In hockey, net traffic and screens can be your best friend or worst enemy. Washington learned that the hard way Saturday in the 3-6 loss to Tampa.
Traffic certainly didn’t account for all of Tampa’s scoring, but it appeared to help on at least a few of the tallies. Capitals’ goaltender Braden Holtby already plays an aggressive style of goaltending which is fairly protective of the crease, but even that fell short of preventing the Bolts from intermittently taking up residence in real estate that ruined the view from the Caps’ net.
The Goaltender’s View: A goaltender’s antidote in the above situation sounds frustratingly far from an exact science.
“You just got to try and fight through it better,” Holtby said the Monday following the game when asked about Tampa’s traffic. “It’s one of those things that you try and work on in practice, try and find sight lines as best you can. … It’s just reading the play better.”
It’s a slightly different matter for another Washington goaltender, Michal Neuvirth, whose style differs from his counterpart’s aggressive play. He says positioning is huge in traffic situations, which do require him to be more aggressive and play farther out in relation to the crease.
In fact, it was a lesson he had to unlearn while playing overseas during the most recent lockout. There, with a larger sheet of ice and different style of play, net traffic is not as prominent, and Neuvirth trained himself to play deeper in the crease. After two or three games, he said he felt comfortable with his adaption but then had to re-adjust when he came back to North America at the end of the lockout.
The Coach’s View: Though Holtby and Neuvirth end up most impeded by traffic situations, the source of the goalie screening problems Saturday likely began much earlier in the play, according to Capitals’ head coach Adam Oates.
“I think, some of the goals, it evolved to that,” Oates said. “I think it came from breakdowns in other areas that let a guy stand in front, where, if we’re doing our job, that guy won’t be there. I think we made mistakes prior to the actual play, and sometimes you make a mistake that you can’t recover from.”
The Defenseman’s View: The Capitals’ John Carlson said clearing that area of the ice isn’t the same as it used to be.
“Back in the day—I mean, I was only playing youth hockey, but—you could plough someone out in front of the net. You just can’t do that now,” he said, citing the risk of drawing a penalty. “For us D, the contact can’t really be there, so we gotta try to do our best fronting the pucks and trying to block as many as we can, and at least take away his stick so he’s not tipping the puck.”
He echoed a sentiment similar to Oates’ in that everyone’s assignment plays a part in making sure those high traffic situations don’t take shape. And he sympathized with the goalie’s plight.
“It’s almost impossible for the goalie when there’s so many people in front of the net,” Carlson said.