Luke Richardson’s attentiveness toward Blackhawks goalies rare among NHL coaches

Many head coaches understand little about goaltending and mostly leave their goalies alone. But Richardson, conversely, “thinks about the goalies all the time.”

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Petr Mrazek tends the Blackhawks’ goal.

Blackhawks coach Luke Richardson keeps close tabs on Petr Mrazek (pictured) and his other goalies.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Many NHL coaches view goaltending as a sort of foreign craft. They leave their goalies to their goalie coach and largely ignore their day-to-day routines.

Former Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville certainly fell into that category.

“I remember ‘Q’ sometimes [would say], ‘Oh, that was a bad goal,’ ” longstanding Hawks goalie coach Jimmy Waite said. “I had to explain to him why maybe it wasn’t a bad goal, why [our goalie] played it that way. And then he’d say, ‘Oh, OK, that makes sense.’ ”

But Hawks coach Luke Richardson does not fall into that category. As with many things, he operates differently than his predecessors in terms of the attention he pays to the Hawks’ goalies.

He’s so interested in them that Waite was originally taken aback.

“Working with Luke is weird because he really cares about what the goalies do,” he said. “At the start of practice, he wants to make sure they’re warmed up before we get to the harder drills. He thinks about the goalies all the time. And he knows a lot about goaltending. I’m surprised how he does it.”

Richardson attributes that characteristic to his long playing career as a defenseman, during which he had to communicate with tons of goalies when retrieving dump-ins and coordinating defensive-zone coverage.

It probably has something to do with his inclusive, hands-on personality and overall coaching style, too. Writing off goaltenders as eccentric, hard-to-relate-to specialists because of their job’s uniqueness wouldn’t align with how he operates.

“You need to talk to a goaltender in their language, their mentality, so I like to know a little bit about that and understand it,” Richardson said. “I want to make sure we’re on the same page, that our [approach] is working for the goaltenders or if we have to maybe change it a little bit.

“What we’re preaching, Jimmy likes it, and I think the goaltenders like it and are comfortable with it. We just have to execute things.”

Richardson’s attentiveness toward goaltending is especially relevant because goalie Arvid Soderblom, who struggled in his 15th career start Sunday against the Rangers before being sent to the AHL on Monday, is one of few high-upside prospects who has spent significant time on the Hawks’ NHL roster. The more coaching and organizational investment he receives, the better.

The Hawks haven’t made their goalies’ lives easy this season. As with most of their other team weaknesses, however, there’s not much Richardson or Waite can do, considering the talent deficit of the roster they’re working with.

Their team save percentage has dropped to .886 (ranking 27th in the NHL) and their save percentage against high-danger shots has dropped to .798 (ranking 25th).

Petr Mrazek is the main reason why: He’s 2-7-1 with an ugly .872 save percentage and minus-7.9 goals saved above average (GSAA). Soderblom is at 2-10-2 with relatively better stats: .894 save percentage, plus-1.5 GSAA. Alex Stalock, who was finally activated off injured reserve Monday, has been stuck at 3-2-1 with a .914 save percentage and plus-3.6 GSAA since Nov. 1.

Richardson has talked to Waite and the goalies a lot about the penalty kill, in particular, incorporating their feedback about “where they want to see the pucks come from” into the Hawks’ structure.

They asked for tighter coverage on back-door passes and chances, so that they can stay more square to tight-angle shots, prompting Richardson to work on that with his penalty killers.

“[The goalies] appreciate interest, and they’re a big part of the team, as well,” he said. “I ask Jimmy’s thoughts on, ‘Is that enough at practice? Is this good for practice? Is this good for the pregame skate?’ I like to give them the best opportunity to be feeling confident at the start of the game.”

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