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Goaltender matchup: Inside Lundqvist vs. Holtby

by Kevin Woodley /

Goaltending plays an integral part in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. decided to break down the highest profile matchup in the Eastern Conference Second Round: Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers and Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals.

Much like many goaltending coaches will do before a playoff series, 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


Lundqvist's style often is described as deep, but inside-out might be a more accurate description for a goaltender who starts from the goal line and works his way out only when needed, staying patient 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. He started coming out past the top of the blue ice early on breakaways before retreating a few seasons ago and was challenging point shots near the top of his crease and beyond at times against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference First Round.

But his staple remains his deeper positioning, which allows him to beat lateral plays with quick, short movements. It also gives 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 makes small adjustments from his knees on plays closer to the net.

When he's off -- He gives up more clean-shot goals, which is 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.


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 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 just 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 from the wing because he doesn't rotate as much. 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). That old-school half butterfly, combined with a stiff glove that presents big to shooters but doesn't close easily, can lead to rebounds on glove-side shots, including a glorious chance early in the series against the Penguins.

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 against the post and leaves the back pad horizontal along the ice, cost him a handful of leaky goals last season and left dangerous rebounds in front during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He still uses it on dead-angle plays above the goal line, including one that led to a scramble early in the Pittsburgh series. But now he uses a mix of post-lean and reverse-VH on plays from below the goal line and has added an overlap technique on mid-zone plays off the wings, where he gets square with the shooter with his lead skate outside the post to prevent a gap on the short-side post. It's effective but delays his ability to get across the crease on a backdoor pass, something Penguins captain Sidney Crosby exploited to score a goal in Game 2.

Stretch him out: Deeper positioning lets Lundqvist beat passes on his feet with quick, short movements. But he can get sprawled out on moves across the middle of the ice or lateral passes in tight, leaving 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.

Lateral on rebounds too: The extra depth Lundqvist took on shots from high in the zone against the Penguins left him in more contact with traffic and more exposed to lateral rebound plays than his usual preference to stay deep. One example was on Patric Hornqvist's third-period goal in Game 3 when Lundqvist was caught a foot outside the top of his crease.  Pittsburgh scored five of its eight goals in the series on rebounds, often by going east-west to stretch out Lundqvist or catch him shifting on his knees and elevating shots over his pads.

Low-high: The majority of the 15 goals Lundqvist allowed in the regular season on low-high plays came early this season and were the result of some poor defending and open looks from close range. As for beating Lundqvist along the ice, the total was down from 20 percent five-hole goals last season to 16 percent (17 goals) in 2014-15. 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.

Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals


A lot of the talk this season was about letting Holtby get back to his old self by letting him play a little more aggressively than he did under former Capitals coach Adam Oates last season, while at the same time tightening his movements under new goaltending coach Mitch Korn.

No one is going to mistake Holtby for Lundqvist, but it's not like Holtby is painting wildly outside the lines either. His positional game is not as extreme as some narratives suggest. Holtby may like to play around or on top of the edges of his crease, but he's not as aggressive as Detroit Red Wings goalie Petr Mrazek. For all the focus on Korn's props, including medicine balls to tighten Holtby's movements and core, a narrowing of Holtby's stance on his skates also helped close holes this season and allowed him to make more complete lateral pushes he could control rather than having to extend and reach to get there on side-to-side plays.

When he's on -- Holtby is in control even when making big lateral movements, beating passes to the next position even when sliding on his knees, getting set and keeping his hands active rather than dropping them to his side prematurely off the release.

When he's off -- Holtby's extra movement leaves him pushing through his angles and ahead of the play or not square to the shooter. It shows in the difference between his lateral-play goals (44.5 percent) and true Royal Road goals (29 percent) this season. All goalies give up more goals when forced to move laterally, but the biggest problem is plays across the Royal Road, an imaginary line that splits the ice between the goal line and the top of the faceoff circles. Holtby's gap on plays that forced him to move but not cross that line was one of the highest tracked so far, a sign of costly extra movement even on same-side passing plays.


Most of Holtby's numbers will look bigger than other goalies tracked because he played so much this season. However, the discrepancy between the blocker and glove side jumps off the page, with 54 goals scored in the mid-to-high range past his catching hand compared to 30 on the blocker side. There are a number of factors to explain the higher number on his glove side, several of which are examined in detail below, including a tendency to drop his glove and use his shoulder on high shots, getting caught flat and off-angle on rush shots from his right, and a habit of pulling off glove-side shots with his head and torso. But don't overlook the time and space shooters need to be able to pick this spot, something the Capitals did a good job of limiting in their Eastern Conference First Round series against the New York Islanders.

Coming off high shots: High shots into the top corners are going to be an area for more goals on butterfly goalies. But when more than one-third of the goals allowed in a season are high glove side, it's worth a closer look.

Two trends emerged: The first was a tendency to drop the glove, which Holtby already holds in a more neutral position at his waist compared to the high, fingers-up style Lundqvist uses. This often left Holtby trying to lift his elbow or lean his shoulder into high shots, a habit made less effective by the other high-shot trend of him lifting his head on rising shots, which naturally turns his torso away from them. On the right side, Holtby squares up the blocker better on high shots but tends to pull off mid-range shots. That often leaves him reaching and trying to catch up with a blocker face pointed to the boards. It played a role on 20 percent of the clean-shot goals he allowed in the regular season. That's not an alarming number, but three of the 10 goals he allowed in the first round against the Islanders were on clean looks.

Far side off left wing: Another contributing factor to the high number of glove-side goals was Holtby's habit of getting too flat as he tracked back on rush chances down the wing and on some plays that went from his left to his right. Without that rotation as he moves laterally, Holtby doesn't get his left shoulder squared around to the shooter as he tracks and moves to back and to his right. Add the tendency to pull off high shots with his head and shoulder, and there is exposure on far-side shots to the glove.

Over or under after stretching him out: It was mitigated somewhat by the narrowing of his stance, which as the season went on allowed Holtby to make more complete, controlled lateral pushes rather than reaching early and getting too spread out. But Holtby can get his pads fully extended in a hurry, making it important for shooters to never take a tap-in along the ice for granted. If shooters are caught too close and can't get the puck up in a hurry, a low shot back in the direction Holtby is coming from is not a bad idea because the way he opens while stretching across often prevents his pad from sealing the ice completely, which explains some of the 17 shots that went in between his legs or under his pads. Holtby tends to pitch his torso forward for extra leg extension, so if a shooter has time to wait out one of those explosive lateral reaches, Holtby can get stranded.

Left skate passive in blocker-side reverse-VH: Holtby was beaten once cleanly on the glove side in reverse-VH, a post-integration technique that involves keeping the short-side skate on the post and pad on the ice while having the back pad raised slightly off the ice and using the back-skate edge as a rudder to either push into the post seal or get off the post faster on lateral passes and low-high plays. More problematic than not always getting his shoulder up to the crossbar in reverse-VH was a tendency to give up that back-skate edge on plays to the blocker side, which limits his mobility out of reverse-VH. It's a trend that could be attacked with low-high plays and cross-crease passes from Holtby's right.

Screen shots high: At 6-foot-2, Holtby is tall enough to look over screens and often does that on plays near the point. But it can be a struggle behind some of the Capitals' bigger defensemen, especially on a team that is middle of the pack in blocking shots. Holtby often ends up in a blocking butterfly behind those screens or gets caught looking around them, which leaves the perimeters vulnerable and shows in the 18 percent of goals he allowed from beyond the top of the faceoff circles.

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