Tuesday, May 7, 2019

A celebration of goaltenders allowing really terrible goals

I’ve always been fascinated by bad goals. You know the kind – the ones where the puck goes in, you immediately start swearing at your TV either out of frustration or amazement, and we get an extended zoom-in on the goaltender while his teammates all turn and skate away in disgust without even acknowledging he exists.

Bad goals have always been a part of hockey, but if anything they’ve become even more interesting over the course of the Dead Puck era. An entire generation of defense-first coaches have worked to squeeze the offense out of the sport, desperately trying to turn every game into a 2-1 slog of blocked shots and neutral zone turnovers. And they’ve mostly succeeded. But every now and then, all that planning goes out the window because some puck that barely seemed worth paying attention to suddenly winds up in the back of the net.

We almost got one for the ages last week in Boston. With the Bruins and Blue Jackets fighting through a crucial overtime, a harmless looking dump-in from center ice suddenly took an unexpected bounce and very nearly slipped past Sergei Bobrovsky. Only a lunging glove save kept the Blue Jackets goalie from being on every highlight reel for the next decade.

So close. But don’t worry, bad goal fans. There’s still lots of playoffs left to add a few entries to the list. It’s only a matter of time.

In the meantime, let’s get organized. Here are 10 types of terrible goals that are all sorts of fun to see, as long as you’re not a goaltender.

Type 1: The long-distance bouncer

This is the one that nearly got Bobrovsky. Somebody lobs one in from center ice, it takes a few bounces, and suddenly everyone realizes that the goalie is in trouble.

Victims of the long-distance bouncer include Sebastien Caron and Cam Talbot, but they’re not alone; we see one of these a few times a season. And of course, there’s the most famous example of them all, the one you were probably thinking about as soon as you saw the headline on this post …

Here’s the thing: These shots are way tougher than they look. I’m not even entirely convinced we should call them bad goals. Pucks aren’t designed to bounce in a predictable way, and if you can land one just right in front of a goalie, they basically have no choice but to get as big as they can and hope the hockey gods are on their side. And every now and then, they’re not.

Put it this way: There’s no save that has a higher degree of difficulty and a lower level of sympathy if you fail. We don’t expect goalies to be able to adjust and make saves on shots that were deflected by a skate or a stick right in front of them. But when the ice is doing the deflecting, there’s no mercy.

If I was in the NHL, I’d be taking these shots all the time. I’d be staying late and practicing them, trying to get them to land in just the right spot and with just enough spin. Honestly, it might be my shootout move.

Type 2: The long-distance boomer

The more-advanced cousin of our first type of bad goal, this one looks like a much tougher save even though it probably shouldn’t be. There’s no bounce or deflection here, just a guy winding up from long range and straight-up drilling it.

We can get into a bit of a gray area here; personally, I’d argue that Steve Yzerman’s laser beam winner against Jon Casey back in 1996 wasn’t a bad goal at all, but rather one of the greatest shots in hockey history. But Owen Nolan’s bomb from center ice a few years later? Yeah, that’s a bad goal.

Dan Cloutier never really lived down giving up a crucial playoff goal to Nicklas Lidstrom back in 2002, although that one’s on the borderline of Type 1 and Type 2 because Lidstrom skipped it. Other Canucks goalies haven’t had that excuse, although at least that one didn’t come in the playoffs. But they can happen to the best of them and even show up in the middle of some of the great goaltending runs of all-time.

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