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Goaltender Matchup: Inside Andersen vs. Crawford

by Staff Writer / Chicago Blackhawks

Goaltending plays an integral part in the Stanley Cup Playoffs so NHL.com broke down the Western Conference Final battle between Frederik Andersen of the Anaheim Ducks and Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Much like many goaltending coaches do before a playoff series, NHL.com correspondent Kevin Woodley, the managing editor of InGoal Magazine, charted every goal scored with the help of a program from Double Blue Sport Analytics. Regular-season goals were recorded in their original Save Review System, and playoff goals, including how they were scored, were tracked in the soon-to-launch SRS 2.0. The graphics showing where goals went in and shots were taken from on the ice are nice, but the real value is analyzing the plays that led to them and whether they reveal strengths, weaknesses and tendencies that can be targeted.

Frederik Andersen, Anaheim Ducks

OVERVIEW

Andersen is well suited to deal with the long gap between the end of the Western Conference Second Round and the start of the conference final after facing a similar break between the first two playoff rounds and only playing two games in two weeks before the Stanley Cup Playoffs started.

Andersen is a technically sound goaltender, smooth and efficient in his movements and positioning, leaving him less reliant on timing and rhythm and less prone to lulls after time off.

When he's on: Andersen beats plays on his feet, establishing each new save position with a priority on angle first before adding depth if there's time, making sure he is set before the shot is taken.

When he's off: Andersen gets caught moving, sometimes with a few lateral shuffles off the rush or with forward sculls to add depth on end-zone plays. When that happens he doesn't get set and ends up reaching to try to catch up to high shots, and that opens up holes.

GOAL TRENDS

There were two trends that were surprising when examining Andersen's regular season: The high number of clean shots that beat him (32, or 26 percent) and the 23 goals that went in under his pads or between his legs. The clean looks are explained below, but the five-hole goals are surprising for a goalie with a fairly wide natural butterfly style, which allows him to close up areas with the top of his pads while covering a lot of net low. Some five-hole exposure is explained by his tendency to set his feet wide and then reach for shots, rather than shifting into them, and that can open holes. He also turns his blocker sideways when defaulting into a butterfly block. That is fairly common, but it pulls the stick blade away from the five-hole, adding exposure if he doesn't keep his pads sealed.

Blocker side: In the playoffs, Andersen has given up 10 of 18 goals above the pad on the blocker side compared to four above the pad on the glove side. Five went in mid-blocker, including clean looks in Games 4 and 5 against the Calgary Flames. We'd need to track every shot to see if it was being targeted, but the aforementioned tendency to turn his blocker, combined with coming up on shots to the blocker with his head, cause Andersen to open up his torso and force him to try and catch up to perimeter shots with the blocker face turned out toward the boards, almost perpendicular to the path of the puck. This tracking habit, which isn't as distinct on his glove side, accounted for most of the six clean-shot playoff goals he allowed. Blackhawks shooters showed they know how to exploit a blocker delay against Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators in the first round.

Far side off rush: Andersen isn't overly aggressive in his positioning, but he does have a little backward flow against rush chances, and there were times this extra movement was exposed in the regular season. It can be seen in the 32 clean-look goals he gave up, many of which came on far-side shots from distance off the rush. It makes sense because Andersen, who gave up 37 percent of his goals against the rush, tends to track back on these attacks with small pushes laterally. So if, for example, he gets caught with his weight on his right skate while pushing left, it delays any reaction back to his right.

One-timers off end-zone lateral passes: Much like rush chances, Andersen tends to take a little more ice on end-zone play than some think is necessary for a 6-foot-3 goalie, getting outside the edges of his crease. Though he's usually quick enough to recover that space on lateral passes, the extra distance can be costly on one-timers after cross-ice feeds (26 percent of his goals against this season); shots can beat him inside the post on the side he's moving to or he’s susceptible on rebounds (24 percent of his goals against) because he's still moving as he makes the initial save. As good as Andersen has been so far in the playoffs, that makes it even more important to make him move laterally. Though only six goals were charted as lateral passes, 13 of the 18 goals forced some side-to-side movement.

Rebounds off sharp-angled blocker side and far pad: Andersen allowed 24 percent of his goals on rebounds in the regular season, and there were a couple trends Chicago may try to exploit. The first is sharp-angled shots on his blocker side, which often ended up steered into the slot, led to several goals against in the regular season and forced Andersen to make a couple big saves against the Winnipeg Jets in the first round. The other is throwing pucks off the far pad for rebounds on the other side. That's a common plan for any goalie, but with a less active stick to steer those into a corner, Andersen leaves more in the high slot on the other side, and that led to goals during the regular season and forced several tough saves so far in the playoffs.

Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks

OVERVIEW

Crawford has found a good balance between the technical, "blocking" foundation that defined him coming into the NHL and the more reactionary athleticism that he tried too hard at times to show off during his second full season. The temptation remains to dismiss him as the product of a great team even after winning the Stanley Cup in 2013 and getting to Game 7 of the Western Conference Final in 2014, especially after losing the starting job early in the first round against the Predators. Coming off his toughest season in terms of scoring chances, Crawford bounced back yet again in a second-round sweep of the Minnesota Wild.

When he's on: Crawford is reacting from his skates and moving into shots in straight lines with his feet and hands, starting near the edges of his crease and holding his ground.

When he's off: Crawford reacts from his knees, defaulting down to more of a blocking butterfly before reaching out to perimeter shots with his legs and back up and out with his hands.

GOAL TRENDS

The regular-season glove numbers draw the most attention given how much was made of Crawford's glove hand in Chicago’s run to the 2013 Stanley Cup title. However, the total goals scored high to mid-glove are down from 44 percent last season to 30 percent this season, and a lot were among the 56 percent of goals that came from high-quality chances in the middle of the slot, where goalies can't be solely faulted. There are style trends that account for the glove-side totals as well as the high number of low-blocker goals, but without a save percentage for each side, it's hard to say either is targeted.

In then out or pulling off: There are two habits that explain many of the high-glove and low-blocker goals against Crawford, and each is a factor in giving up seven of 16 goals on clean shots.

The first plays a role on each side: defaulting into a tight block and pulling his hands in as he drops to his knees before reaching back up or out. It's a costly delay most likely to occur on plays closer to the net and from farther out when he's struggling, including the goal by Nashville's Colin Wilson to begin Crawford's 2015 playoffs.

The second is a tendency to pull off shots, particularly middle to high on the glove side and low on the blocker side. It starts with his head tracking up and over his shoulders, which pulls his torso off shots near his hip on the glove side, actually turning out of save space. He's certainly not the only NHL goalie who does it, and it also limits his reach on the blocker side while also turning the blocker over so the front is almost parallel to the puck the further he has to extend it.

Each trend seems to be exacerbated by lateral movement, explaining why 58 percent of the goals this season came on plays that forced Crawford to move side to side. It doesn't need to be a complete turn either: Only 39 percent were across the Royal Road, an imaginary line that splits the zone from the goal line to the top of the circles.

Straight drops: Some goalies push laterally into shots from farther out, a habit with positives and negatives, but Crawford is more of a straight dropper, making small adjustments and shifts and/or leaning his torso behind shots to control rebounds. He rarely slides into saves. There are lots of positives to this practice, like not opening up holes by moving too much or getting caught in motion on change-of-direction tips, but it can create backdoor passing options that strand Crawford atop the crease on the initial shooter. It's a trend that shows itself in the 31 goals along the ice to either side, often resulting in tap-ins.

It can also leave him stuck passively behind screens, like it did on a Roman Josi shot in Game 2 against Nashville, or reaching on long shots, which leaves him exposed to slight deflections, like the Colin Wilson tip past an outstretched glove in Game 1.

Longer rebounds: Crawford wears pads designed to produce bigger rebounds, which he likes because it buys him more time to recover laterally. It wasn't enough to prevent 26 percent of regular-season goals against him from being scored on rebounds, but the key is recognizing the puck will come off his pads harder and not get caught too close, something that may work to Crawford's advantage in the playoffs with players working so hard to get to the net.

Post play problems: Crawford used to get caught on his skates on plays from below the goal line, which left him caught in transition and beat by low shots several times last season and in the playoffs. This year he's using a reverse-Vertical Horizontal technique on plays below the goal line, dropping the short-side skate and pad on the ice and sealing the post by leaning his upper body into it. Crawford has struggled with his execution. A tendency to drop into reverse-VH prematurely cost him on a high short-side shot by Wilson from just above the goal line in the first round, and all three goals in Game 1 of the second round against Minnesota came on plays from below the goal line. On each of the first two, Crawford was slow coming off his post, in part because he leaned so hard into it, and on the third goal, he came off early and opened up the short side. It will be interesting to see if the Ducks, who have enough skilled players to put the puck into small holes from sharp angles, attack from below the goal lin

Author: Kevin Woodley | NHL.com Correspondent

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