Tage Thompson Undresses Tampa Bay’s Brian Elliott
Buffalo Sabres forward Tage Thompson is having some type of year. The 6-foot-6 sniper has been one of the best stories of the young NHL season, exploding for 14 goals and 29 points in his first 23 games. Thompson’s month of November was full of highlight-reel plays, but none might have been better than this goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Thompson’s entire skill set was on display as he intercepted a pass down low before quickly pivoting and deking out Tampa Bay goaltender Brian Elliott.
Thompson’s filthy dekes rightfully got all the attention, but the play isn’t possible if Thompson doesn’t read and intercept the Tampa Bay breakout pass. As Thompson is forechecking, he intelligently anticipates defenseman Erik Cernak making an outlet pass to forward Cole Koepke. Thompson is behind Cernak and out of his view during the board battle, so the Sabres’ forward is able to sneakily get in the passing lane seconds before the puck is off Cernak’s stick. Thompson recognizes what Cernak is about to do and reads the play before it even happens.
After intercepting the pass, Thompson quickly pivots towards the goal and undresses Brian Elliott. Elliott gets the poke check ready almost immediately, but he hesitates to extend it fully. Thompson’s hands are so quick that he basically freezes the Tampa Bay goalie, leaving him unsure what to do with his stick. Once the puck is on Thompson’s backhand, the goalie extends his stick out straight in from of him as he anticipates Thompson will go back to his forehand. Thompson is once again thinking one step ahead, however, as he evades Elliott’s poke check by keeping the puck on his backhand and deking around Elliott’s outstretched pad to deposit the puck inside the goal.
John Tavares Dangles and Scores vs Flyers
Toronto Maple Leafs forward John Tavares proved in a game against the Philadelphia Flyers that he’s still got it. The Leafs captain pulled off a sensational 1-on-1 deke against Flyers’ blueliner Travis Sanheim before cutting to the net and scoring on goaltender Felix Sandstrom. The move was vintage John Tavares and brought back memories of the veteran’s days with the New York Islanders.
The play unfolds with Tavares cutting down the right wing and entering the Flyers zone. Tavares is being defended by Flyers defenseman Travis Sanheim, who does a good job keeping Tavares to the outside. Tavares alludes the checking of Sanheim with a classic but effective 1-on-1 tactic. Tavares is coming in with speed but he slows down as Sanheim begins to close the gap. The change of speed throws off the defender and gets him to focus on taking the puck away instead of maintaining proper gap control. Once he has Sanheim committed, Tavares then quickly re-accelerates and gets around Sanheim with a deke as the defenseman is caught puck watching. This speed manipulation is one of the keys to dangling defenders as discussed in this article.
After stepping around Sanheim, Tavares finishes off the play by cutting inside and scoring around the outstretched pad of Sandstrom. The path Tavares takes to the net is very important in ensuring he executes the finish. Tavares doesn’t directly take the puck to net to the middle after beating Sanheim, as that would allow Sandstrom time to square up to the shot. Tavares would also run the risk of being stick-checked by the backchecking Scott Laughton. Instead, Tavares skates along the goal line before cutting in front at the last moment. Sandstrom can’t predict whether Tavares is going to go around the net or cut to the middle, so he doesn’t cheat on the play, which proves costly due to Tavares’ speed and momentum.
Jacob Markstrom Makes Windmill Save vs Jets
Calgary Flames netminder Jacob Markstrom has entered his bid for Save of the Year. The ex-Canuck made a ridiculous windmill save in a November game against the Winnipeg Jets. The playoff unfolded with the Flames turning the puck over in the defensive zone and Markstrom denying forward Kyle Connor in tight at the right side of the goal. The rebound sputtered out to blueliner John Morrisey, who spotted a wide-open Mark Scheifele and smartly elected to make a cross-ice pass instead of shooting. Markstrom showed his athleticism as he came across and robbed Scheifele with a windmill save.
Markstrom’s demonstrates excellent mobility as he extends the glove to knock down Scheifele’s shot. One of the keys for goalies when it comes to making windmill saves is shoulder mobility. If a goalie has a stiff shoulder, he isn’t going to be able to extend the glove high in instances like Markstrom’s windmill saves. You’ll notice more and more goalies are placing an emphasis on shoulder mobility when training in the weight room. The NHL is played at such a fast pace that a goalie needs to be able to quickly extend his arms in unorthodox directions. If a goalie neglects shoulder training, he runs the risk of injury when extending the arm for a windmill save.
The windmill save is one of the flashiest saves a goalie can make, but it isn’t always required in certain scenarios. Markstrom executed it brilliantly against the Jets, but he also likely could have made the save with a strong cross-crease push off his right skate. That would have put him square with Scheifele and given less room for the Winnipeg shooter to pick his spot. The Flames’ netminder has struggled this year, posting a save percentage below .900 for the first time in over five years. Goalies who are struggling often make more desperation saves than goalies who are at the top of their game. This comes down to positioning, as elite goalies are always in the right spot at the right time. One of the best ways to practice for cross-ice passes is a slide progression drill where a goalie pushes with his skate blade to the opposite post while keeping his stick on the ice to seal off the five hole.
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