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Round 1

Sergei Bobrovsky vs. Andrei Vasilevskiy

Scoring on quality chances could determine Blue Jackets-Lightning series

by Kevin Woodley / Correspondent

Goaltending is an integral part of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. To better understand the strengths and weaknesses of each goaltender, the last 100 goals allowed for each goaltender in the regular season were charted, with the help of Apex Video Analysis and Save Review System from Upper Hand Inc., to see what patterns emerge.

Columbus Blue Jackets No. 1 goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goaltender twice (2012-13, 2016-17), and his Tampa Bay Lightning counterpart Andrei Vasilevskiy is a favorite to win his first this season. The two play a similarly active and athletic style, so the ability to generate the types of quality chances required to beat them in the regular season could decide the Eastern Conference First Round. The best-of-7 series begins with Game 1 at Tampa Bay on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; USA SN360, TVAS, SUN, FS-O).


[RELATED: Complete Lightning vs. Blue Jackets series coverage]


Here is an in-depth look at each goalie's game:


Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

Vasilevskiy finished the regular season with a League-leading 39 wins and was sixth in the NHL with a career-best .925 save percentage, but perhaps more importantly the 24-year-old avoided the second-half struggles that likely cost him the Vezina Trophy last season. Playing behind the NHL's top-scoring team takes pressure off, but the Lightning still rely on Vasilevskiy's quick footwork, explosive lateral slides, long reach and flexibility to bail them out.


Goal Trends

A lot like Bob: Given their similarities in lateral speed and power, perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that, like Bobrovsky, it took cross-ice plays and quick shots to beat Vasilevskiy on close to half of the past 100 goals he surrendered. In fact, there were exactly one more of each: 49 goals came on plays across the slot line on Vasilevskiy, well above the average of 35.5 percent, and 46 came on one-timers and quick releases, above the 37.6 percent average. 

Clean five-hole: Vasilevskiy gave up 18 goals on clean shots where he had time to get set and square, which is better than the average (22.9 percent) and his numbers last season (24), but these shots accounted for six of 16 goals between his legs, and several were from further out. Rather than defaulting to a butterfly in these situations, he has a tendency to use a half butterfly, dropping his right knee and keeping his left leg up longer along with a raised glove, which leaves a gap under his left pad that contributed to a surprisingly high 10 goals there. 

Blocker no more?: Similarly, it will be interesting to see if the Blue Jackets continue to target last season's blocker side trends despite a marked improvement this season. Vasilevskiy gave up more goals mid- and high-glove this season (21) compared to the blocker side (15) this season. Last season, he gave up 47 percent of his goals over the pads on his blocker side, which was 16 percent above the average, and although the goal chart isn't indicative of save percentage, the Boston Bruins appeared to target it in the second round last season, scoring eight of 12 goals there. He also gave up more goals from outside the home plate area on that side of the ice last season, but those numbers are also down this season, with more goals from the glove side.

Traffic management: Vasilevskiy seemed to be better in traffic this season, lowering the percentage of goals resulting from screens to 14 percent from 21 last year. After screens played a role in half the goals against him in the first two rounds of last season's playoffs, don't be surprised to see plenty of bodies in front of him against Columbus. A tendency to look up and over has cost him low goals before including two through the five-hole last playoffs and three this season. 



Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets

Bobrovsky finished the regular season with four shutouts and a .951 save percentage in his past nine starts to help the Blue Jackets get into the postseason but the 30-year-old will face a lot more questions about a playoff history that includes five wins and an .891 save percentage in 20 starts. When he's playing well, Bobrovksy can seem almost impossible to beat, but there are trends woven into a season of ups and downs that other teams may be able to target in the playoffs. 


Goal Trends

Cross-ice and quick shots: Although creating these types of high-quality chances are going to be a great way to score on most goalies, they seem especially important against Bobrovsky. Either that, or the Blue Jackets simply surrender a lot of them; unfortunately, we don't have tracking data for all the shots, just the goals. Plays across the slot line, an imaginary line that splits the offensive zone in half from the goal line to the top of the face-off circles, accounted for 48 of the past 100 goals scored on him. It's the second straight season he was well above the 35.5 percent average recorded on over 5,500 goals over three seasons of this project after finishing with 46 last season. One-timers and quick-releases accounted for 45 goals, above the 37.5 percent average. Bobrovsky tends to play a little wide of his posts on rush chances, and as explosive as he is, he often initiates lateral pushes with a reverse c-cut on the lead leg, which builds momentum but slightly delays the move. Each make quick shots key.

Always elevate: It's still important to get shots at least 11 inches off the ice and over the pads against one of the NHL's fastest goalies. He's rarely out of any play, and even if it looks like there's an empty net, there's a good chance he at least gets a pad there, something the New York Rangers discovered the hard way on a cross-ice 3-on-1 save that helped the Blue Jackets secure their playoff spot in their second-to-last game of the season on April 5. 

Against the grain: For the second straight season, Bobrovsky was above the average for goals off the rush (50 percent compared to 39.2) and against the grain (26 percent compared to 16.9), where the shot or pass goes in the opposite direction from how the play or goalie is moving. Nineteen of those 26 against-the-grain goals were on rush chances and can be tied to some of the extra movement that comes with his power and positional aggression, which tends to get a little loose during down stretches and leave him still in motion as a shot comes. 

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