Goaltending plays an integral part in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. NHL.com decided to break down perhaps the most interesting goaltending matchup in the Eastern Conference First Round: Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens vs. Andrew Hammond of the Ottawa Senators.
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 the goals went in 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.
Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
Already considered a living how-to-be-a-goalie DVD by many in the puck-stopping fraternity for how smoothly he moves around the crease, Price has gotten even better in his two seasons with goaltending coach Stephane Waite. Price has cut his stance at the waist to track pucks better and improve lateral recoveries and reduced movement by limiting some of his backward flow en route to becoming the Vezina Trophy favorite and a potential Hart Trophy candidate.
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 still get a little overaggressive with his positioning, and that's often when he also starts sliding early and through save positions on his knees.
While many eyes will be pulled to the biggest number on the high glove side, it's just the reality for most, if not all, butterfly goaltenders. In Price's case it's also 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 by the glove, especially when matched to the type of chances (below), and the amount 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.
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 even under Price's glove rather than into the upper corners. 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 too, opening up holes and 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 gave up 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 are also 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 further outside the crease left him more susceptible to a one-timer after a lateral pass, and side-to-side plays down below the goal line. As good as Price is on his posts, there is a tendency to overshoot them at times, especially on rush chances that end up down near the goal line, leaving him more vulnerable to a pass back the other way. Each situation also played a role in the 16 goals through the 5-hole, which were often a result of opening up while moving 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 a more goals, with 40 percent coming after plays or passes across the middle of the zone below the top of the faceoff circles, an imaginary line former NHL goalie and MSG Network analyst Steve Valiquette has dubbed the "Royal Road." Rush chances with lateral movement force even more movement and shots against the grain, or opposite the direction Price is moving, resulting in many of the 22 clean shots that made up 16.9 percent of his goal total.
Low to high no more: Last season more than 20 percent of goals were scored off low-high plays starting from below the goal line, but that was down to just one percent this season, likely a result of improved defending in the slot and Price's improved tracking in tight.
Andrew Hammond, Ottawa Senators
"The Hamburglar" has risen quickly from American Hockey League mediocrity to cult star status after a record-setting first two months in the NHL. With only 25 career games on his resume, there isn't much of a sample size statistically, but there are a few tendencies which have emerged for the Canadiens and Waite, who breaks down opposing goalies as well as anyone, to analyze and try to exploit.
When he's on: Hammond has been on most of his brief career in the NHL and looks more in control when he's at his best, beating even long lateral passes on the skates using a shuffle rather than the t-push many of his peers prefer. Watch how often he looks off the puck to identify other threats, which feeds an ability to read plays that former coaches believe allows him to excel in the more controlled NHL game compared to the more scrambled AHL style.
When he's off: Hammond scrambles so well they should change the nickname to "Scram-burglar" but relying on desperation too often is not a recipe for long-term success, and for him it is often the result of falling behind on passes, being too aggressive, or both.
None of the goal location numbers are alarming and the sample size remains too small to read much into any number, but the amount of clean shot goals was hard to ignore. Hammond was beaten by clean shots on 12 of his 42 goals, or 28.6 percent, which is a high number given how high clean save percentage usually is in the NHL.
Shoot high off the rush: Hammond's goals were divided almost equally between rush chances (48.7 percent) and end-zone play (51.3 percent), but a majority of the clean-shot goals came off the rush on high shots, especially mid-range on the blocker side, where several pucks snuck in between the arm and body.
As much as he shuffles laterally, Hammond has a tendency to almost back across his crease from left to right against the rush using a reverse C-cut with his right skate. This leaves his body turned as he moves left to right, which opens holes like the one under his blocker arm, and leaves him susceptible to quick shots after passes because he doesn't get set and square on the shooter.
High to low: Whereas most goalies struggle with low-to-high plays from behind the net because it forces them to surrender visual attachment on the puck, Hammond has shown a tendency to get behind on plays that move from high to low in the zone. At times it was simply a result of getting up too far above his crease to start, but that same backward-flow, reverse C-cut move that causes problems left to right also slowed him down going back to his posts at times, with high-to-low plays followed by lateral passes or sharp-angle net attacks setting up goals or setting off scramble mode as a result.
Keep it moving: Hammond gave up 35.7 percent of his goals after lateral plays across the "Royal Road," but where some goalies are dead in the water when a play goes back and forth twice he actually adjusts well to lateral shifts. His preference for a shuffle laterally helps with this because he does not have to open up his lead skate like a T-push goalie does, so he always has a skate edge ready to change direction, whereas a t-push goalie has to turn his skate first. But that preference has left him slower at times when a play keeps moving in the same direction, whether across the zone on a power play, or from the point to the circle to the goal line on those high-to-low plays.
Get it up in a scramble: It's not just luck that allows Hammond to succeed when things turn into a fire drill: Even though he can come off the puck tracking plays around the zone, his ability to find it again in a scramble is remarkable. That makes it important to elevate any secondary chances into the upper third of the net, because if not there's a good chance Hammond will find a way to make the kind of save that can turn momentum in a game. The odds he can keep getting away with those desperate saves over a long career may be long, but it might only take one to change a game and a series.