Hall of Famer Patrick Roy treated the question almost like a shot on net, deflecting it away when hit with whether goaltenders of today are more athletic.
“Are you saying I was not?” the Colorado Avalanche coach said, his intimidating stare briefly returning. Then he thought about it for a moment.
“Maybe they are,” Roy said. “The position has improved so much since my first day in the NHL.”
Goalies still rely on the butterfly style Roy helped make famous, spreading their goal pads and hands to resemble a butterfly’s wings. But the art of keeping the puck out of the net has evolved into so much more. Goalies now spend more time on their knees to take away shots around the net and use all that padding to steer pucks into the corners.
Above all, goalies are becoming even more agile.
The save percentage around the league in 2014-15 was a combined .911, which is among the best dating to 1982-83, according to STATS. What’s more, goaltenders stopped 875 of 1,253 shots in shootouts this season, the highest percentage (69.8) since it was first instituted for the 2005-06 season.
It could make for some low-scoring playoff games that begin Wednesday.
“These goalies are definitely raising their game and making it harder for scorers,” said Winnipeg right winger Drew Stafford, whose team faces Anaheim in the first round. “It’s just tough to score.”
The size of goalies these days helps. Of the starters in the playoffs, only one (Jaroslav Halak of the New York Islanders) is under 6 feet. The tallest is Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop, who, at 6-7, is just 2 inches shorter than Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara.
They’re nimble, too, moving from post to post with ease. Have to be, with shooters such as Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby around.
“I remember days when I would get a shutout or something and I would feel like I didn’t do anything. Those days are long gone,” said Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne, whose team opens against Chicago. “I feel like the game’s really exciting. I think goalies are really good these days, they’ve always been. But guys are real fast and just play a solid game, really consistent.”
Roy couldn’t agree more. In winning 551 regular season games and four Stanley Cup titles, he relied on that butterfly approach, which was hard on the hips — constantly bouncing to the ice with the pads spread wide will do that — but even harder to solve.
Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury relies on that, too, as do most goalies. Washington’s Braden Holtby estimated that about 95 percent of saves are made in the butterfly position, but it’s about “getting up from there. It’s using your hands. It’s using your skating to get to different places, which is evolving.”
“It makes us be more athletic,” added Holtby, who tied the team record most wins (41) in a season in 2014-15. “It makes it more of a sport, instead of science, which is good.”
Other styles catching on include the “V-H” (vertical-horizontal) and the “Reverse-V-H,” especially when an opponent has the puck behind the net. Basically, if a goalie is on the left post, his left leg would be up and against the post, while the right pad is down on the ice. It forms an “L” and makes squeezing anything in downright difficult (the “Reverse-VH” is from the opposite direction).
And then there’s the style of Jonathan Quick, whose Los Angeles Kings didn’t make the postseason and won’t be able to defend their Stanley Cup title. He’s pretty much brought a floor-hockey version to the ice, constantly scrambling from one post to the other on his knees.
“He’s literally created another style of hockey,” said former NHL forward Jeremy Roenick, who’s now an NHL studio analyst for NBC. “It’s really giving goaltenders a new technique.”
Those coaching the future NHL goaltenders are definitely paying attention, too.
Dave Dolecki runs The Crease Goaltending Academy in Toronto. On a typical week, he and his instructors work with 150 goalies of all ages.
What they teach changes with the times. Only one thing doesn’t change — emphasis on fundamentals — but he is seeing a hybrid style developing.
“Every goalie is different. You’ve got to work on your strengths and play to them,” explained Dolecki, who’s worked with Scott Wedgewood, a draft pick of the New Jersey Devils. “These goalies are definitely using athleticism. At the same time, a little bit of blocking and butterfly, too. To me, it’s like they’re putting everything together now.”
In the end, though, it boils down to simply keeping the puck out of the net by any means necessary.
“I don’t care if I make the save with my pad,” Rinne said, “or with my head.”
AP Sports Writers Dave Campbell, Howard Fendrich and Teresa M. Walker contributed to this report.