Each week, stickhandling specialist Pavel Barber and Sonny Sachdeva will go Inside the Highlight Reel to break down one of the silkiest moves from the NHL’s best, dissecting it to explain why it’s so dangerous and demonstrating how to master it yourself.
The NHL’s return-to-play plan has been set. Whether the COVID-19 pandemic subsides to a point that allows them to put that plan into action remains to be seen, but for many players around the league, preparations for the post-season have officially begun.
For Alex Ovechkin and his Washington Capitals, a return means a round robin with fellow Rocket Richard winner David Pastrnak and the Boston Bruins, along with fellow eastern contenders in Tampa Bay and Philadelphia. And after a campaign that saw Ovechkin finish atop the goals chart for the ninth time in his career, and tie the second-best goals-per-game pace of his career (0.71), the Caps figure to be a handful for any who get in their way when play resumes.
Last time around, the Inside the Highlight Reel spotlight fell on Boston’s Pastrnak. This week, stickhandling specialist Pavel Barber looks at the other half of the 2020 Rocket Richard duo, breaking down the creativity that makes Ovechkin’s sniping so lethal.
Throughout the hockey world’s hiatus, we’ve called on Barber to share his on-ice expertise for young players using this downtime to fine-tune their skill-sets. The YouTube phenom-turned-skills coach has made his name dissecting the finer points of offensive wizardry. While amassing half a million followers online, the Toronto native has trained NHLers like Jonathan Toews and Jake Virtanen, and recently linked up with Bo Horvat and the Vancouver Canucks to coach some local Vancouverites.
So far, Barber’s dissected Mitch Marner’s backhand toe drag, Sidney Crosby’s one-handed, backhand magic, Connor McDavid’s use of the art of deception, Elias Pettersson’s mastery of ‘The Forsberg’ and David Pastrnak’s trophy-clinching creativity.
This week, a look at one of Ovechkin’s go-to moves — his between-the-legs pull to the backhand.
Given where Ovechkin ranks among the game’s all-time pure goal-scorers, his stickhandling ability and confidence to break out dazzling displays tend to get lost in the shuffle. But that’s par for the course for the boisterous Russian winger — while his game is defined by the 706 goals piled up during his NHL tenure, it’s his skill with the puck on his stick, his physicality, his speed and a number of other nuanced aspects of his game that allow that sniping skill to reign supreme, overlooked as they may sometimes be.
This move in particular makes clear that relationship between his scoring skill and the other aspects of his game. The key to pulling it off lies in Ovechkin’s tried-and-true reputation as a shooter, a reputation that undoubtedly affects how defenders and netminders anticipate his next moves when he’s flying into the zone.
“Ovechkin is a shot threat from pretty much anywhere, which makes him all the more effective at this move,” Barber says. “Watch as he loads up the puck directly to the toe and he positions his body and hands in a shooting position as he looks up to analyze the defenceman and the elimination space.
“He catches the defender flat-footed, reaching, which is when he times the move for the smooth elimination.”
A look at No. 8’s stance right before he begins this move’s sequence illustrates the deception Barber’s describing. If you were toe-to-toe with the Capitals captain lined up like he was below, it would be borderline irresponsible to not expect a shot on net.
With that potential shot leaving the opposition frozen, Ovechkin launches into the between-the-legs move, which — like we’ve seen with the other between-the-legs variations from Marner and Pastrnak — allows him to move past the defender in a manner that leaves him with an option to put the puck on net, while avoiding prying sticks from the opposition.
“The reason he goes between the legs is to protect it further from the defender, who is quite close, to get it to the backhand side,” Barber says. “To effectively do this you have to ensure the puck is loaded off the body to the forehand side, and is also behind the nearside foot to allow the pull to go between the legs.”
The most important hyper-specific skill necessary to use this move effectively, says Barber, is mastering control of the puck with the toe of the blade. And The Great Eight’s twig provides a useful assist on that front.
“You have to use the toe of the blade to get the tight line needed to go between the legs — I’ve used Ovechkin’s pro stock stick before and it has a massive open-faced toe curve, which is basically tailor-made for moves like this,” Barber says.
“This allows him to keep most of the blade near the ice and disguise any move easily with the toe. It just stays cupped in there so he can easily control it and decide when to make the move, which he does well here.”
We’ve seen that between-the-legs classic pop up often from Ovechkin, his ability to sell the shot-fake and his favourable curve pattern making it a natural go-to for the sniping king. And as seen below, that marquee aspect of the Russian phenom’s skill-set makes it all the more dangerous, as regardless of the space afforded, he can either finish off the backhand as above, or quickly whip it to his forehand to find some open space up top.
For a more detailed breakdown on how to master Ovechkin’s go-to between-the-legs move, we asked Barber to demonstrate the sequence, explain how to ensure you can pull it off with maximum effectiveness, and offer up one drill that’ll help build the skills to do it.