Tampa Bay Lightning video breakdown: Vasilevskiy’s save. Yes, that one.

A closer look at Andrei Vasilevskiy’s behind-the-back save against the Los Angeles Kings.

It’s the save that’s been seen a thousand times: Tampa Bay Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, after momentarily losing sight of a blocked shot, realizes he won’t be able to turn to his right fast enough to shut down the near post so he flings his left arm behind him and snags Anze Kopitar’s shot out of mid-air with a casual nonchalance that Lightning fans are getting used to.

If you’re one of the three hockey fans that haven’t seen it yet, here ya go.

How does he do this? Thank you for asking Tampa Bay Lightning.  Let’s take a look.

The play starts with the Kings on the power play. Kopitar has the puck at the point and Dustin Brown is taking a break from kneeing players more talented then him and screening him rather effectively.  The initial shot is blocked by Anton Stralman and the fun begins.

Things are pretty normal here. Vasilevskiy has dropped into a traditional butterfly and is trying to make himself as large as possible as there is no way he can actually see Kopitar’s shot. He knows a shot was taken and is hoping that his positioning is good enough that it hits him if it makes it through Stralman.

At this point, with the shot being blocked and his vision screen, Vasilevskiy can try to push Brown out of the way or stand up taller to try and see over him.  He chooses a different route.

Andrei Vasilevskiy is listed at 6’3”. Dustin Brown is listed at 6’0”. The average inseam of a six-foot tall man is about 34 inches. Add a couple of more inches for the height of the skates and that leaves only about 3 feet of space for Vasilevskiy to see underneath Brown. That means he squashed his body in half in order to see the puck.

It’s not a bad plan if you’re athletic enough to pull it off. The entire bottom of the net is covered and a shooter who tries to go high has to get it past his own teammate to score. The question is, how many people can get that low and still be in position to move, let along make a save. I, for one, am not one of them.

From his low-down point of view, Vasy spies the puck on Kopitar’s stick and realizes he has to get over quickly to shut off the near post. He does a good job of clearing Brown’s skates out of the way (it would have been easy for his stick to get caught as he slid across) and pushes off to try and beat the shot, but in his mind he knew he wouldn’t be quick enough. He said after the game, “I realized I didn’t have enough time to be square to the puck so I made the decision to turn the other way and I got lucky.”

Luck is the byproduct of preparation and hard work. Vasilevskiy made the save because he put himself in position to do so. Would the shot have gone wide? From the angle Kopitar released the shot, it’s hard to tell.

From first glance, it looks like it’s labeled for just inside the far post. Even if it didn’t go in, it could have bounced in off of Vasilevskiy’s arm or butt. Also if it went through cleanly, Jake Muzzin is sitting there unmarked with time to knock it down and put it past a defenseless goaltender.

After the puck went into his glove, there was still one issue that Vasilevskiy had to deal with: his own momentum. When a goaltender makes a desperate swimming motion like he did, they often are a bit out of control. It would have been a shame for him to make a great save only to fall backwards over the goal line. The overhead shot shows how close it was.

Yet Vasilevskiy very calmly tucks his glove up against his back until the whistle blows. Part of his success this season has come from how “quiet” his body is. Even when he’s flinging himself around to make saves, he is in control of his body. This save is a prime example of how good he is at reigning in superfluous movement.

“Great” is a word that is tossed around a little too much in sports these days. In this case, it might be a bit of an understatement.