Before every NHL regular season comes to an end, I like to reflect on the progression of goaltending from a league wide perspective, as compared to this point last year. It’s a good way to formulate a solid scope of what we might expect in the playoffs, while also taking a snapshot of the goaltending position, one that constantly evolves.


I think the most visible trend that influenced the position in the last year has been the traffic and bodies around and in the crease area. This was accentuated by the Olympics, as the return of the non-truncated crease proved that current NHL creases play a role in the proximity of bodies to the net and their ability to distract goalies more than usual. A body crashing the net has been a running trend all season long and it has increased since the Olympics ended.


But there’s another trend that has really stood out in my mind since October. That would be the shift from passive butterfly goaltending to a more active, reactive and athletic style of goaltending.


Below I will not only break down the differences between the two “styles” but also explain why it is important that these two styles coexist together within a goalie’s game. But first, let me preclude the breakdown with a couple of disclaimers, so that there’s no confusion surrounding this week’s adequately complicated subject.


First of all, the words active and passive are not catch-all words. They’re only intended to describe the style seen in a myriad of different situations in a game. A goalie might have an active style one moment and play passive the next. It might flip back and forth from period-to-period or game-to-game. Or there’s even the chance a goalie’s style never changes. As such, the terms should only indicate one or two plays. Every goalie could be either style at any time.


Secondly, active and passive are personal terms I use to describe goaltending in the manners you see below. This in the same manner I’ve been analyzing goalies since the beginning. Other goalie coaches and analysts may or may not use these terms the same way, as slightly varying definitions will exist. But most of the time, you’ll have no trouble correlating them to one another. So there’s many ways to get the same kind of message across and this one is mine!



Active goaltending can be described in simple terms as going out and meeting pucks in an effort to take away time, space and net from the shooter. Active goaltending is often seen in smaller, more reactive goalies. They rely on quick and sharp hand and foot work to make big saves on rebounds or second and third chances.


Active goaltending includes an active stick. Goalies will use it to cut off passing lanes from behind the net or along the goal line, make the occasional poke check on a breakaway or a play from the corner and handle the puck often.


Active goaltending includes active hands. Goalies will hold their gloves well out in front of their bodies, which not only allows them to take away more space, but move with a little more freedom.


Active goaltending includes active feet. Goalies will actually kick or direct pucks to the corners when making toe and leg saves. The gloves and stick will also follow the legs in an attempt to get more blocking surface behind the shot.


A few goaltenders that fall in the active style category, more than most others, would be Pekka Rinne, Tuukka Rask, Tomas Vokoun and Marty Turco. They all use quick and active feet and hands to make a number of big saves.




Passive goaltending can be described in simple terms as being as minimalistic and positional as possible so that pucks hit you and are absorbed as much as possible. Passive or “calm” butterfly goaltending is often seen in much bigger and less-mobile goalies. They rely on size and stature in the net to create a wall that takes up more space and forces shooters to pick the corners.


Passive goaltending includes a passive stick. Goalies will focus more on making sure the stick is always covering the five-hole and will rarely be used to poke check, so that they never commit to a play and lose that coverage.


Passive goaltending includes more relaxed hands. Goalies will keep their gloves attached to the top of their pads and focus more on sealing the holes between both elbows and sides of the body.


Passive goaltending includes much quieter feet. There is less foot movement involved because it is not as quick, but travels a further distance due to the bigger size. Passive goalies often have slightly wider stances because their size compensates for the need of faster movements.


A few goaltenders that fall in the passive style category, more than most others, would be Niklas Backstrom, Carey Price and Cam Ward. They rely more on solid positioning and bigger bodies to force pucks to hit them.




When it comes to deciding which style is better, you’ll find that there’s no definitive answer. Sometimes it’s better to be passive, other times it’s better to be active. As a result, goalies at the pro level strive to have a good combination of both. They will focus more on the decision-making process between the two, depending on the situation at hand, as opposed to the execution of the actual save.


A successful pro goalie will know when to use each style and how to do so in a manner that effectively helps them manage a game. This is important when looking at fantasy prospects, because having this ability is a sign a goalie has strong situational awareness. And we all know how vital that term is to a goalie’s success!


That being said, when is it better to be passive and when is it better to be active? Which one has more advantages?


One reason why I feel active style is more advantageous right now in the NHL is because of how it makes handling rebounds caused by traffic or deflections. If a passive goalie sits back and makes a save but gives up a rebound, he may not have the foot speed or the ability to shift and transition weight quickly enough to get behind that second shot. An active goaltender, however, will already be well on his way through the transition process when the puck comes off his pads. Odds are good that he’ll either get a toe, a shoulder, an elbow or a stick on the rebound shot.


There are many reasons why both active and passive styles are advantageous. But ultimately, it comes down to personal philosophy. Either a goalie likes to go out and get the puck, or they like being in position for shots to just hit them. But the important thing to remember as a fantasy manager is that goalies need to be confident with both styles.


So when it comes to dissecting the present in hopes of understanding the future, I’ll leave you with one final thought.


There’s a visible shift from passive to active goaltending this year, as reflected by the strong play of smaller goalies. This shift has caused the bigger goalies to start incorporating more of an active style into their game. They challenge shooters more by moving out to take away space.


To me, this is all the proof I need to know that being an assertive goalie has some clear-cut advantages over sitting back and playing a passive style. As discussed above, there are times when being passive is more effective, but it seems like those moments are slowly dwindling as time goes on.

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Justin Goldman said:

... Lundqvist is basically his own beast. He has been playing deep for years. He has long arms and legs and has a lot of little tricks to help him cover space despite playing so deep.

For example, Lundqvist never closes his glove. It's worked in so that the pocket is as wide as it can possibly get. He just swings it wildly and it is almost like a second blocker. Then there's his thigh rises and the way he wears his pads.

If you look at photos of the back of his legs, you'll notice no strap going underneath the skates. That pulls the pad down tight on top of the skate. So by having that strap removed and putting it behind his angle, the pad sits high up on his skates, so they appear slightly higher than most every other NHL goalie.

Little things like that go a long way when you put it all together. Lundqvist is just his own breed...and it works. Wide crazy stance crazy pressure on the hips, oh well!!
March 30, 2010
Votes: +0

Fred Poulin said:

Lundqvist Very nice article Justin. How do you explain King Henrik's style as he plays very deep in his own net with great success despite being kind of illogical?
March 30, 2010
Votes: +0

Justin Goldman said:

... I appreciate the kind comments, boys. It has been a while since I did one of these style/goalie breakdowns, they are by far my favorite...and still valuable for fantasy managers!!

Yes, Nabokov could be considered a passive goalie...but at times. I love Nabokov's game because he stands up and waits for pucks to hit him, but he still has really quick and active feet and he will scramble when he needs to. But I didn't mention him with other passive goalies because he's a good mix.

Look at Jon Quick before the Olympics and then after. His whole stance had a makeover. He stands up much more upright and has a narrow stance on shots from angles, so he's a lot like Nabokov now. It's a really efficient style (like you said) and one that I happen to love.

One thing I didn't mention in the article is the progression of a new kind of "read and react stance". Just something I've noticed in Quick but not in most other goalies but still worth watching.

When the puck is in the middle of the ice, the goalie's stance is wider.

When the puck starts heading towards the boards and down to the goal line, the goalie's stance narrows as he goes in a half-circle towards his posts.

So wide in the middle of the ice, then as he moves to either post, the stance narrows until he's straight up and down on either post.

The width of the butterfly is directly related to the proximity of the puck to the goal. I like it.
March 30, 2010
Votes: +0

agentzero said:

passive goalies Indeed, Giguere is a passive goalie and one of the most notorious one for using a "blocking style". I think Nabokov kind of fits that mold as well. I'm pretty sure it was another of your articles that mentioned efficiency and it seems to me that passive goalies are more efficient with their energy. It made me think of Nabokov. I also think he's capable of the flashy saves and such, but he seems more intent on being the one that covers tons of space and gobbles up pucks, rather than redirect them. Luongo is a similar style as well. Maybe it's a hybrid active/passive style and both have great situational awareness I guess. Anyway, this stuff is very cool to discuss. It helped me find out what kind of goalie I was lol.
March 30, 2010
Votes: +0

sentium said:

... Just wanted to chime in to say pretty much the same thing as agentzero. You're a genius, Justin smilies/smiley.gif
March 30, 2010
Votes: +0

Justin Goldman said:

... Thanks, man!!

It should be noted that J-S Giguere is considered a passive goaltender, as he’s one of the most recognized “blocking” goalies in the game. The blocking goaltender is a whole different animal when it comes to the active and passive styles, so I’ll cross that bridge some other time.
March 29, 2010
Votes: +0

agentzero said:

... Goldman, you are a genius. Your articles are what give me a HUGE leg up in scouting goaltending for all my fantasy pools. Keep it up, because it's awesome.

Before this one, your pop-up style goaltending analysis article was my favourite. I really watched for that. It's really cool.

Well done.
March 29, 2010
Votes: +0
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