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Brian Elliott vs. John Gibson

Flames goaltender thriving after changing style; Ducks counterpart leans on instinct, skill

by Kevin Woodley / Correspondent

Calgary Flames No. 1 goaltender Brian Elliott spent the early part of his NHL career totally rebuilding the goaltending style he used in college, knowing it wouldn't work as a pro, and despite some early struggles this season, has continued to evolve. John Gibson, the Anaheim Ducks first-year starter, hasn't had to change much in his four NHL seasons, relying more on the impressive instincts and skills that have made him such a highly regarded prospect. Each approach comes with positives and potential pitfalls that could play a role in deciding this series.


Brian Elliott, Calgary Flames

Elliott posted impressive numbers for five seasons with the St. Louis Blues but didn't get the chance to start in the Stanley Cup Playoffs until last season, when he responded by backstopping the Blues to the Western Conference Final. After an understandably rocky start with a Calgary Flames team also adjusting to a new coach and system, Elliott looked more like a slightly more aggressive version of his St. Louis self down the stretch.


Getting to the edge of the crease: Part of Elliott's continued transition this season involved a push to get out to the edge of his crease whenever possible. Elliott always has played a deeper style, getting his heels out to the top edge of his crease against the rush, but mostly playing further back in his crease toward the goal line, prioritizing early angle over depth with short, quick movements that keep him in the middle of the net and square to the shooter. When the Flames struggled defensively early, he struggled to trust his new reads and often ended up staying too deep, stretched out in a low, wide stance and vulnerable up high.

High glove, mid blocker: Elliott's reads improved as the season went on, and his quick precise movements into position after making them returned, but even with strong active hands, high glove will likely be an area opponents target when they get open looks. The same goes for off the rush, because Elliott tends to make his retreats straight back to his post, surrendering far side angle as he backs in. Elliott gave up 33 "clean" goals, where he was able to get set and see the shot, which is a high total (37.5 percent) for the season, and 10 were mid- to high-glove. On the other side, opponents seem more likely to target mid-blocker, with 12 goals between the arm and body and eight of those on "clean" shots, likely a function of the more "elbow out" approach that prioritizes stick position and an active blocker for high shots.

Video: CGY@SJS: Elliott turns away Burns' drive to the net

Rebounds in tight: Elliott only defaults to a blocking butterfly on bang-bang plays in tight with no time to react, relying instead on some of the most active, engaged hands west of Henrik Lundqvist to make up for any coverage lost by playing a deeper style. But that patient approach shows up in some of the 20 rebound goals this season, including seven on clean shots.


John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks

Generally speaking, reliance more on skill and instinct can lead to inconsistency for goaltenders compared to their more structured, technically sound puck-stopping peers. But outside of injuries, Gibson has been steady most of this season and spectacular for long stretches, finishing fourth in the NHL with a .924 save percentage and showing few signs of struggling mentally when he isn't busy behind a good defense, another pitfall of relying on rhythm.


High glove, good glove: Seeing the highest total high on the glove side might lead some to believe Gibson doesn't have a good glove hand. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's always important to point out these numbers don't reflect a save percentage, so Gibson may simply be seeing more shots, or higher quality shots on this side, and the number of superb glove stops make it clear flashing the leather is not an issue. Trends that can be tied to a more free-flowing style include a tendency to sometimes get flat or parallel to the goal line or off angle with his retreats, or turned slightly on plays cutting into the middle, which played a role in the eight "against the grain" shots among the 29 goals on his glove side.

Video: CHI@ANA: Gibson collects 37 saves to shut out Hawks

Stretch him out: Though the goal totals along the ice are often a function of backdoor tap-ins and rebounds, Gibson does have a tendency to get overextended and stretched out on plays across the slot line, an imaginary line that splits the zone below the tops of the faceoff circles. It's a trend that is more noticeable moving to his glove side, where he is more likely to end up pitched forward and on his stomach if shooters can extend him laterally. This can be seen in the 13 one-on-one goals, which includes breakaways, scored against Gibson, and the fact eight included a move across the slot line. It also played a role in some of the 15 five-hole goals he surrendered, with opponents able to tuck pucks back in under him as he extended.

Low blocker from right side: The difference in movement and rotation to his glove may also play a role in low blocker goals that were also far-side goals, or shots from his glove side. There were times he overplayed his angle to the glove, creating a little low blocker exposure.

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