Goaltending plays an integral part in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. With the competition intense and so even, the men protecting each goal often are the difference in a series. NHL.com decided to break down perhaps the most interesting goaltending matchup in the Eastern Conference Second Round: Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens vs. Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins.
Much like many goaltending coaches will do before a playoff series, NHL.com correspondent Kevin Woodley, the managing editor of InGoal Magazine, charted every goal scored against each goalie in this matchup this season and came to some interesting conclusions about their strengths and weaknesses.
GAA: 2.33 | SVP: 0.904
Price took a step (back) toward that this season under new goaltending coach Stephane Waite, playing a slightly more conservative positional game, especially off the rush. He also cut his stance at the waist, appearing more hunched over as he readies to make a save and in the butterfly, which Waite said helps Price track pucks through screens while making him quicker to recover laterally. It's a more active, engaged approach that leaves Price less likely to pull off high shots to his perimeter, a trend that can open up more holes when he reverts to his old, more upright, straight back stance.
When he's on -- The world saw Price at his best at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, patiently letting the play come to him while staying active in that lower stance by beating lateral passes to new save positions on either his skates or knees. Yes, the Canada defense was incredible, but that's not as easy as he made it look.
When he's off -- That was Price late last season and into the 2013 playoffs, chasing the play over-aggressively outside the blue ice and leaving too much space for even his silky movements to recover in time. There were glimpses of it again in Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, though for the most part it has been removed this season.
Though most eyes will gravitate to the big numbers high on the glove side and mid-to-low net on the blocker, that's largely the nature of the butterfly as a save technique. Of the goals that go in, most will be into the corners above the pad. It's the 29 times Price was beaten along the ice on either side that tell a bigger story for a goaltender who moves so powerfully and seals the ice so effectively.
It's not like Price is going to get beat clean along the ice often, so it's no coincidence the numbers reflect backdoor goals in the regular season, including 20 at even strength and nine on the power play. It often came as a result of being overly committed at one side, or at the top of the crease. For a goalie trying to play a more neutral game so he's never really out of a play, Price often was on these goals.
Low to high and high again -- Price is strong on his posts, mixing in a nice combination of techniques that resulted in five goals off sharp-angle attacks and none on the power play, a rarity. But more than 20 percent of his even-strength goals came off low-high plays (22 of 103), where the puck was passed from around the goal line up higher into the zone for quick shots. It's a tough play for any goalie because he must move off the post and usually has to give up visual attachment on the puck while shifting his focus from behind the net to locate the higher threat, and it was exacerbated by soft coverage in front of Price that allowed opponents time to get many of those shots up into the corners. It's too big a trend to ignore.
Swing wide and wait off rush -- If there's any discernable trend to the times Price still chases a little, it's off the rush, and less about being too high in his crease and more about getting too wide. As much as he could have used more defensive support on the backdoor at times, there were other instances, including Game 1 against Tampa Bay, when he left himself exposed by overcommitting to the shooter, especially as those rushes got wide and deeper in the zone.
Past posts, puck on net -- It wasn't a regular season tendency at all, but if Price does start sliding past his posts, throwing it back at him from below the goal line isn't a bad idea, something the Lightning succeeded with twice late in Game 4 of the first round.
Get him moving -- Like all goalies, plays that require movement right before or into a save led to a majority of Price's goals this season (74 at even strength, 19 on the power play), and though much of it is unavoidable, getting him into that more aggressive, backward-flow game off the rush increases the chances of catching him in motion.
Quick strike breakaway -- As a goalie, the aim 1-on-1 is to force a deke because it can only go left or right, whereas a shot can go anywhere. Price sometimes gets caught on his skates or in a half butterfly with quick early shots.
GAA: 1.16 | SVP: 0.961
The biggest is his increased use of a shuffle on even large lateral movements instead of relying more exclusively on the more common T-push. It's a Finnish thing, and it prevents Rask from having to open up his lead leg like goalies using the T-push, allowing him to move while keeping both skates square to the play and therefore change direction again without having to first close off that lead skate. Add in the Bruins' great defensive coverage, and it allows Rask to be aggressive and even somewhat unpredictable at times.
When he's on -- Like most aggressive goalies, extra movement can create problems, like drifting slightly off angle and turning sideways on Pavel Datsyuk's winning goal in the playoff opener against the Detroit Red Wings. But Rask is at his best when he's active, attacking angles and engaged on everything, allowing his explosive mobility and active hands to cover off any added exposure laterally.
When he's off -- Passive is rarely a word associated with Rask, but many of his rough patches had an element of casual play. It manifests itself in different ways, from sitting back and dropping his hands into a blocking butterfly, reaching for long shots instead of moving into them, or even waiting for the puck to drop on offensive-zone faceoffs before bothering to get set in his crouch.
Rask can appear unpredictable in the way he'll attack saves, but the numbers show good balance. In the regular season, he gave up 34 goals on the blocker side and 37 on the glove side at even strength, and it shifts only slightly on the power play to 17 on the blocker and 10 on the glove, pushing the totals slightly to his right. That three of the six goals he surrendered in the first round against the Red Wings were high blocker spoke more to the need to be near perfect to beat him, including one spectacular save right before one of those goals.
In the regular season, Rask gave up more rush goals (38 of 115) and goals after being forced to move (74), with 61 of those coming off one-timers and quick shots, and he was moving on four of the six that beat him against Detroit. That's hardly surprising for an aggressive goalie who has to move more, and quick releases are usually the best way to take advantage of that extra space they need to recover.
Five hole -- If there was a surprise for a goalie as flexible as Rask, it was the number of goals that went under or through his legs, with 12 five-hole goals at even strength and five on the power play. Part of it is that explosive back-and-forth movement, which creates a gap as he gathers the trailing leg back in after using it to make a big push, though he often uses the paddle of his stick to protect it.
Narrow butterfly -- Rask defaults to what is called a narrow butterfly, meaning his heels fall in behind his knees rather than flaring out wide, which doesn't close the tops of the pads completely in front of his knees and can expose his five-hole.
Goal-line bump -- Rask often uses this narrow butterfly on dead-angles, leaning his shoulder against the post to get a short-side seal. But where other goalies have the back skate out along the goal line, Rask's is often behind him in the net, leaving more exposure on pass outs to backdoor plays and deflections off legs in front.
Far-side rushes -- Like the above-mentioned Datsyuk goal, Rask can drift off angle as he retreats off the rush, leading to goals across his body. His aggressive positioning and tendency to push across flat to his right rather than rotating first can lead to him diving headfirst to recover after quick lateral passes off the rush.
Power up -- The percentages aren't significantly different on the power play, but if there was one trend to explain a slight increase in blocker-side goals, it was a tendency to reach with the blocker a bit more than the with the glove, which exposes holes under it if the puck is tipped.