Let it ago about Lindback

In the much-loved 30 Thoughts by CBC’s Elliotte Friedman, the Hockey Night in Canada reporter drops a good bit of nuggets on Tampa Bay Lightning matters this week. Three of the thoughts focus on video review, so you know, that’s all Lightning right there.

His leading thought on the Lightning’s Anders Lindback is the most interesting out of them:

17. It’s too late to do anything about it now, but was Anders Lindback’s development hurt most by lack of North American playing time? He came over from Sweden in 2010 and played 102 games (including playoffs) in four years. That includes just 27 appearances his rookie season and never was an AHL starter. Look at the other goalies in these playoffs who came from overseas. Sergei Bobrovsky played 60 NHL games his first year; Henrik Lundqvist, 56. Guys who were in both the NHL and AHL included Tuukka Rask (59), Kari Lehtonen (53), Frederik Andersen (47), Ilya Bryzgalov & Semyon Varlamov (46) and Antti Niemi (43). Jimmy Howard played more than 200 AHL games before snaring Detroit’s net.

That thought has been bandied about quite a bit ever since he signed in Tampa, and I’m sure Nashville Predators fans felt the same way. I’m not quite sure why David Poile didn’t have Lindback take the helm for the Milwaukee Admirals to push him through a whole season or two. The Caps have done well at this for not only Varlamov, has Friedman points out, but correctly conditioned Michal Neuvirth and now Philipp Grubauer, who in 2012-13 played in the ECHL, AHL and NHL.

What I disagree with is that there is a notion that there is a problem with his rushed development as an European goalie. North American goalies need minor league seasoning, too, before they’re ready. Goalies don’t jump from juniors to the NHL anymore. The Pittsburgh Penguins found that out with Marc-Andre Fleury lucked out that the 21 games he played in 2003-04 as a 19-year-old on the Pens, the lockout came and he was sent to Wilkes Barre-Scranton for development. Fleury was still on a struggling team and he himself struggled to find his game for a few years.

Getting back to Lindback, the most games he had in a season in the NHL are 24, 23 and 22.. The two highest came with his two years in Tampa. That 22-game season was his first in the NHL with Nashville.

Friedman is right saying it’s too late to send him back to the AHL. Unless his confidence is completely shot like Rick DiPietro after numerous injuries, you’re not going to do that now. Lindback is being bred into an elite back-up if that is such a thing, getting few starts.

Lindback didn’t have a meltdown as some think, during the Montreal playoffs. If you saw that many shots and had horrendous defensive coverage, you might let in a couple bad goals, too.

What Lindback needs on work on is fixable. Justin Goldman of The Goalie Guild reviewed at length in 2012 what Lindback should think about when he came to Tampa:

The rest of those potential downgrades are technically based, and get fairly complicated. In a nutshell, I think he still displays various levels of excess tension and rigidness in his posture, and I think he needs to improve his ability to read plays, track pucks, manage shots through traffic, and control rebounds.

But that’s the case for most 24-year-old goalies with limited NHL experience, and ultimately, I understand that Lindback is still miles away from reaching his true upside. There’s plenty of maturing, improving, and learning to be done, and how this process unfolds in Tampa Bay (compared to Nashville) is the true burning question in my mind.

Goldman kept up on the technical side on Lindback’s play during the playoffs, pointing out how Lindback uses the delayed head turn to track pucks behind the net:

However, his teammates never had the man in front. So there’s that.

I’d like to see Lindback on his feet more covering the post. He uses what’s called a Reverse-VH, or Reverse Vertical Horizontal, where his leading pad is against the ice in a half-butterfly, and the trailing leg is up. This causes his six-foot-six frame to shrink as he leans, and leaves a lot of room above his shoulders and places Lindback in a vulnerable position for a one-timer or feed to the slot. Lindback has a narrow butterfly, so I don’t even know why he’s using that because his groin isn’t that flexible to seal the far post if he quickly needs to move laterally and cover the bottom.  I’m only 5’11” and when I’m in goal, I have to use every inch of my legs and arms to cover the places my torso can’t get to. What kills me is that Lindback is so tall and he becomes so small when he wants to seal off the ice. 

As the crucial goals he let by against the Canadiens showed, he was off his angle a few inches when he challenges. This is more teachable and fixable than the Reverse-VH issue. Reverse-VH includes a series of mechanical moves to be in that position and read through a play and make the correct follow-up move. His angle is crease positioning and being able to read the play.

I give Lindback credit because he did elevate his game during the final stretch of the season and in the playoffs. He was saving shots he would not have saved before with his glove, body, knees and stick. For the most part, he sealed the holes. His reaction time was noticeably faster, too. His footwork and reactionary saves looked two steps too slow for the most part of the last two seasons.

Lindback suffers from Still’s diseases, which causes inflammation and joint pain, and that always stayed in the back of my mind for an explanation of why he just looked slower than other goaltenders–as if his fastest reaction was always two seconds slower than anyone else’s. He says it doesn’t affect him on the ice, but I would think that would be in terms of pain.

We could much easily be talking about Ben Bishop’s flaws here, too, if it wasn’t for his injury. Bishop’s mechanics became sloppy over the final half of the season, especially leaving his left leg up off the ice, but we’ll save that for the summer.

Goaltending is a position of constant tweaking–in game and in practice–to give shooters something different. Lindback has shown that he can up his game, and whether it’s here or somewhere else, he can continue to show that he belongs in the NHL.

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