership and dedication that they were able to execute at this level in their opening game, despite the significant intrusion of the business world into their pre-tourney preparation.

Now about that goaltending...

As Carpenter drives toward the net, Szabados challenges just inside her crease, retreating slightly but not enough to tempt Carpenter to shoot. Ambrose slides skates first along the ice in an attempt to discourage a cross-ice pass.

Carpenter shows good patience, holding the puck while she skates to the goal line, from where she’s able to sling a pass beyond Ambrose’s extended skates, across the top of the crease to Flanagan.

Szabados holds her angle as Carpenter holds the puck. Just before Carpenter’s pass, Szabados makes an interesting adjustment. As she retreats toward her net, she is slightly overlapping the post.

It appears that she very gently bumps the post with her right calf, and then makes a quick adjustment to bring her skate inside the post rather than continue with her overlap.

By doing this, she has put herself in position to defend either a low-angle shot with a V-H technique (push her right pad vertical against the post and drop her left pad), or push across quickly without taking the chance that her overlap might get tangled on the post.

Once she reads Carpenter’s play as a pass, she makes a strong push across the goal line, and denies Flanagan with her lower left pad.

To be honest, the finish of this save is actually a little less technically proficient than the beginning, though it is clearly effective. The Canadian pushes across from an upright position, but her left pad doesn’t really seal the ice until after her left skate hits the post. Had Flanagan had a little more space to redirect the puck, she might have been able to slide it under Szabados’ knee (white region).

Szabados also leaves her stick behind her push rather than have it lead across in front to cover her five hole along the ice. Again, if Flanagan had a slightly sharper angle on her redirect, there is room along the ice back against the grain.

A final critique would be the path of Szabados’ push. Her left skate is directed at the post rather than just in front. She hits the post extremely hard, which stops her body momentum and allows for a small amount of space to open up above her pad before her glove-hand momentum catches up.

Her glove hand is also behind her pad, meaning that her vertical angle coverage isn’t optimal, and an elevated tip could clear her pad and enter the net.

The final issue is with the force she hits the post. It’s clear that this is a jarring impact for her left leg, with significant force transmitted to her ankle, knee, and hip, putting herself at risk for injury.

Of course, none of those undesirable outcomes occur. Szabados stops Flanagan, and keeps the Americans from generating an early goal that would have brought the house down.

Szabados’ strong play wasn’t quite enough to hold off Team USA in this emotional tournament opener, but it’s hard to imagine that the Canadian women won’t get another shot at the Americans on Friday evening in the Gold Medal Game.

Szabados, young Emerance Maschmeyer, and veteran Genevive Lacasse had better be ready to provide more heroics. If the opening game is any indication, Team Canada is going to need them.

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