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Braden Holtby vs. Marc-Andre Fleury

Goalies for Capitals, Penguins use principles of Washington goalie coach Mitch Korn

by Kevin Woodley / Correspondent

Goaltending plays an integral part in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, so much like many NHL goalie coaches do before a playoff series, charted every goal scored against each goalie this season with the help of Double Blue Sport Analytics. Graphics showing where goals went in and shots were taken 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.


Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby has tightened his game during three seasons with goalie coach Mitch Korn, who already passed one coaching protégé in the Eastern Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs when the Capitals defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs and their goalie coach, Steve Briere, in six games. Now Korn faces the Pittsburgh Penguins and another former pupil in goalie coach Mike Bales, who similarly has tightened the technique of Marc-Andre Fleury.


Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals

Holtby came into the playoffs with the best postseason save percentage in NHL history among goalies to play at least 20 playoff games at .936 but admittedly struggled early against the Maple Leafs amid a series of tough bounces and broken plays that left him looking uncharacteristically uncertain and passive at times. He looked more like the reigning Vezina Trophy winner by the end of the series, active without chasing the play, part of an evolution with Korn that included a .925 save percentage in 63 regular-season games.



Get him sliding: Screens were a factor in less than 20 percent of goals during the regular season against Holtby, but his tendency to push into shots rather than reaching can go from a strength to a weakness if you get him moving the wrong way. Those pushes were costly when the puck started pinballing off bodies in front against the Maple Leafs, with screens, rebounds and against-the-grain deflections playing a role in the eight goals along the ice on either side of him. Most were tap-ins after Holtby was caught moving the other way on the initial shot.

Forces you to beat him: Playing actively on his edges and pushing into shots beats the alternative for Holtby, which is passively dropping straight down off a shot release. There were uncharacteristic signs of that push-and-reach trend earlier in the series, and it cost him on an own-deflection that went under his blocker in Game 4, a rarity for a goalie who allowed five of his 127 regular-season goals between the arm and body.

Video: WSH@TOR, Gm6: Holtby robs Komarov, covers rebound

Work for rebounds: Rebounds factored into 23.6 percent of the regular-season goals against Holtby but played a role in six of 16 against the Maple Leafs. Much like the regular season, opponents had to work for second chances, with three off clean shots and none in the playoffs. When there are rebounds, quick plays along the ice can expose a recovery inefficiency as his butterfly narrows when he lifts up during these movements, creating space on either side.


Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins

Fleury had a .909 save percentage in 38 regular-season games, his lowest since 2009-10 (.905). He wasn't expected to play a big role in the playoffs, but when Matt Murray sustained a lower-body injury during warmups prior to Game 1 of the first round against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Fleury took over. While some still talked about past playoff problems, the reality is Fleury is a different goalie than the one who had four straight sub-.900 postseason save percentages through 2013. He's rebuilt his game with more consistent, conservative positional anchors and refined his post play under Bales, and it showed with a .933 save percentage in five games in the first round.



Less flow off the rush: Fleury was plagued by overaggression during his earlier playoff struggles but now plays mostly within the edges of his crease, wandering beyond the blue ice only on rush chances. Despite backing off considerably, lateral plays across the slot line, an imaginary line splitting the zone below the top of the faceoff circles, accounted for 46 percent of goals in the regular season and four of 14 against the Blue Jackets. As quick as Fleury is laterally, he is making up for less backwards flow by using a reverse C-cut with his lead skate to build momentum, backing into these pushes across the ice, a slight delay that was costly on a couple goals.

Post play improved, not perfect: Fleury often was caught outside his posts in previous playoff games, making him vulnerable to bank shots from bad angles. Now he's comfortable moving into and off the posts with power and efficiency. Despite these improvements, he gave up seven dead-angle goals during the regular season and three during the playoffs, including a few that found holes through or under his improved post-seal techniques.

Video: CBJ@PIT, Gm5: Maatta bats puck away from open net

High glove, clean: Fleury was beaten most often high on the glove side (18) and low blocker (13) during the regular season, and both are tied to a tendency to default to a blocking style at times, dropping his hands tight to his sides as he drops to the ice. Low blocker is a tough save for most goalies, but Fleury tends to pull back with his torso, which also opens a gap between the bottom of the blocker and top of the pad. Of the five high-glove playoff goals, two were clean shots he could see and set for, and four of the five clean goals he gave up against the Blue Jackets were off the rush, a trend he'll need to reign in against the Capitals.

Rebounds: Fleury was better than average, with 19 percent of regular-season goals off rebounds. But he allowed six of 14 in the playoffs on second chances, and tends to kick low shots out with active pads more than steering them into neutral areas with his stick.

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