Goaltending plays an integral part in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. NHL.com decided to break down the Western Conference Second Round matchup between Devan Dubnyk of the Minnesota Wild and Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks.
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 with the help of a program from Double Blue Sport Analytics. The graphics showing where goals went in and shots were taken from on the ice are nice, but the real value is tracking and analyzing the types of plays that led to them, and whether they reveal strengths, weaknesses and tendencies that can be targeted.
Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild
Dubnyk emerged from a nightmare last season by getting stronger physically, tighter technically and more resilient mentally. He also benefitted from better defensive play after a trade to the Wild in mid-January. Dubnyk manages his depth better, using the simple rule instilled by goaltending coach Sean Burke during his time with the Arizona Coyotes to start the season: If you can't beat a pass on your skates, you are too far out. And he doesn't open up while moving or on shots after spending time this summer starting to learn a new tracking technique called head trajectory from former NHL goalie and current MSG Network analyst Steve Valiquette.
When he's on – Dubnyk uses his 6-foot-6 frame efficiently by limiting movement, staying patient with more passive positioning and tracking down on shots and lateral passes to limit how much he opens up.
When he's off – Dubnyk gets passive with his butterfly drops, letting pucks go under him, drops his hands early into blocking mode and can get stuck on lateral plays, reaching rather than moving into plays, which opens up holes that are always bigger for a tall goalie.
Goaltending never exists in a vacuum. It is almost always tied to team play and defensive structure, so the focus was on the 68 regular-season goals scored on Dubnyk after the trade to Minnesota. It means an even smaller sample size, but the nine high glove goals were often scored on short-side chances, which also shows up in the higher percentage of goals (19 percent) from low in the zone to his left and a result of dropping his glove on those chances. The most alarming number was the 16 goals, or 24 percent, scored between or under Dubnyk's legs, often the result of a soft butterfly drop he has consciously tried to get rid of throughout this season.
Low blocker not glove: Like a lot of goalies, Dubnyk still tracks and moves better to this glove side than his blocker side, and that remains even with some of the tracking changes he made. His tendency to track down on pucks to his glove side shows in the one goal scored over his left pad, while the nine that went in over his right pad are a product of pulling off some of those shots with this head, which limits his blocker extension and opens up the face when he reaches. That also leads to move rebound chances up and over the right pad, in part because he doesn't build his vertical coverage with the blocker as well as he does the glove, but also because those same tracking trends slow his recovery to the right, leaving him with only a pad to throw out when he reaches on second chances.
Short side high off right wing: Brandon Saad's goal to open the scoring in Game 1 of the second round was part of that trend in the regular season that led to the higher percentage of goals from low in the zone to Dubnyk's left. When those plays get in tight, whether coming off his post or retreating back to it, Dubnyk tends to drop his glove into a blocking butterfly, and while it usually takes a near perfect shot to get over his tall shoulders, there is space high over the glove in that short-side corner if the shooter can execute.
Big goalies have big holes: It's a universal truth that's usually most relevant when you make them move, but it also works on sharp angle plays and there were several examples of shots from near the goal line and somehow managed to find a hole in Dubnyk, including a few that hit his blocker or glove on the far side and squeezed in. Vladimir Tarasenko of the St. Louis Blues found one of those holes and caught Dubnyk leaning off the post anticipating a pass in Game 2 of the first round.
Traffic, tips and rebounds under pads: The easiest way to make a big goalie like Dubnyk smaller is to push him back in his crease with traffic and force him into situations where he is just trying to close up the holes in a tight blocking butterfly. That also leaves him reaching more on rebounds and deflections, which played a role in 42 percent of the goals he gave up in the regular season and seven of 17 so far in the playoffs. Once he starts reaching, scoring high isn't the only option: Extended pads open up the 5-hole and no longer seal the ice, which played a role in those 16 regular-season goals between the legs.
Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks
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. Still, 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 Western Conference First Round series against the Nashville Predators.
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 before reaching out to perimeter shots with his legs and back up and out with his hands.
The high glove numbers will continue to draw the most attention given how much was made of Crawford's glove hand en route to the 2013 Stanley Cup. 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 certainly style trends that account for the glove side totals as well as the high number of low-blocker goals, but short of a save percentage on 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. The first plays a role on both sides: defaulting into a tight block and pulling the hands in tight as he drops to his knees before then reaching back up or out with his hands. It's a costly delay more likely to occur on plays closer to the net and more often when he's struggling. 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 just off his hip on the glove side, actually turning out of save space at times. He's certainly not the only NHL goalie that 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.
Both trends seem 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: Just 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, and while 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, it can create back-door pass options which 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 tap-ins.
It can also leave him stuck passively behind screens like on a Roman Josi shot in Game 2 against Nashville, or reaching on long shots which leaves him exposed to even slight deflections like the Colin Wilson tip past an outstretched glove in Game 1.
Longer rebounds: Crawford wears pads designed to produce more active 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 they will come off his pads harder and not getting caught too close, which may work to Crawford's advantage in the playoffs with players fighting 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-VH technique on plays below the goal line, dropping the short-side skate and pad on the ice and sealing the post by leaning the upper body into it. Crawford has struggled with his execution, however. He was beat short-side high 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 the first two Crawford was slow coming off his posts, in part because he leaned so hard into them, and on the third goal he came off early and opened up the short side. So it will be interesting to see if the Wild continue to attack from below the goal line.