Problem with the Butterfly Save

“When the only tool you have is a hammer it’s tough not to treat everything like a nail”

I am often asked about the problem with the butterfly save or style of goaltending. It is a frequently used save in today’s game. However, it should be considered a butterfly save and not a butterfly style.

Constantly using the same save whenever you are tested can prove troublesome. An overuse of the catcher on all shots, no matter where the puck is shot, can cause problems. The overuse of the stick blade on all shots can prove just as dangerous. Well, with the modern game the overuse of the butterfly save has transformed it from a save into a “style” and it too can be problematic.

The best goaltenders are those who perform well and perform well often! The fundamental absolute of goaltending is you stop the puck by whatever means you have at your disposal. The better goaltenders know it’s not just important to stop the first shot BUT to be ready to stop the potential second and third shots. Proper balance, quick recovery, economy of motion and proper anticipation will make for a successful goaltender.

Too many goaltenders are “1 trick ponies” and they use the butterfly on every single shot. One scouting report I recently gave my team concerned a goaltender we were about to play. I pointed out the goaltender’s over reliance on the butterfly by stating, “He uses the butterfly when the puck is in the building!

The butterfly has its problems. Once you go down you have trouble moving your hands up. You may also move off the center line of the puck. You may have trouble moving laterally or if you are moving across it is difficult moving back to stop a re-directed shot. As you drop down in the butterfly you move back into the crease by as much as 6” and this leaves the areas inside the posts open. The butterfly does stop low shots but it also gives off dangerous rebounds when the goaltender is down and committed.

Is the butterfly save merely an automatic move or is it a tactical move specific to the situation? Having a goaltender drop down into the butterfly so the puck will hit him is fine as a tactical response to a specific set of options BUT not all situations. If a goaltender has time and space he has one set of tactical moves or options. If either time or space are affected he has less options. If the puck is close and is being shot, deflected or tipped at the net the goaltender has reduced space and time and therefore requires a proportional response i.e. a quick movement in close proximity to the puck to limit a high percentage shot, therefore a butterfly save.

However, if the puck or shooter is farther out and the sight lines are reasonably clear, time and space allow the goaltender to centre on the puck. Remembering too that economy of motion will produce an effective response without expending excess energy the goaltender can stop or redirect the puck standing, half splits and moving laterally may be more appropriate.

A goaltender who goes down into the butterfly when the puck is well out from the net and well away from any potential tipper or deflection just so he can make a catcher save is making a bad move. Butterflying just so you can use your catcher is a waste of energy!

The butterfly save makes no sense on clear shots from the point especially if the puck is off the ice. The result can be a misplayed shot and a goal.

Also, remember the use of plastic, foam and nylon in sweaters and equipment trap body heat and the constant up and down motion of the butterfly save will generate heat fatigue and tire a goaltender, leaving him exhausted by the third period. The unnecessary stress on young goaltender’s knees could also result in ligament problems or patellar tendon strain such as Osgood-Schlatter Disease (OSD) or with the recent hip joint problems as experienced by NHL goaltender Niklas Backstrom.

The butterfly was designed for low shots. Yes, NHL statistics do show that 81% of shots on net are low. Seeing that stat you feel the butterfly would be the save of choice on low shots. It may also be a calculated safer bet when you don’t know what else to do. But what is also interesting is the same stats show us 26% of goals are scored high! The save percentage on those shots made to the lower portion of the net is 91% while the save percentage on shot to the upper portion of the net is only 84.5%. That means the butterfly save does not always work because it leaves the upper part of the net open.


7 Reasons Why You Use the Butterfly Save?

  1. Use it on low shots which are off the centre line of the body. The quick shooting out of the pad will take care of those low shots just off to the side.


  1. Use it on low shots fired along the centre line but with the stick on the ice covering the 5 hole, especially when the goaltender wants to trap the puck as when your team is under pressure.


  1. Use it to trap the puck into the upper body. A slight recoil with the upper body will ensure the puck doesn’t bounce back out


  1. Use it on dekes. It’s a good strategy especially when the stickhandling opponent makes the final fast forehand to backhand or backhand to forehand move. A quickly extended leg pad can close off access to the net, especially when the pad is close to the opponent’s stick blade. This move blocks the puck and prevents it from going up and over the leg pad.


  1. Use it on potential tips where the opposing player is an actual pass receiver on a re-directed shot or pass. Quick lateral movement across to the tipper will help block the tip. The butterfly has to be executed so the pad arrives right at the opposing player’s stick blade thereby preventing the shot from being re-directed over the pad..


  1. Use the half butterfly to back up a stick save especially when you want to trap the puck. The lowering of the body on the half butterfly allows the glove s to be used quickly to trap the puck.


  1. Use it on potential deflections where a cluster of players are blocking the shooting lane. The butterfly will prevent quickly redirected pucks from entering the net. But again the butterfly pad save has to be done in close proximity to the deflection to prevent pucks from going high into the net.


Remember the butterfly save is a save! It will not stop a high shot directed at the net. It will not direct the puck into the leg pads just because you shot your leg pad out. It is a response to a shot much like a catcher save, a blocker save and a stick save. The goaltender must follow the puck into his pads just as he would with any other save.

This entry was posted in Goaltending On-Ice Training and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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