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 Western Conference Second Round: Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks vs. Ilya Bryzgalov and Darcy Kuemper of the Minnesota Wild.
Much like many goaltending coaches will do before a playoff series, NHL.com correspondent Kevin Woodley, the managing editor of InGoal Magazine, used the 360 Save Review System software from Double Blue Sports Analytics to chart every goal scored against each goalie in this matchup this season and came to some interesting conclusions about their strengths and weaknesses.
GAA: 1.98 | SVP: 0.935
When he's on -- At his best, Crawford is reacting from his skates, moving into shots in straight lines with both his feet and hands, starting near the edges of his crease and holding his ground.
When he's off -- Crawford reacts from his knees more, defaulting down to more of a blocking butterfly then reacting out to perimeter shots with his legs and back up with his hands.
The glove-side numbers will draw the most attention given how much was made of Crawford's glove hand en route to the Stanley Cup last spring. It's natural with 45 percent (58 of 128) of regular-season goals going in mid- and high-glove compared to 27 percent (35 goals) on the blocker side. What these numbers don't include is Crawford's save percentage on either side, which would provide a better indication of how efficient his glove is and whether opponents are targeting it.
Pulling off mid-net shots -- Regardless of whether it's being targeted, when Crawford defaults down to more of a blocking butterfly before reacting back up with the hands, there is a delay and a tendency to also pull his torso slightly off shots just off his hips, actually turning out of the save space at times. He's certainly not the only NHL goalie who does it, and he doesn't do it all the time, but it played a role in some of the 58 regular-season goals he gave up in the middle of the net, and nine of 14 in the playoffs have gone in mid-net too.
Bigger five-hole -- Crawford prefers straight pads because they used to close in a "V" in front of him when he dropped into the butterfly, trapping any pucks he couldn't completely control on body saves. But he admitted last summer it might not be as effective after offseason reductions in pad height. With 20 goals through the five-hole in the regular season and another three of 14 through his legs in the Western Conference First Round against the St. Louis Blues, that might be the case.
Straight drops -- Some goaltenders will push laterally into shots from farther out, a habit with positives and negatives, but Crawford is more of a straight dropper, making excellent small adjustments and shifts and/or leaning his torso behind shots to control rebounds. He rarely slides into saves. Though there are lots of positives to this practice, like not opening up holes by moving too much, it can create back-door pass options which strand Crawford atop the crease on the initial shooter.
Late into post play -- Whereas some goalies will execute post-seal tactics which put them on their knees and up against the iron while the play is still behind the net to eliminate the chance of getting caught in the transition from being upright to going to the knees, Crawford tends to wait until there is an attack threat. As a result, there are times when he gets caught low, including the goal that tied Game 1 against the Blues with 1:15 left.
With Darcy Kuemper exiting Game 7 against the Colorado Avalanche in the third period with an injury and his status doubtful for the start of the series against Chicago, NHL.com decided to take a shorter look at each Wild goalies who could have an impact on this Western Conference Second Round series. The focus for Ilya Bryzgalov was his time in Minnesota after arriving from the Edmonton Oilers prior to the NHL Trade Deadline. It produced a smallish 24-goal sample size, but because goaltending never exists in a vacuum it is the best representation of how he positions himself behind his new defense and system.
The book on Kuemper certainly isn't as big as the size of the rookie goaltender himself. He has played 40 NHL games during two professional seasons.
At 6-foot-5, Kuemper, 23, made an impression with his patient style and smooth movements in six games last season, moving into shots with subtle adjustments and using soft seams to smother pucks. Fast enough to play a more aggressive positional game, Kuemper seemed to be searching for balance during some of his struggles this season, getting caught with too much movement at times, and beat because he was too passive and deep in the net during other stretches. At his best, he finds that balance near the edge of his crease but doesn't chase plays outside the blue ice or slide too hard into shots.
Even bigger five-hole -- As smooth as Kuemper moves for his size, legs that long can't make lateral pushes without opening holes, and he got caught in transition a lot early this season. In fact, the first five even-strength goals of the season went through his legs. Kuemper finished the regular season with 20 percent of the goals (12 of 60) going through his five-hole, and three of 11 so far in the playoffs.
Make him smaller -- Pushing any big goalie back into his crease limits his size advantage, and Kuemper struggled at times to fight for sightlines through traffic. Being so tall lets him simply look over most screens, but that leaves a long way to get those legs back down and sealed along the ice, which contributes to five-hole goals.
Just shoot -- It may simply be a function of trying to find his comfort zone in terms of initial depth and positioning, as well as some of the above-mentioned extra movement which results from it and opens holes, but Kuemper was beat by relatively clean looks on 18 of 60 regular-season goals, and five of 11 shots to date in the postseason, including several from outside the home plate scoring area.
For all the headlines made by his personality, Bryzgalov remains a solid positional-based goaltender capable of excelling behind a well-structured defense. He's not going to channel Tim Thomas and turn into an acrobat, but with a more conservative initial depth inside the crease which allows him to beat lateral plays, Bryzgalov proved with consecutive shutouts late in the season that he can still compete.
At his best, Bryzgalov is positioned three-quarters of the distance from the goal line to the top of the crease, working to beat passes on his skates with an inside-out approach which prioritizes being on angle first, then adding depth as needed.
Narrow butterfly adds recovery time -- Bryzgalov is playing with a wider upright stance now, setting his feet farther apart, and this can translate to a slightly wider butterfly. But he also uses a narrow butterfly, with the feet falling more in behind his knees rather than out to the side, and that leads to a slower lateral recovery because his skates have to get all the way back out to the side for a push. All of this can leave him stranded, falling back and reaching, or even diving headfirst if pucks spill off to the side after a save out of the narrow butterfly.
Fall forward -- Similarly, another trend of goalies with a narrower butterfly is to fall forward upon being spread out with a lateral play while on the knees. By pitching the torso forward, the goalie frees up the hips and gets more extension with a pad thrown out to the side (try going into a butterfly and reach your leg out, then fall forward and see how much farther you can reach it). This surprises shooters along the ice, and forces them to get the puck up, which isn't always easy from positions close to the crease.
Blocker side high -- Whether it's leaving the stick and blocker behind a little on lateral moves to his left, turning the blocker hand open slightly in a blocking save, or simply not getting a great elbow seal with the body because he holds the blocker down on the edge of his pad with his arm straight, Bryzgalov has given up more goals on his right side, including a couple in the playoffs that went under the arm. He was beaten mid- and high-blocker 14 times in the regular season with the Wild compared to seven on the glove side.