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Marc-Andre Fleury vs. Craig Anderson

Goalies for Penguins, Senators reached conference final by mixing raw ability with improved technical skills

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 helpful, 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.

Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has reined in a lot of his overaggressive tendencies. This has allowed him to overcome his problems during previous runs through the Stanley Cup Playoffs without losing the explosive movement that he relied on too heavily, too often.


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Similarly, Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson has added more structure this season to a free-flowing style that still relies more on instinct and patience than that of many of his peers.

The differences between how heavily each relies on his raw skills could play a role in deciding the Eastern Conference Final.


Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins

Fleury had a disappointing regular season that included a .909 save percentage, his lowest since 2009-10, and mostly was spent backing up Matt Murray. But with Murray sustaining a lower-body injury during warmups prior to Game 1 of the first round against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Fleury has played every postseason game and has a .927 save percentage in 12 playoff games. Although some still talk about Fleury's past playoff problems, he's a totally different goalie now than the one who had four straight sub-.900 postseason save percentages from 2010-13. Since then he's rebuilt his game with more consistent, conservative positional anchors and refined post play working with goaltending coach Mike Bales.



High glove: It's hard to ignore the total over Fleury's glove. After being beaten most often there during the regular season (18), he has given up 12 high-glove goals during the playoffs. It's important to point out he simply may be seeing more shots or better chances on the glove side, including the high-quality looks the Washington Capitals used to score high glove off odd-man rushes and power play one-timers during Game 6 of the second round. Mid-to-high glove is the best place to score in general, accounting for 26 percent of the 2,415 goals tracked so far for this project. At 23.4 percent, Fleury was below the average during the regular season, but he's at 41.9 percent in the playoffs, and sometimes defaults to a blocking style, pulling his hands down to his sides as he drops to the ice.

Not much down low: Fleury arguably has the fastest legs and most powerful lateral pushes in the NHL, but now that he's playing a bit deeper and more under control, they don't get him into trouble by opening holes or taking him out of position. As a result, Fleury is tough to beat down low, allowing two goals between his legs and 25 percent of his goals-against along the ice during the playoffs, which includes a breakaway deke and three backdoor tap-ins.

Video: PIT@WSH, Gm7: Fleury pads away Shattenkirk's slapper

Post play improved but not perfect: There likely was some "not again" grumbling when Fleury let Andre Burakovsky's sharp-angled shot trickle in short side in the second period of Game 6 against Washington, but post play has been a huge area of improvement for him since he began working with Bales. Even with these improvements, Fleury gave up seven dead-angled goals during the season and five during the playoffs, including a few against the Blue Jackets in the first round that found holes through his improved post-seal techniques.


Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators

Anderson's less-structured style should leave him more reliant on timing and rhythm, so a .926 save percentage in a regular season filled with starts and stops because he took time off to be with his wife during her cancer treatments is even more remarkable. It also may be a reflection of his added structure working with first-year Senators goaltending coach Pierre Groulx, efforts that were obvious during a tight technical performance in Game 6 of the second round against the New York Rangers. But the roots of Anderson's success remain reading and anticipating as well as any goalie in the NHL, skills that allow him to get on the kind of hot streaks that can win a playoff series.



Sharp angles: A big part of the improvements Anderson has made working with Groulx involve his post play, which now includes modern technical options. Anderson used these techniques effectively against the Rangers, moving out of it and off his posts smoothly on low-high plays, and has given up two bad-angled goals during the playoffs. But don't be surprised if the Penguins continue to attack from near or below the goal line. For all his improvements, Anderson still stays on his skates and uses a simple butterfly more than most on these attacks, and it played a role in 15 percent of his regular-season goals-against coming from below the bottom of the faceoff circles.

Video: NYR@OTT, Gm2: Anderson robs Lindberg with pad stop

Make him move: Plays that cross the slot line, an imaginary line that splits the offensive zone below the top of the faceoff circles, are often the hardest for goalies because they have to rotate their angle completely from one side to the other. So it's not a shock these have accounted for almost half (15) of the 32 goals Anderson's allowed during the playoffs, which is higher than his 34.8 percent in the regular season. Ten of these plays were finished with one-timers, which isn't surprising because his looser movement patterns can add slight delays going side to side.

High screens: Traffic played a role in 25 percent of Anderson's regular-season goals-against, but it might not be as important to crowd him tightly. He is good at looking over screens at the edge of his crease but has been caught by traffic and tips higher in the zone. Twice he has been beaten by low shots while trying to look over these screens, including a goal by Rangers defenseman Brady Skjei during Game 2 that was shot from a distance and went between his legs.

Rebounds along the ice: Anderson uses modern butterfly recovery techniques to stay balanced on his knees, moving side to side more than he did in the past. But he still tends to reach and dive more than many of his peers, especially to his blocker side. It explains some of the 31 goals he allowed (34 percent) that went in along the ice during the regular season, and means quick shots on rebounds and scrambles, even along the ice, may be more important than elevating the puck.

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