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Goaltender matchup: Inside Ben Bishop vs. Henrik Lundqvist

by Staff Writer / Tampa Bay Lightning

Goaltending plays an integral part in the Stanley Cup Playoffs so NHL.com broke down the Eastern Conference Final battle between Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers and Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

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.

Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

OVERVIEW

Lundqvist is often said to play deep, but "inside-out" is a more accurate description. He works out from the goal line, attacking specific plays more aggressively and staying patient and on his skates longer than any other goalie in the NHL.

That means Lundqvist makes more saves at the back of his crease, although he started coming out of the blue ice early on breakaways a few years ago and has challenged point shots near the top of his crease and beyond in the playoffs. His staple remains 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: Lundqvist patiently waits out shooters and reads plays on the outside from his skates and constantly makes small readjustments from his knees, or back to his skates, in close.

When he's off: It doesn't happen often, and rarely in these playoffs as he adds more depth in traffic, but if Lundqvist isn't battling for sight lines, he can look passive instead of patient and his deeper positioning can yield clean-shot goals.

GOAL TRENDS

Off the hip, not top corner: Lundqvist often forgoes the butterfly for an old-school half-butterfly on high glove-side shots, keeping his left leg up and dropping to his right knee. It's an incredible reactionary ability, but it causes him to open up his left side at the hips and shoulders as he effectively pulls up and away from these shots. As tempting as it is to perfectly pick the top corner, shots off the hip on the glove side can be as effective against Lundqvist. It explains why more regular-season goals went in mid-net glove (24) than high glove (16) and mid-blocker (26) compared to high blocker (five). There are more high-glove goals in the playoffs (five), a function of how good he's been so far and how perfect the shots that have beaten him have been.

Glove-side rebounds: The old-school half-butterfly, combined with a stiff glove that presents big but doesn't close easily, can lead to rebounds on glove shots, including a Curtis Glencross breakaway rebound goal in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Second Round series against the Washington Capitals. Lundqvist gets a piece of most glove shots, but it's important not to quit on shots to the glove side because he can leave second chances other goalies catch.

Sharp-angle alterations: Lundqvist used to rely almost exclusively on VH (vertical-horizontal) technique to cover his posts on sharp-angle attacks. This technique, in which he stacks the lead pad vertically against the post and leaves the back pad horizontal along the ice, cost him a handful of goals last season and left dangerous rebounds in front throughout the 2014 playoffs. He still uses it on dead-angle plays above the goal line, including one that led to a scramble early in the first-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but is using a mix of post-lean and reverse-VH on plays below the goal line. Lundqvist also added an overlap technique on mid-zone shots off the wings, squaring up to the shooter with his lead skate outside the post to prevent a gap on the short side. It's effective but delays his ability to get cross crease on a backdoor pass, something Sidney Crosby turned into a goal in Game 2.

Stretch him out and get it up: Deeper positioning allows Lundqvist to beat passes on his feet with quick, short movements, but he can get sprawled out on moves across the middle of the ice or lateral passes in tight, leaving space if a shooter can hold wide and elevate the puck. It's still important to hit the top half of the net because even extended, Lundqvist builds vertical coverage by getting a glove over his pad, something Jay Beagle discovered on a rebound chance early in Game 7 against the Capitals.

Lateral on rebounds: The extra ice Lundqvist is taking on shots from high in the zone in the playoffs exposes him to more contact in traffic and more susceptible to lateral rebound plays than his usual deeper positioning behind traffic. Pittsburgh scored five of its eight goals on rebounds, often by going east-west, and Washington scored 10 of 12 on rebounds.

Low-high: A majority of the 15 goals Lundqvist gave up on low-high plays came early in the regular season and as a result of some poor defending and open looks in close, but three of the 20 goals he’s allowed in the playoffs included a low-high play from behind the net.

Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning

OVERVIEW

There are positives and negatives to being a 6-foot-7 goaltender. The upside is obvious: Bishop fills a lot of space, with his shoulders covering most shots even down in the butterfly. The downside is today's NHL game is fast, with a lot of movement that forces goalies to move east-west, and bigger goalies open bigger holes when they move. It's also tougher to stop a frame as big as Bishop's once it gets moving in one direction with speed, making for a delicate balance because Bishop is not passive, playing outside the edges of his crease at times and trusting his athleticism and reach can make up that extra distance.

When he's on: Bishop’s movements are controlled, staying over his knees and shifting into plays and shots.

When he's off: Bishop drops and reaches with his glove and legs rather than shifting or pushing his body into the puck, leaving him stranded when that aggressive positioning creates extra recovery distance not even his long limbs can erase.

GOAL TRENDS

The 29 regular-season goals high on the glove side aren't unusual for a goalie playing the butterfly style, but it is surprising that Bishop allowed 23 along the ice on the glove side. That total plays a big role in the discrepancy between the two sides: Ignoring goals between his legs, Bishop gave up 75 goals on his left compared to 47 on his right in the regular season.

It has balanced out in the playoffs, with 11 to his right and nine to his left, but the bigger trend is hard to ignore. Circumstances varied but often included Bishop getting caught outside his post on his blocker side or a poor tracking habit on his glove side that could lock up and limit his recovery movements back to the left, while also explaining some of the goals over his glove.

Make him move: This is true of all goalies. Plays that force lateral movement lead to a better shooting percentage, especially if it includes a complete turn by moving the puck across the "Royal Road," an imaginary line former NHL goalie and MSG Network analyst Steve Valiquette identified that splits the middle of the zone below the top of the faceoff circles. But it appears to be even more important for Bishop. In the regular season, 62 percent of the goals he allowed involved a lateral movement, and 30 percent of those were across that imaginary line. In the first round against the Detroit Red Wings, eight of the 13 goals involved lateral movement, including six across the Royal Road, and although the Montreal Canadiens did a poor job of creating chances across the Royal Road, five of their 10 goals in the second round involved forcing some type of lateral adjustment by Bishop.

Backdoor tap-ins: A lot of the 23 regular-season goals along the ice to Bishop's left were tap-ins explained by a combination of poor coverage and Bishop getting stranded on the other side. But his tendency to reach rather than shift into shots appears to be stronger on the glove side, including the occasional use of old-school half-butterfly glove saves. Once Bishop has his legs fully extended in this manner, there's nothing left to help push him further left, meaning shooters with enough time and patience are often left with either a gap inside the post or, at worst, needing to lift the puck over the outstretched pad. Stretching Bishop out laterally in 1-on-1 situations in tight also can leave him reaching early.

High glove, left pad: The low glove-side space is also a function of a poor tracking habit that played a role in the high glove exposure. When he's not on top of his game, Bishop tends to pull off glove-side shots with his head, inherently opening up his left hip and shoulder as well. When he does that, Bishop not only fails to take advantage of his big frame and leaves himself overly reliant on hand-eye coordination, but he limits his left-pad extension, creates a delay in his recovery to the left, and sometimes pulls his left pad out of the way as he initiates recovery movements to his left from the knees.

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