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Goaltender Matchup: Inside Lundqvist vs. Fleury

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com

Goaltending plays an integral part in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. NHL.com decided to break down the highest profile matchup in the Eastern Conference First Round: Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers and Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

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.


Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

OVERVIEW

Lundqvist's style is often simply described as deep, but inside-out might be more accurate for a goalie who starts from the goal line and works his way out only when needed, staying patient and up on his skates longer than any other goaltender in the NHL.

It leaves Lundqvist making more saves at the back of his crease, but he will attack plays when needed and has started coming out past the top of the blue ice early on breakaway chances before retreating. His staple remains that deeper positioning, allowing him to beat lateral plays with quick, short movements and giving him more time to read shots and tips and make reactive saves.

When he's on: Lundqvist patiently waits out shooters and reads the play on his skates as it develops on the outside, then constantly makes small readjustments from his knees closer to the net.

When he's off: He gives up more clean-shot goals, understandable given his depth, so if Lundqvist isn't battling for sightlines to make those late reactive saves, he can look passive instead of patient.

GOAL TRENDS

Off the hip, not top corner: Lundqvist often forgoes the butterfly for a more old-school half-butterfly on high glove-side shots, keeping his left leg up and dropping to his right knee. It's an incredible reactionary ability but it does cause him to open up his left side at the hips and shoulders as he effectively pulls up and away from these shots. So as tempting as it is to perfectly pick the top corner, shots off the hip can be as effective. Lundqvist's deeper style may keep him in position almost all the time with quick, short adjustments, but it can leave him flat on shots off the wing because he doesn't rotate as much, and any time a goaltender isn't square to the shooter it increases the chances of a puck finding a hole and squeezing through. That helps explain why more goals went in mid-net glove side (24) than high glove (16) and mid-blocker (26) compared to high blocker (five).

Sharp-angle alterations: Lundqvist used to rely almost exclusively on VH (vertical-horizontal) to cover his posts on sharp-angle attacks. This technique, when he stacks the lead pad vertically up against the post and leaves the back pad horizontally along the ice, cost him a handful of leaky goals last season and left dangerous rebounds in front right through the playoffs. This season, he played more of these attacks with an overlap technique, squaring on the shooter with his lead skate outside the post to prevent a gap on the short-side post. It led to fewer leaky goals from dead angles but inherently delays his ability to get across the crease on a backdoor pass.

Stretch him out: Deeper positioning lets Lundqvist beat passes on his skates with quick, short movements, but he can get sprawled out on moves across the middle of the ice or lateral passes in tight, leaving plenty of space if a shooter can hold on wide enough and elevate the puck. The same applies to breakaways, with more chance of success if you can add a lateral element and force him to stretch out.

Low-high: A lion's share of the 15 goals Lundqvist gave up on low-high plays were early this season and the result of some horrendous defending and open looks from close range. As for beating Lundqvist along the ice, the total was down slightly from 20 percent five-hole goals last season to 16 percent (17 goals) this year. Playing so deep means extending the pads on low saves, which is going to open holes. It also means low shots through traffic aren't a bad idea.


Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins

OVERVIEW

Fleury has become a different goaltender over the past two playoffs, making significant positional and style alterations since his second straight postseason disappointment in 2013. Often overaggressive during past playoff failures, he now plays a more contained game inside the edges of his crease. He added reverse-VH to his post-integration options, making it easier to stay inside his posts rather than getting caught outside and leaving himself susceptible to bank shots.

Compounding those problems was Fleury's tendency to get more aggressive the worse things got, chasing the puck rather than his next save position, leaving himself even more distance to recover in less time and often looking frantic. Some goalies retreat to their goal line when things go poorly. Others try to get as close to the puck as they can in the hopes it has a better chance of hitting them. Fleury always seemed to fall into the latter camp, but after two years with goalie coach Mike Bales, Fleury defaults to his new, more conservative positional staples, rather than chasing the play.

When he's on: At his best, Fleury uses his natural athleticism to react from his skates, waiting out shooters from his new, more neutral positioning and letting his hands take care of the top corners.

When he's off: Fleury tends to react from his knees, dropping and collapsing his hands to his side in more of a blocking butterfly before reacting out with his hands, often too late.

GOAL TRENDS

Top corners: Whereas Lundqvist can be more exposed on shots off the hips, Fleury's tendency to default to his knees and lock his arms at times leaves him more vulnerable on the perimeter. Again, it isn't how he plays all the time, but when Fleury does drop and block instead of reacting with his hands, he is exposed even more by his new, more conservative positioning and the extra space he gives up. This trend is reflected in the goal chart, with a lot more goals on the edges and not nearly as many going through him, including the five-hole.

Clean shots off the rush: That upper-net exposure was prevalent among the 24 clean shot goals (16 percent) Fleury gave up this season, most of which came off the rush. That's lower than Lundqvist's clean shot totals (17.3 percent), but the expectation is he is more exposed on clean looks by his deep positioning.

Rebounds: That same default to a blocking butterfly can result in more rebounds against Fleury, as does a tendency to kick more pucks out with his pads rather than steering them into corners with his stick, or, like Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators and a handful of other goalies, actually reaching down to catch low shots. The result was 36 of the 146 goals (25 percent) Fleury gave up this season came after a rebound, a trend that continued with the early goal in Game 1 against the Rangers on Thursday after a rebound into the slot.

Elevate off passes: Fleury's incredible lateral speed from his knees means he almost always gives himself a chance to get a pad on shots after lateral passes or quick rebounds to the side. But he does tend to come off the puck and make those pushes without rotating down through his hips first, which leaves his upper body behind and his pushes flat across rather than back to the post, limiting his ability to build early vertical coverage on top of those pads.

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