Goaltending plays an integral part in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. NHL.com decided to break down the Eastern Conference Second Round matchup between Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens and Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Much like many goaltending coaches will do before a playoff series, NHL.com correspondent Kevin Woodley, the managing editor of InGoal Magazine, charted every goal scored against each goalie in this matchup this season with the help of a program from Double Blue Sport Analytics. The graphics showing where goals went in and shots were taken from on the ice are nice, 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.
Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning
There are positives and negatives to being a 6-foot-7 goaltender. The upside is obvious: Bishop fills a lot of space, with his shoulders covering most shots even when he's on his knees in the butterfly. The downside is today's NHL game is fast, with a lot of movement that forces goaltenders to move east-west. And the bigger a goalie is, the more holes that can open when he has to move side to side. It's also tougher to stop a frame as big as Bishop's once it gets moving in one direction with a lot of speed, which makes for a delicate balance because Bishop is not a passive goalie by any means, playing outside the edges of his crease at times and trusting that his athleticism and reach can make up that extra distance.
When he's on -- Bishop is at his best when his movements are contained and under control. Though that's probably true of every goaltender, it is even more important for a goalie as big as Bishop, especially because he plays a relatively aggressive positional game for his size.
When he's off -- Bishop struggles when he's forced to move more. Though that can be a function of the play in front of him, there are times his positioning at or even beyond the edges of his crease creates extra recovery distance even his long legs can't make up. When he's not on top of his game, he also has a tendency to drop and reach with his glove and legs rather than shift or push his body into the puck.
The biggest number is 29 goals high on the glove side, which isn't surprising for any goalie playing today's butterfly style. But the biggest surprise may be the 23 goals that went in along the ice on the glove side. That total plays a big role in a somewhat alarming discrepancy between the two sides: Bishop allowed 75 goals on his glove side compared to 47 on his blocker side. The circumstances behind those goals vary but often involved Bishop either getting caught at or beyond his posts on his blocker side or a poor tracking habit on his glove side that can lock up and limit his recovery movements back to the left.
Make him move: This is true of all goalies. Plays that force lateral movement, especially a complete turn by moving the puck across the middle of the zone below the top of the faceoff circles, an imaginary area former NHL goaltender and MSG Network analyst Steve Valiquette has dubbed the Royal Road, always lead to better shooting percentages. But it appears to be more important against Bishop. In the regular season, 62 percent of the goals he allowed involved a lateral movement, and 30 percent of those were across the Royal Road. In the first round against Detroit, eight of the 13 goals he allowed involved lateral movement, including six across the Royal Road.
Backdoor tap-ins: A lot of the 23 goals Bishop allowed along the ice to his left were tap-ins that resulted from poor coverage or Bishop getting stranded on the other side. But his tendency to reach rather than shift into shots appears to be stronger on the glove side, including the occasional old-school, half-butterfly glove save, and that played a role. As long as Bishop's legs are, once he has them fully extended in this manner there's nothing remaining to push him farther left, meaning shooters with enough time and patience often can find a gap inside the post or, at worst, have to lift the puck over the extended pad. Stretching Bishop laterally in 1-on-1 situations also can leave him reaching early and unable to get his pad all the way to the post.
High glove, left pad: That low glove-side space also is a function of a tracking habit that played a role in high-glove exposure. When Bishop isn't on top of his game he tends to pull off glove shots with his head, which opens his left hip and shoulder. When he does that, it not only leaves him overly reliant on hand-eye coordination but limits his left-pad extension, sometimes even pulling it out of the way as he initiates recovery movements to his left from his knees.
Post integration gaps: Bishop uses a mix of modern tactics to seal his posts on sharp-angle attacks, but it isn't easy to execute reverse-VH with your skate on the post when a goalie has legs as long as Bishop's. With the lead pad down on the ice and the skate on the post, his long legs create a big gap between his upper body and the post. This can leave holes over his pad, which cost Bishop goals this season. It forces him to lean hard into the post, which can delay his ability to get off the post.
Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
Already considered a living how-to-be-a-goalie DVD by many because of how smoothly he moves around the crease, Price has gotten even better in his two seasons working with Canadiens goaltending coach Stephane Waite. Price cut his stance at the waist to track pucks better and improve lateral recoveries, and he reduced movement by limiting some of his backwards flow.
When he's on -- At his best, Price lets the play come to him in that more active lower stance, beating passes on his skates, tracking down on pucks from his knees, and limiting extra movement.
When he's off -- It happens less now, but Price can get a little overaggressive with his positioning. That's often when he starts sliding early and through save positions on his knees.
Though many eyes will be pulled to the biggest number, on the high-glove side, it's just the reality for most, if not all, of today's butterfly-style goaltenders. In Price's case, his number is down from last season, when by the start of the Eastern Conference Final he had given up almost 25 percent of his goals high on the glove side. If there are numbers that jump out, it's 23 mid-net goals allowed on the glove side, especially when matched to the type of chances (more on that below) and the amount allowed along the ice to either side and through the legs for a goalie who is so explosive laterally and seals the ice so well when he moves to and from his knees.
Screens leading to wide chances: As much as Price has become more contained under Waite, it was interesting to note his approach after getting beat on four high-screen shots in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Ottawa Senators. Rather than holding his three-quarter depth in the crease, Price got on top of the blue ice several times in similar screen situations in Game 6, fighting harder for sightlines the Senators took away in Game 5 and trusting his smooth but powerful recoveries would be enough to help him on second-chance attempts. There were a few close-call scrambles late, but the bet paid off for Price.
Mid-glove not high glove on clean looks: Among glove-side goals, it was interesting to note how many were in the mid-net range, often under Price's glove. When Price gets tall and straight with his back, his tendency is to pull off glove-side shots with his head, which causes his shoulder and hip to rotate and opening holes, sometimes even moving him out of the way of a shot he was in position to have hit him.
Backdoor tap-ins: There's a reason Price allowed double-digit goals along the ice on either side despite being so powerful with his lateral pushes: Most were backdoor tap-ins. A lot of them spoke to the types of chances surrendered, especially off the rush early in the season, and a lack of defensive coverage. But there were times Price's positioning played a role in his inability to recover that space.
Exploiting that extra movement: The two most common situations were off the rush, when playing farther outside the crease left him more susceptible to a one-timer after a lateral pass, and side-to-side plays below the goal line. As good as Price is on his posts, he has a tendency to overshoot them at times, especially on rush chances that end up near the goal line. That leaves him more vulnerable to a pass back the other way. Each situation played a role in the 16 goals allowed through the five-hole, which often were a result of that space opening while Price moved laterally or not being set off the rush.
Make him move: Like all goalies, plays that require movement right before or into a save led to more goals, with 40 percent coming after plays or passes across the Royal Road. Rush chances with lateral movement force even more movement, and shots against the grain, or opposite the direction Price is moving, resulted in many of the 22 goals he allowed on clean shots, a total that was 16.9 percent of his goals allowed.
Low to high no more: Last season, more than 20 percent of goals Price allowed were scored off low-high plays starting below the goal line, but that was down to 1 percent this season, likely a result of improved defending in the slot and Price's improved tracking in tight.