Blackhawks goalie Arvid Soderblom has worked with coach Jimmy Waite on his problems this season.
AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes
CALGARY, Alberta — A year ago, Blackhawks goalie coach Jimmy Waite compared Arvid Soderblom to Corey Crawford, describing his style and ceiling as Crawford-esque.
The time since hasn’t provided much evidence to support that comparison. Soderblom has been one of the worst goalies in the NHL this season, going 2-15-1 with an .873 save percentage.
But Waite, despite being well aware of those statistics, hasn’t lost faith in the 24-year-old Swedish goalie.
“It is frustrating that the results are not there, but I’m confident it’s going to turn around,” Waite said Saturday. “I think he’s good enough to play in this league. [He needs to] just stick with it. Don’t change your game because you had a bad result one night.”
Since Soderblom’s consecutive disastrous outings in mid-December against the Kraken and Blues, the Hawks have scaled back his frequency of starts, giving Petr Mrazek 13 of the 17 games between the Christmas and All-Star breaks.
That has given Soderblom more practice time to work closely with Waite, fixing and reforming some aspects of his game while the Hawks attempt an in-season rehab. And that yielded some early fruits; he had a save percentage above .900 in three consecutive starts (against the Predators, Devils and Sabres) before struggling again Wednesday against the Kraken.
“Of course, [Jimmy is] great,” Soderblom said. “He builds me up. Like after the last game in Seattle, you’re angry at yourself because you gave up six goals, but you’re looking at it afterward, and [he points out] that two of the goals are just ridiculous bounces.
“There’s always stuff you can do [to improve], but you can’t beat yourself up too much because there was a lot of good stuff in that game, too. You’ve got to look at those things.”
One major problem Waite noticed involved Soderblom overplaying his crease when facing shots from the left. He would move too far to his left (glove) side and leave too much of the net open on his right (blocker) side.
Blues defenseman Justin Faulk’s game-winning goal Dec. 23, a harmless shot that any NHL goalie has to save, represented a prime example of opposing players exploiting that weakness.
“He was over-moving, and then the far side was open,” Waite said. “So he had to reach out a lot, and then he got beat inside [his arm and body] a couple of times. I don’t know why. That was a good thing to film, and now he sees it. He fixed it pretty well. Once in a while, he still does it, but it’s not too bad.”
The Blackhawks’ Dec. 23 loss to the Blues was a season low point for Soderblom.
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
Soderblom noticed and brought up a related but slightly different problem. When an opposing forward would skate right-to-left (from his vantage point) across the offensive zone — from one faceoff circle to the other — he found himself correctly retreating deeper into his crease but not rotating enough.
That would lead to him not being fully square to the shooter and leaving extra space over his shoulders, where he got beat a few times.
Soderblom and Waite also have talked about other instances where he’s initially in the right position — and automatically blocking most of the net thanks to his 6-3 height and wide frame — but then tries to do too much.
“Sometimes I try to read the shots too much and open up a little bit instead of just being there, being patient and trusting myself that they have to . . . make a good play to beat me,” Soderblom said. “When I’m doing that, it’s easier to play. You’re just there, and you get hit by some pucks, and you get some free saves. You don’t have to move.”
Months of opportunities left
Despite all that time and effort spent improving technical goaltending stuff, Waite’s biggest qualm with Soderblom is something far less quantifiable — yet it’s the same criticism many fans have voiced all season.
“You need that clutch save, like Petr has been doing: ‘This is the game-changer; we’re still in the game,’ ’’ Waite said. “[Arvid] does make a lot of saves, but the timely saves you really need, we need more of that from him.”
Kraken forward Tomas Tatar’s breakaway goal Wednesday — a backbreaker that felt inevitable the instant he sprung loose behind the defense — is a perfect example.
Soderblom just hasn’t found a way to regularly stop those kinds of grade-A scoring chances this season. His .765 high-danger save percentage is one of the league’s worst.
But there are still 32 games left, and this Hawks season is already so toasted that the team will keep starting Soderblom regardless of his performance. They’re not going to jeopardize Drew Commesso’s development by calling him up from Rockford.
So Soderblom almost certainly will receive his fair share of opportunities — after the All-Star break — to turn things around, just like Waite believes he can. He’ll just have to perform much better in order to do so.
“We still have faith in Arvid,” Waite said. “Overall, he has been decent, but I know he’s better than he’s showing right now.”