The Book of Hextall
"I watched videotapes of that kid and kept charts on him until I could tell you how many times he scratched the back of his head" - anonymous NHL video coach.
With the advent of video analysis in the NHL, every player could be studied, analysed for defensive weaknesses, shooting habits and anything else you could think of. Every player could be broken down into a chart of of strengths and weaknesses.
Everyone, it seems, but Ron Hextall.
Coming off an impressive rookie season (Vezina winner, Conn Smythe winner, Calder Trophy runner-up, 3.00 regular season GAA, a 37-21-6 regular season record), Hextall was one of the biggest puzzles for a team to solve, and the Oilers were determined to do it.
At the beginning of the 1987-88 season, the Oilers figured that if they won the Campbell Conference, their likely opponents would be either the Habs or the Flyers. A massive amount of time was spent watching film and compiling books on both teams.
"Hextall supplied a major challenge. His weakness aren't glaring ones and it took a little time to spot them."
The Oilers were hoping to find weaknesses they could exploit at will. Instead, they discovered what everyone already knew: Hextall was an aggressive player, agile, a technically sound standup-style goalie, with a strong puckhandling ability and good hands.
Hextall did have a glove-side weakness on high shots. Instead of using his glove to block those shots, he would use his arm instead, which meant a greater chance of deflected shots off his arm. He also tended to be poor on angles, because of his aggressiveness.
He also had a tendency to kick aside low glove-side shots, rather than glove them like most goalies would. That information caused the Oilers to start shooting low on Hextall's glove side, anticipating the kick, and popping shots in through the infamous five hole.
That's it. Those were the only weaknesses the Oilers found. With Bernie Parent as his goalie coach, it seemed like Ron Hetall would be nearly invincible.
Despite his strong play, the Flyers were bounced from the first round of the 1987-88 playoffs by the Caps in seven games, including the memorable Dale Hunter OT breakaway winner. The Oilers went on to win the Cup, defeating Boston.