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 broke down the compelling Eastern Conference Final rematch of the 2014 Sochi Olympics gold-medal game between Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers and Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens.
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 he came to some interesting conclusions about their strengths and weaknesses.
Even Lundqvist refers to his style as "playing deep," but a more accurate description of the method taught to him by Rangers goaltending coach Benoit Allaire is "goal line out."
GAA: 1.99 | SVP: 0.931
Lundqvist's staple, though, remains that deeper positioning, allowing him to beat lateral plays with quick, short movements and giving him more time to read shots and tips and make reactive saves.
When he's on -- It looks a lot like Game 7 against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Second Round, patiently waiting out shooters and reading the play on his skates as it develops on the outside, then constantly making small readjustments and battling from his knees on rebounds and scrambles closer to the net.
When he's off -- Lundqvist gives up more clean goals than the other goalies tracked so far, understandable given his depth, so if he isn't battling for sightlines that allow him to make those late reactive saves he can look passive instead of patient. And when he's committing early in tight instead of staying over his knees, he can get stretched out forward on his stomach or scrambling from his backside.
The season totals show great balance, with a nearly identical split on each side. Lundqvist told NHL.com his struggles the first half of this season were the worst of his professional career. The harder he tried to get out of the funk, the worse he got, in part because it led him to be more aggressive and get away from his deeper style.
"Sometimes it's hard to stick to basics when you are not having the results you want. You try too much," he said late in the season. "For me it's about staying deep and just believing in my ability."
Lundqvist renewed his faith in that philosophy early in the new year and turned his season around, and because he deviated so much from the style that defined his nine NHL seasons in the first half, the written analysis looks closer at 2014 goals, playoffs included. With 96 total, it's a good sample size and a truer indication of what the Canadiens will see in this series.
Blocker side better -- Lundqvist elevated his glove position years ago to try to take away some of the open net shooters see behind his deeper positioning and used a stiffer practice glove that stayed more open and presented bigger. Though there was balance over the season, he gave up eight goals high on the glove in 47 games in 2014, compared with 14 in the first 30 games. In 2014, 31 percent of the goals against him were elevated on the glove side compared with 41 percent on the blocker side. Unlike the glove, Lundqvist can't hold his blocker any higher without compromising his stick position.
Stretch him out -- Deeper positioning lets Lundqvist beat passes on his feet with quick, short movements, but he can get sprawled out and often ends up falling forward on moves across the middle of the ice down low or lateral passes in tight, leaving plenty of space if a shooter can hold on wide enough and elevate the puck. The same applies to breakaways, with more chance of success if you can add a lateral element to the attack and force him to stretch out.
Sharp-angle rebounds – Lundqvist primarily uses VH to cover his posts on sharp-angle attacks out of the corner or above the goal line. This technique, in which the goalie stacks the lead pad vertically up against the post and leaves the back pad horizontally along the ice, cost him a handful of leaky goals all season, including the one he gave up in Game 7 against the Philadelphia Flyers. But it creates a lot of rebounds into dangerous areas in front, which has led directly to goals in the first two rounds.
Get to the middle -- It's always going to be easier to score on any goalie from the middle of the slot, but the 54 percent of goals in this area on Lundqvist was the highest tracked so far, and an indicator of the cost of playing so deep when defending breaks down.
Go low -- Many will wonder if shorter pads play a role in the 26 goals that beat Lundqvist through the five-hole, but much like the 10 goals along the ice on either side of him, playing so deep means extending the pads more to make low saves, which is going to open holes. It also means low shots through traffic aren't a terrible idea against the Swede.
Glove-side rebounds – Lundqvist is great at getting a piece of pucks destined for the glove-side corner and frequently forgoes a traditional butterfly for a half-butterfly when he reads the shot is headed there, keeping his left leg up. This incredible reactionary ability, and that stiffer glove, can produce rebounds, so shooters shouldn't idly admire what they thought was a perfect top-corner shot.
Long considered a living how-to-be-a-goalie DVD by many in the puck-stopping fraternity for how smoothly he moves around the crease, the few questions about Price involved where he positioned himself in it and whether he might be better served giving up some of his more aggressive moments and the backward flow he preferred.
GAA: 2.15 | SVP: 0.926
When he's on -- The world saw Price at his best at the Olympics, patiently letting the play come to him while staying active in that lower stance by beating passes to new save positions on his skates and knees. Yes, the Canada defense was incredible, but that's not as easy as he made it look, and he repeated it behind another tight defensive performance in Game 7 against Boston Bruins.
When he's off -- That was Price late last season and into the 2013 playoffs, chasing the play overaggressively outside the blue ice and leaving too much space for even his silky movements to recover in time. There were signs of it again in Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but he chased the play a couple of times against the Bruins and for the most part it has been removed this season.
Though most eyes will gravitate to the big numbers high on the glove side (especially after the Bruins scored five of their 15 goals there and talked about it), and mid-to-low on the blocker side, that's largely the nature of the butterfly. Of the goals that go in, most will be into the corners above the pad. It's the 49 times Price was beaten along the ice, including 15 five-hole, that tell a bigger story for a goaltender who moves so powerfully and seals the ice so effectively.
The numbers low to the sides (34) reflect 29 backdoor goals in the regular season but often came as a result of being overly committed at one side or high, with the five-hole opened up during big lateral recovery moves. For a goalie trying to play a more neutral game so he's never 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 in the regular season came off low-high plays (22 of 103) when the puck was passed from around the goal line 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, especially after Boston used it for one-third of its goals.
Swing wide and wait off rush -- If there's any discernable trend to the times Price chases, 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 when 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 regular-season goals (74 at even strength, 19 on the power play), and though much of it is unavoidable, getting him into that aggressive, backward-flow game off the rush seems to increase the odds of catching him in motion.