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 were charted, with the help of Double Blue Sport Analytics from Upper Hand Inc., to see what patterns emerge.
Despite a 3-10 record and .887 save percentage in four previous Stanley Cup Playoffs, there was never a question that Sergei Bobrovsky would start the postseason for the Columbus Blue Jackets. The surprise is who he will face: Philipp Grubauer, the backup for the Washington Capitals, especially because Braden Holtby, the No. 1 goalie, ranks second with a .931 save percentage among goalies who have played at least 30 playoff games.
[RELATED: Complete Capitals vs. Blue Jackets series coverage]
Grubauer outplayed Holtby for much of this season, so he will face Bobrovsky in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round on Thursday at Capital One Arena (7:30 p.m. ET, SN360, TVAS3, USA, NBCSWA, FS-O).
Here is an in-depth look at each goalie's game:
Philipp Grubauer, Washington Capitals
The focus will understandably be on Holtby not starting after winning the Vezina Trophy in 2016 and being a finalist again last season, but Grubauer earned this opportunity. He went 7-3-0 with a .925 save percentage starting 10 of the final 16 regular-season games. Those are numbers we're used to seeing from Holtby. The similarities don't end there; each goalie features a narrow butterfly and uses the same positioning and movement patterns.
Top corners: Allowing more goals in the upper corners are the norm for goaltenders. Grubauer's charted numbers go up when converted to a percentage because, unlike every other starting playoff goalie, Grubauer did not have 100 regular-season goals to track. Of his 73 goals against, 20.5 percent were scored high-blocker and 19 percent high-glove. The combined mid- and high-glove total is slightly above the average of 24.6 percent tracked in breaking down playoff starting goalies for this project during the past two seasons, and his mid- and high-blocker totals are 7.0 percent above the 17.4 percent average. Grubauer relies on a narrow, upright stance and exceptional patience to make up for being on the small side (6-foot-1), but he's not an aggressive positional goalie, playing mostly inside his crease. As a result, shooters try to exploit his lack of depth with high shots. Grubauer gave up 18 goals (24.7 percent) on clean shots when he was set and could see the release of the puck, 3.0 percent above the average. Fifteen went in over his hands.
Glove hitch: Grubauer's goals-allowed numbers weren't higher on the glove side, which is the norm. In fact, they were more balanced between glove and blocker than most. But he sometimes turns his glove down over his pad as he sets for a shot, and it left him behind on some of the 29 goals (39.7 percent) scored on one-timers or quick releases to the glove side.
Noticeable numbers: It's hard to miss the 16 goals (21.9 percent) scored along the ice outside Grubauer's left skate, especially given there were five allowed on the other side. Nine of the 16 were rebound goals, and, much like Holtby, a more narrow butterfly with limited low coverage is a factor.
Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus Blue Jackets
Bobrovsky's playoff statistics are a lot less impressive than his regular-season totals. Two of those series were with the Philadelphia Flyers, before the 29-year-old revamped his stance to free up his hands and altered his technical and tactical approach with the aid of Ian Clark, the Columbus Blue Jackets goaltending coach. The first-round loss last season was to the Pittsburgh Penguins, who feature a high-powered attack that has punished a lot of world-class goaltenders.
Lateral plays and quick shots: Beating the two-time and defending Vezina Trophy winner isn't easy, so it should come as no surprise that 46 percent of the tracked goals scored on Bobrovsky were the result of plays and passes across the slot line, an imaginary line splitting the offensive zone from the goal line to the top of the face-off circles. Those goals are not measured as a save percentage, so we don't know how many Bobrovsky faced. We do know those chances are inherently more difficult for a goaltender because they force a change in angle while moving laterally. Half of the successful slot-line chances were finished with a one-timer or one-touch shot, emphasizing the need to get a shot off quickly against one of the NHL's fastest goalies.
Right off the rush: According to the data compiled for this project during the past two seasons, 38.5 percent of goals scored come off the rush, the other 61.5 percent after a team has set up in the attacking zone. Bobrovsky allowed 48 of the 100 goals tracked off the rush, second-most after Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights (49). This is not a save percentage and likely is an indicator of the willingness of the Blue Jackets to play an up-tempo, sometimes-risky style with Bobrovsky as the last line of defense. As for trends accompanying these chances, 19 of 28 against-the-grain goals, where the puck or play is moving one way and is shot or pulled back in the other direction, came off the rush. Seventeen of 21 clean goals, when he could set and see the shot's release, also came off the rush. Part of it was catching Bobrovsky, an active goalie who plays with backward flow, in motion. This is more pronounced in moving to his right, which is more likely to include a C-cut motion with his lead leg that can leave him slightly off the angle while moving and later in setting the angle once he arrives.
Skate on post: Bobrovsky is powerful moving into and off of his posts. He is able to take away the entire bottom of the net with a skate on each post when play is behind the net. He gave up five sharp-angle goals among the 100 tracked, but the only worrisome trend might be the gap between the bottom of his pad and the post when his skate blade is up against it.
Noticeable numbers: The only location numbers higher than the averages of the 16 playoff goalies were under-the-blocker (10 goals) and outside-the-blocker skate (14), many the result of the movement patterns when he's traveling left to right.