A huge part of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final will be the battle between 2013 Cup winner Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks and Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning. 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, will use Double Blue Sports Analytics software to chart goals and shots in each game. Here are his findings from Game 2, a 4-3 victory by the Lightning.
The shot-tracking statistics matched the eye test for Game 2 on Saturday: It was a tougher game for the goaltenders, though perhaps not as hard as the final 4-3 score might indicate.
Chicago goalie Corey Crawford dealt with more traffic in Game 2, with six screened shots from Tampa Bay after they failed to record one in the series opener. Screens played a role in three of their four goals.
Crawford also faced five shots off lateral passes after seeing two in Game 1, but for the second straight game, one play crossed the Royal Road, an imaginary line splitting the offensive zone below the top of the faceoff circles. Former NHL goalie and current MSG Network analyst Steve Valiquette has identified plays that cross that line as having a much better chance to produce a goal but Crawford has faced one in each game.
Each team created more scoring chances in Game 2 from inside the "home plate" area that extends out from the edge of the crease to the faceoff dots and up to the top of the circles.
Lateral plays were a factor for two of three goals Bishop allowed, who made his best save on a rare double Royal Road chance for Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, who took a lateral feed in tight and carried the puck the other way but failed to tuck it between Bishop's legs as each cut back.
Bishop also faced tougher chances compared to Game 1, including screens on two of the three goals after facing two screened shots in Game 1.
The sharp-angle attempts were down on Crawford from Game 1, but Tyler Johnson's shot beat him (that shot doesn't show up in the save chart because it is recorded in goal attributes). It was another example of poorly executed reverse-VH (Vertical –Horizontal) technique from Crawford, who has been beaten using it in the playoffs already.
Crawford has used the reverse-VH more this year, dropping his lead pad to the ice and leaning over that leg to seal the short-side post with his body. It has cost him a couple of goals in the playoffs because he sets his lead skate against the post, which increases how far he has to lean into the post and doesn't allow him to keep his shoulder all the way up to the cross bar. But on Johnson's goal, it was an attempted poke check with his blocker that cost Crawford the seal reverse-VH was designed to provide, allowing the shot from below the goal line to find a hole.
Chicago appeared to be targeting a similar short-side post coverage trend on Bishop, with four attempts from dead angles and one from the boards that forced Bishop into a lunging shoulder save. Even at 6-foot-7, Bishop isn't always able to get his shoulder up to the cross bar because he too anchors his skate to the post, leaving a gap that he has to lean hard into the post to take away.
It's a move that puts a lot of extra pressure on a goaltender's knees and hips to the point some use specialized yoga and stretches designed specifically for the reverse-VH technique. Bishop appeared to be in the most discomfort while executing the reverse-VH before leaving for good with a possible injury midway through the third period of Game 2. If Bishop is in goal for Game 3, expect the Blackhawks to keep testing those sharp angles.
Any thought of targeting Bishop's glove seemed to go the other way in Game 2, with no more shots directed at his glove than his blocker after an almost 2-to-1 split in the series opener.
One thing the Blackhawks might need to target if Bishop is unable to play in Game 3 on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports) is the puck-handling skills of replacement Andrei Vasilevskiy. Bishop's touches were down from 19 in Game 1 to 13 in Game 2, but 10 were at even strength and 11 led to the Lightning safely getting out of their own zone.
Compare that to Crawford, who had two even-strength puck touches in the game, and you get an idea of the adjustments Tampa Bay might have to make with Vasilevskiy, who looked confident in his one trip out of the net, but still had it end up in a lost possession and sustained zone time for Chicago.
As for the rest of Vasilevskiy's short, but pressure packed, first NHL playoff win, the Blackhawks didn't test the young Russian often, but Brad Richards forced him to make a good stop on a one-timer inside the top of the left faceoff circle after a lateral pass. It was one of two Chicago Royal Road attempts, but the only shot Vasilevskiy faced within the "home plate" area.