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Bishop, Howard saving best for first

Lightning-Red Wings goalie matchup a contrast in size, style

by Kevin Woodley / Correspondent

Goaltending plays an integral part in the Stanley Cup Playoffs so is breaking down the battle between the pipes in each series this season, charting goals to find strengths, weaknesses and targetable tendencies.

Ben Bishop followed up a run to Stanley Cup Final last season with an effort this season worthy of being a Vezina Trophy finalist for the second time with the Tampa Bay Lightning. While Bishop continues his rise into the top tier of NHL goaltenders, Jimmy Howard is fighting for his old spot as the No. 1 with the Detroit Red Wings after losing the starting job to Petr Mrazek until late in the season. Howard may not have Mrazek's numbers but he defeated the Lightning twice early this season before being pulled from a third start. 

POSITIONING: The smooth-skating Howard backed off from being perhaps the NHL's most aggressive goalie three seasons ago, but still likes to play beyond the edge of his crease on rush chances and will even get outside the blue ice on end-zone play. Howard appears effortless when playing well, almost like he is gliding compared to the push-stop mechanics of others. But his preference for backwards flow off the rush can creep into other situations, leaving him moving too much and backing in too far.

Video: DET@NYR: Howard stones Nash, keeps game tied in 2nd

Bishop also appears to have retreated a little this season, still getting his 6-foot-7 frame to the edge of his crease when the puck is at the point but wandering beyond that less frequently. Even a slightly more conservative positioning helps Bishop reduce the extra movements that inevitably open up holes in his massive frame, and he hasn't backed off far enough that coverage is an issue. 

Advantage: Because extremes tend to be more exploitable, Bishop. 

BLOCK/REACT THRESHOLD: Howard isn't locked in as low and wide in his stance as early as he used to be, and the narrower, taller approach plays to his strength of moving into shots while keeping his hands forward and active. The downside is that movement on the release can leave him more opened up on deflections and prone to getting caught going one way when those tips go the other. 

Like Howard, Bishop uses a high, "fingers up" glove position, but he isn't as active or effective with his glove. Unlike Howard, Bishop doesn't shift into shots as much. He tends to be more of a straight dropper when he goes to his knees. Though that opens fewer holes on the initial shot, it can leave Bishop reaching on rebounds, and the same tracking habit that opens up his glove side can also leave him pulling his torso away from the play when he extends his legs, limiting his reach with the glove. 

Advantage: Because against-the-grain tips are harder to manufacture, Howard.

Video: NJD@TBL: Bishop makes a left pad save on Moore

PUCKHANDLING: Not only does Bishop reduce scoring chances with confident, aggressive puck handling that can include going behind his net even on plays already in the zone, but he can pass it well enough to jump start transition, as evidenced by three assists in the playoffs last year. Howard doesn't wander out nearly as often, often deferring to his defense even on hard dump-ins. 

Advantage: Because he's more active without being reckless, Bishop 

POST PLAY: Howard used to rely more on the rebound-producing VH technique (with his short-side pad up vertically against the post and the back pad horizontal on the ice) for plays from a sharp angle and behind the goal line, but has added Reverse-VH (lead pad on the ice, back pad off it with that skate used to drive into the post and pivot off it) to his repertoire. Despite that, he still holds his skates on these "dead angle" plays more than most, which can get him caught transitioning to the ice. 

Bishop is the opposite, often defaulting to and staying in the reverse-VH even when the play is still along the boards in the corner. His size allows him to seal the short-side post up to the cross bar, but his long legs do force him to lean more into that post to do so, which can leave short-side gaps, especially on the blocker side, and creates a slight delay in his ability to get off the post on backdoor plays. 

Advantage: Because he's bigger and his style is less prone to pucks thrown at the net, Bishop. 

Video: DET@NYR: Howard reaches up to rob Brassard

SCORING TRENDS: Almost every goalie has a "better" side and for Howard it's the glove, not just in terms of making saves but also with his movement. Howard gets better rotation moving left, maintaining angle and staying square, but tends to get caught coming across flat to the blocker. His retreats off the rush are also in straight lines, and that lack of rotation that can leave him flat and more exposed to shots on the far side, another tendency that is more evident on his blocker side.
Every goalie is better when shots come straight at them, but making Bishop move remains a key. The Red Wings scored eight of 13 goals in the playoffs last season on plays that crossed the middle of the ice below the top of the faceoff circles, taking advantage of that tendency to reach with his pads. But even when Bishop gets stretched out, his long legs mean he is never out of a play, so it's important to elevate shots over his pads or you give him a chance to make a momentum-changing save. 

Advantage: The Lightning have protected Bishop well but because it's one direction, Howard.

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