I’m back. I didn’t have enough time to get to every player I wanted to get to in the first post. You might think I’m relaxing on vacation but my kiddo’s summer hockey schedule is no joke. So this weekend I fired up the old YouTube player again and did some homework on another five snipers. Thanks for all your suggestions on Twitter. This still isn’t a complete list of the guys who give goalies nightmares, so maybe I’ll have to do Part 3 in the future.
Similar to Ovechkin, Stamkos makes you paranoid about your ability to see the puck no matter where he is on the ice. Both guys can shoot from anywhere in the offensive zone and it will be a scoring chance. But the thing that might be underrated about Stamkos is his ability as a playmaker. He’s not just a goalscorer. As a goalie, I have to respect his ability to make a tough pass instead of just selling out on the shot and moving up a half-step in the crease. And that creates a real problem, because his release is world-class.
Whenever he sets up shop on the power play on the left side (the goalie’s right side), it’s as threatening a situation as it gets for a goalie. Because in that position, Stamkos can can unleash a one-timer to the goalie’s blocker on the short side. Stamkos’ release might be the quickest in the NHL — especially off the one-timer. If you’re trying to make a reaction save with your waffle, you’re in trouble.
Notice how Stamkos barely even bends his knees here. The puck is gone in one smooth, quick motion.
If I had to sum up Stamkos’ release in one word, it would be efficient. As I mentioned in Part 1, Ovechkin is able to get a tremendous amount of momentum on his shots by leaning way into them and releasing from his back foot. Part of that is because of his twig — Ovechkin’s stick is a little whippier and the blade is really curved. His shot has kind of an arc to it. Stamkos is different. He uses a stiffer stick and releases the puck more from his front foot. The less time the puck is on the shooter’s blade, the less time a goalie has to read where the puck is going. It’s a microscopic difference — maybe a few centimeters — but Stamkos whips the puck off his stick so quickly that it almost looks like he’s “pushing” it. Stamkos doesn’t have a tell — he doesn’t bend his knees dramatically or drop his hands to signal that he’s about to shoot. It’s just on you.
Check out how he roofs this wrister while basically standing up straight on one leg. Again, it’s so quick and smooth.
Kopi is, in my opinion, the best two-way center in the league. The first thing you notice with Kopitar is how incredibly smooth he is in all facets of the game. I’ve never seen a big guy be that effortless on skates. He makes it look easy, which is maybe why he’s underrated in a sense. You hear a lot about hustle and battle and speed when people talk about hockey, but NHL players will tell you, if they’re being honest, that you have to be smart about the moments when you go all-out. The guy you see out there chopping his skates 100 mph might look great for 30 seconds, but if he’s on the bench sucking air for the next five shifts, it does your team no good. In a 60 minute game, you have to conserve your energy by being sound positionally and then pick your spots to turn on the jets or else you’re going to be wasted by the third period. Anze is brilliant at this. His hockey I.Q. is off the charts.
Want to see a smooth player?
On the wall, there’s only one Jaromir Jagr. He’s been playing keep-away for 20 years and no one has figured out how to take the puck off him. But Kopi is as close as you’re going to get to Jagr at protecting the puck. He’s up against the opposition’s best defensemen every night, and yet he’s able to use his strength to lean on them, wear them down, and create space for himself and others. Anze grinds down opponents with those “heavy minutes” that keep goalies deep in their knees and trap opposing centers deep at their own goal line. That’s why you might not see a lot of Anze on SportsCenter, because he does the dirty work 10 seconds before the goal that doesn’t fit into the highlight.
Here’s a perfect example from a power play against Nashville a few years ago. Notice how Kopi works the wall to create the space that eventually leads to the goal. The winger responsible for him is actually on his knees with exhaustion after the puck goes in.
Like I’ve said many times now, it’s not necessarily about the shot itself. A lot of times it’s about everything else.
Just like with Crosby, Tavares doesn’t kill you with one thing, he kills you with how insanely balanced his game is in all aspects. Tavares can deke you, or roof a shot, or make a great pass, or if nothing is there, he’ll do the smartest thing and chip it in deep to live another day. He’s similar to Crosby in another way, too. He’s one of the most tenacious guys I’ve ever played against. A lot of guys that skilled might choose to work the perimeter and wait for their linemates to open up space for them. Tavares gets right into the dirty areas and mucks it up. You’ll see him score just as many greasy goals as pretty ones.
Tavares is so strong on his feet that you’ll often see him absorb a solid hit along the boards but somehow spin off it and keep his momentum going toward the net. This overtime goal against Toronto sums up everything he does so well. He uses his arm to shrug off the first defender, dekes it through the second defender’s tripod and then uses some great edgework to get to the front of the net and around a third defender.
This combines everything that makes him great. You have the work he puts in in the weight room in the summertime to have the strength to shrug off defenders and maintain balance after 60-plus minutes of hockey, plus you have the hockey IQ to map out how to get past three defenders. Before he takes on the second defenseman at goal line, he’s thinking two steps ahead. His deke is one smooth motion that let’s him get to the front of the net. Watch the clip again. How many full strides does he take from the time he beats the first defenseman to the time he scores? One.
When I think of Max, I think of the most underrated player in the NHL. Only three players have scored more goals than him over the past three seasons — and these aren’t all pretty power play goals. Most of his goals come in 5-on-5 situations where space is tight, and I know he had 10 game-winners last season. Max is similar to Tavares in the way he works in dirty areas. It blows my mind that he’s not talked about more because he’s such a great scorer.
When you’re playing Max, you have to be very aware of his quick snapshot. He’s able to release the shot so quickly and with so much power that you have to know where it’s going ahead of time to have a chance to stop it. The thing that separates Max is that his shots are as accurate and consistent as you’re going to see in the NHL. He can pick a little sliver of space better than anyone, so if you’re deep in your net when he releases it, it’s game over.
Notice his body here. No windup. No big change of momentum. The puck is right out in front of him, so he could just as easily make the pass. The goalie is frozen because Max has given himself multiple options. Then you have the shot itself, which is so heavy that it pops out of the net all the way to the top of the circles. Being a goalie sucks sometimes.
(P.S. Look at the score and the clock. Max scores big goals.)
Jamie Benn / Tyler Seguin
In the spirit of tradition, I am going to cheat again with this duo. When Seguin was traded to the Stars a few years ago, every goalie in the Western Conference probably saw the news and said, “Aww, come on!” Jamie Benn is basically the ultimate hockey player. My teammate Drew Doughty is one of the best defensemen in the world, so I’ll take his word above anyone when it comes to players, and he’s always saying how tough it is to play against Benn. He can do everything at a high level, but I think he also buys a lot of space for himself on the ice because he’s tough as nails. Benn will hit you. He will fight you. He’s not afraid of anyone. Sometimes the game plan against star players is to rough them up and see if they can take it. With Benn, forget it.
One thing that Jamie does better than anyone is using the defenseman as a screen in 1-on-1 situations. He uses his long reach and unbelievable hands to shoot the puck through the defenseman’s legs. What makes this difficult for a goalie is that it’s hard to pick up the release. You’re watching the puck on the outside of your defenseman’s legs, but then Benn will pull the puck into his feet and shoot it inside the leg. That millisecond that you lose sight of the puck behind your defenseman’s skate makes all the difference in the world.
It’s kind of hard to describe but thankfully we have the miracle of video here on the Internet.
Pietrangelo knows what Benn wants to do, so he closes his legs, but it doesn’t matter. Benn pulls the puck in and changes the angle, using Pietrangelo’s body and stick as the screen. Like I said in Part 1, the best shooters aren’t necessarily the hardest shooters — they’re the ones who can change the release point dramatically.
Add in Seguin to the mix now and it’s a whole new dimension. You can’t cheat on Benn’s shot because Seguin is really good at letting him draw attention and floating into open space on the weak side. One funny thing that Seguin likes to do is drop down to one knee when he shoots a one-timer. This is similar to Ovechkin, but unlike Ovi, Seguin does a short half-slapper wind-up. It allows him get all his weight into the shot but still get it off quickly. He scores from some really unorthodox angles. It’s a release that you don’t see a lot as a goalie.
Seguin is better than anyone at doing the unexpected. He takes off-angle shots that keep you on your toes for 60 minutes. I’ll say it again — stopping shots is 90 percent mental. Benn and Seguin have incredibly quick releases, but the most dangerous thing about them is that they’re unpredictable. Almost mischievous. When they’re clicking on all cylinders in your zone you’re just thinking, Ah for f–
… Alright, I’m getting worked up. Better go. It’s been fun.
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Photographs by AP Images