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.
Looking back now, the book on Matthew Tkachuk was always slightly askew.
While the Calgary Flames winger long garnered the spotlight on his way up through the minor and junior ranks, there always existed some level of notoriety by association — he was the son of one of the game’s most familiar power forwards, the linemate of one of the OHL’s most dynamic talents.
But four years into his NHL career in Calgary, Tkachuk’s more than proven he’s worth having the spotlight all to himself. The 22-year-old’s become the emotional compass of his Flames squad, and one of the most polarizing names in the sport, his on-ice brand a blend of classic Tkachuk truculence and high-octane skill.
There’s one move in particular that’s clearly become a favourite of No. 19 — the between-the-legs, top-shelf snipe. The Flames faithful have become accustomed to seeing the young winger break it out in key moments, whether it’s come with him planted at the net-front, cutting to the cage, or wildly streaking through the slot in the final moments of overtime.
That being the case, we asked stickhandling specialist Pavel Barber to break down the mechanics of Tkachuk’s go-to dangle.
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 magic, Connor McDavid’s use of the art of deception, Elias Pettersson’s mastery of ‘The Forsberg’, David Pastrnak’s trophy-clinching creativity, Alex Ovechkin’s go-to dangle and Evgeni Malkin’s backhand spinorama.
This week, Barber breaks down Tkachuk’s between-the-legs, top-shelf snipe:
Unlike the other versions of this move used by Tkachuk over the years, this one pulled off against the San Jose Sharks relies on the same basic framework as all of the between-the-legs variations covered so far by Barber — some form of a shot-fake that gets the netminder preparing for the opposite of what’s coming.
“As a lefty, Tkachuk comes left to right across the goalie on the approach, then goes between the legs — this approach automatically gets the goalie moving laterally in preparation for a backhand-side finish,” Barber says, walking through the sequence. “As he comes across, he first puts it to his backhand side first, which is an important point, because these between-the-legs goals are really fake backhand shots.”
Looking at the play from the angles below, you see the importance of what Barber’s touching on — that momentary hesitation from Tkachuk to signal he may cut to the chunk of open ice sitting to Aaron Dell’s left causes the netminder to flinch in preparation of that potential, opening up enough space for the winger to exploit.
As Barber outlines in his own demonstration of the mechanics of this move, the key that allows Tkachuk to so seamlessly whip pucks top-shelf after entering into this between-the-legs sequence is where he loads the puck on his stick:
“As he pulls it between the legs on his backhand, he releases it at the toe, which allows him to get under the puck quickly without having to get unnecessarily low with his body to elevate it,” Barber explains. “You always want to finish on that forehand side if you can.”
A few angles that grant a better look at Tkachuk’s use of his toe, which lets him whip the puck skyward before Dell realizes he’s cut to the wrong side:
Much like a number of the between-the-legs moves Barber’s broken down, this particular version is grounded in two key factors.
The first is setting up a context that sells some sort of fake, getting the netminder moving in a particular direction with an eye on the opposite. The second is mastering the mechanism of the move in question with maximum efficiency, avoiding over-extending or over-emphasizing any particular aspect, so that the split-second of time and space earned with the fake can be exploited.
In this case, that lies in how far the puck is pulled back behind the skate, Barber explains:
“You want to make sure it doesn’t come too far back behind the lead foot so that you can keep the angle on your stick needed to dig under the puck,” he says. “Always good to have a nice wide stance for these shots as well.”
For a more detailed breakdown of how Tkachuk pulls off those between-the-legs, top-shelf snipes, and how to do it yourself, we asked Barber to demonstrate the sequence step-by-step, and offer up one drill to build up the skills to pull it off.