A huge part of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final will be the battle between 2013 Cup winner Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks and the Tampa Bay Lightning's Ben Bishop, who is making his Final debut. NHL.com scouted the goalies before the series and will track their performance each game, identifying attack trends and shot quality. Kevin Woodley, managing editor of InGoal Magazine, uses Double Blue Sports Analytics software to chart goals and shots in each game. Here are his findings from Game 1, a 2-1 victory by the Blackhawks on Wednesday at Amalie Arena.
Despite a lot of focus on the high-octane offenses of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Chicago Blackhawks heading into the Stanley Cup Final, each goaltender benefitted from tight defensive structure during Chicago's 2-1 victory in Game 1.
There were 41 saves by the two goalies in Game 1 and 31 of those would be deemed "clean" shots, attempts that allowed the goalie time to get set and square up to the shooter without worrying about a screen or deflection.
Even the lone breakaway of the game resulted in a fairly routine, though important and timely, save when Ryan Callahan elected to shoot from just inside the top of the right faceoff circle with Tampa Bay ahead 1-0 in the third period.
Corey Crawford, who hadn't faced a shot in more than 13 minutes, easily kicked the shot aside and Chicago tied the game a couple minutes later.
Lightning starter Ben Bishop, who gave up two goals on 21 shots in the loss, saw 14 clean shots among his 19 saves. He was beaten by a screened shot from Teuvo Teravainen at 13:28 of the third period, and again by Antoine Vermette's quick shot from the middle of the slot which was deflected off the stick of Lightning forward J.T. Brown and ramped high over Bishop's glove 118 seconds later.
Crawford faced 17 clean shots among his 22 saves, and was beaten only by a deft deflection by Alex Killorn on a shot that was headed well wide less than five minutes into the game. Like Bishop, it wasn't a particularly hard night for Crawford. He didn't need to make any saves through tough screens, which must have been a welcome reprieve from the constantly crowded crease he faced against the Anaheim Ducks during the Western Conference Final.
Crawford only faced two deflections compared to three for Bishop, but each goalie came up with a couple big change-of-direction stops, including one partially deflected shot from star Chicago forward Patrick Kane in the slot that Bishop gloved.
BISHOP TRACKING WELL
That save on Kane after he danced into the slot and carried the puck across the "Royal Road," the imaginary line splitting the offensive zone in half with the top of the faceoff circles as the demarcation line, was a sign Bishop was tracking the puck better than he did for long stretches against the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final.
Bishop's glove save off Brad Richards on another great chance on the slot late in the second period provided further evidence of his tracking ability. Improved rebound control provided another indication of how much better Bishop was following the puck.
Bishop controlled the puck on 11 of his 19 saves, and of the eight rebounds he did let out, only two were labelled "negative" because they were put back into dangerous areas in front of the goal.
Crawford had a tougher night when it came to controlling shots, with 15 rebounds generated from his 22 saves, four of which ended up in dangerous areas. The straight, stiff pads Crawford prefers bailed him out a couple of times with active rebounds jumping past the first wave of forwards looking for a second chance.
LOCATION AND MOVEMENT
Neither goaltender had to face a lot of high-quality chances from the most dangerous areas close to the net in Game 1, though Crawford made one of his best saves on a one-timer by Steven Stamkos from just inside the bottom of the faceoff circle to his left. Crawford also saw a few more shots (12) inside the "home plate" area many consider an indicator of shot quality, compared to nine for Bishop, but neither goalie was forced to move a lot on any of those chances.
In fact, Crawford only had to deal with two scoring chances on plays that crossed the Royal Road, which former NHL goalie and current MSG analyst Steve Valiquette uses as criteria for a quality scoring chance. For Crawford, one chance came on an early power-play feed across the ice to Tyler Johnson inside the left faceoff dot. The pass was in Johnson's feet, however, giving Crawford time to get across as Johnson fired a high shot that Crawford shifted his left shoulder into for one of his toughest saves of the game.
At the other end, Bishop also faced two chances that crossed the Royal Road. The first was Kane's move into the slot, and the second was Vermette's goal after Teravainen deflected a loose puck across the Royal Road in the mid-slot.
With so few shots and even less time and space to pick a spot in Game 1, it would be a stretch to suggest either team was targeting specific spots or types of plays on the opposition goaltender.
Bishop was beaten high glove on the winning goal and did open up his left side as he pulled his head off Vermette's shot, a trend that has cost him in the past. But it would be hard to argue he was stopping that shot, which hit a stick and elevated further on the way toward the net. Add in Bishop's six glove saves and that's seven of 21 shots directed at his glove in Game 1.
There weren't any glaring trends against Crawford either, but there might be a few things to keep an eye on when it comes to the sharp-angle shots attempted by the Lightning. Officially, Tampa Bay directed three dead-angle shots at Crawford, and produced a couple good rebounds in the process. But the best chance was put just wide by Nikita Kucherov on a power play in the first period. He barely missed the spot over Crawford's shoulder which opens when the Blackhawks goalie commits early to the reverse-VH technique to seal his short-side post, dropping his lead pad to the ice and leaning into the goal post. It's a move which has cost Crawford a couple of bad goals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs already. Kucherov appeared to be looking for it as soon as he got the puck just above the goal line to Crawford's left.
Don't be surprised to see more sharp-angle shots by the Lightning in Game 2, especially since Johnson passed out of such an opportunity on the same early power play before realizing Crawford had gotten stranded atop his crease expecting a shot, which left the net temporarily open.
PLAYING KEEP AWAY
Bishop's puck-handling acumen is not a secret, but the Blackhawks continued to dump the puck into spots the big goalie could get to.
Bishop played the puck 19 times in Game 1, including 15 times at even strength. Only three of those touches were the simple option of leaving the puck behind the net for the defenseman.
Of those 19 touches, the Lightning got possession 15 times (11-for-15 at even strength) and got out of their zone 13 times, including eight times with complete control as they exited the zone.
At the other end, Crawford handled the puck more as the game went on, especially when the Lightning stopped forechecking, trying to protect the 1-0 lead. Crawford finished with 13 touches, seven at even strength. All seven of those resulted in a controlled exit out of the Chicago end; one less than Bishop.