If you’ve ever played EA’s NHL series against the game’s AI, you soon learn to orient the game on a north-south axis, with your team always going from the bottom of the screen to the top. Given how the game’s controls work, that means you will be shooting (and scoring) against goalies by going top shelf, especially when targeting the upper corners.
In short, you’re shopping in Butch Goring’s “toy department”.
— Will Chiarucci (@WillChiarucci) December 18, 2019
This year several Islanders have made the toy department their own on rushes into the offensive zone.
It did not take long for that place to welcome customers this season. Mathew Barzal went shopping there opening night against the Rangers:
— Marc Ferran (@marcferrang) January 15, 2021
Note the positioning of Rangers netminder Igor Shesterkin. He’s on his knees as he waves at the puck. He’s not just begging for mercy, but he’s looking to cover the bottom half of the net with his pads while guarding against the five hole goal (between the legs).
If you’ve ever been on the ice and taken shots at a goalie, you will soon find out that, despite your best efforts, you often shoot right at the goaltender … something you don’t do against an empty net or with targets set up. It’s also hard to elevate the puck that high close to the net (although Jordan Eberle can do it). But streaking down the ice, you may all of a sudden have a clear path to the net, either because the defense has given way or (as Barzal demonstrates above), you’ve deked the defender out of position.
Once upon a time you would look up, check the goalie’s position and usually let it rip somewhere to the goalie’s stick side or the far side, where there might be an opening and you’ll force the goalie to move. Or you would think about deking out the goalie, but that’s a story for another day.
Now, however, you can anticipate the goalie in the butterfly position already going down. If you shoot for a part of the net, especially the upper corners, you have a decent chance of scoring. Note that Barzal actually shoots short side (which the goalie usually covers) but high.
JG Pageau showed just how easy it was to go top corner twice against Buffalo, once coming down on the right wing, one on the left cutting toward the net. Here’s the first one:
PAGEAU PAGEAU PAGEAU! 🚨
Make it 3️⃣ straight games with a goal for JG. #Isles
— NHLonNBCSports (@NHLonNBCSports) February 16, 2021
Pageau went short side, the puck whizzing right past Sabres’ goalie Linus Ullmark’s left ear.
Carter Hutton also waves farewell on Pageau’s second goal, which went far side (glove side) upper corner one night later.
For the second straight night after Anders Lee opens the scoring, Pageau makes it 2-0 again vs. Buffalo!
That's a 4-game goal streak for J-G
— Islanders Videos (@SNY_Islanders) February 17, 2021
Finally, I give you Oliver Wahlstrom’s beautiful tally Tuesday against New Jersey’s Aaron Dell:
The nice thing about this replay is that you have three views of the goal. In each case watch Dell. He isn’t reacting to the puck as it is shot. Instead, he’s simply looking to cover the bottom half of the net and any shot toward the middle of the net. He’s helpless as Wahlstrom rockets the puck past his outstretched blocker.
Finally on the board!
— Isles on MSG+ (@IslesMSGN) March 3, 2021
Yes, it takes skill and precise aim to hit the upper corners. But these examples suggest that if a player possesses those skills, he has a high chance of being rewarded given current goaltending philosophy.
The Islanders have gotten the message, and they are utilizing it to the utmost.
Follow Brooks on Twitter at @BrooksDSimpson