Goaltending plays an integral part in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. With the competition intense and so even, the men protecting each goal often are the difference in a series. NHL.com broke down the compelling Western Conference Final matchup between 2012 Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings and defending Cup champion Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Much like many goaltending coaches will do before a playoff series, NHL.com correspondent Kevin Woodley, the managing editor of InGoal Magazine, used the 360 Save Review System software from Double Blue Sports Analytics to chart every goal scored against each goalie in this matchup this season, and he came to some interesting conclusions about their strengths and weaknesses.
Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
Goalie - LAK
GAA: 2.72 | SVP: 0.914
Quick is one of the fastest goalies in the NHL, which is good because he's also the most aggressive and needs that explosive mobility to cover off his positioning. He not only plays rush chances several feet above his crease but gets well outside the blue ice during end-zone play. He makes it work because of incredible lateral mobility, whether on his skates or knees, and great defensive support. As we saw against the San Jose Sharks
early in the Western Conference First Round, without that stingy defense, playing to such extremes can be exploited.
When he's on -- Some goalies are at their best playing a quiet game, but Quick is always moving. When he's locked in, the movements remain controlled, even when he's down, sliding back and forth with his torso slightly upright and his hands able to activate on the fly.
When he's off -- You can usually spot bad games when Quick is reaching a lot and commits to the splits as a desperation save rather than staying over his knees, something we saw while losing the first three games against the Sharks.
It's no surprise most of the goals allowed by Quick involve lateral plays, not only because plays which force movement lead to lower save percentages in general, but because Quick moves more as a result of aggressive positioning.
Almost two-thirds of his 100 regular-season goals at even strength, and nearly half on the power play, involved movement, and a majority were finished by one-timers or quick shots, whether on a cross-ice pass or rebound. Those trends have continued in the playoffs, with Quick often caught scrambling to recover from early aggression.
This showed up in the number of goals along the ice doubling on each side in the postseason, with four on the blocker side and four on the glove side matching what he gave up that low all season. Easy tap-ins like that are a sign of being caught too far out of position.
Elevation a must -- Unlike most goalies who barely manage to get a pad across in desperation moments, Quick usually stacks his vertical coverage with the glove or blocker arm atop the pad. He rarely throws himself across blindly, tracking the puck and maintaining mobility through his torso even while doing the splits in a lateral slide. So it's important to elevate quick shots because anything low gives him a chance to combine his explosive pushes with a Gumby flexibility to turn what looks like a sure goal into a momentum-changing save.
Sell the fake -- Given his aggressive nature, selling a fake shot from up high to draw Quick out before making a lateral pass can buy time. The Anaheim Ducks took advantage of a variation of this on the power play a couple of times in the Western Conference Second Round, with open players at the side of the net throwing the puck back up into the middle or cross ice rather than trying to stuff it through Quick as he challenged them down low in tight.
Odd-man high -- Almost one-third of the even-strength goals in the regular season were off the rush (20), but instead of typical passes in tight on odd-man opportunities, crisp passes high in the zone work because his aggressive positioning leaves more distance to cover laterally, which can expose him to one-time goals into the far side of the net. The Sharks continued this trend in the first round.
Make him smaller – In the regular season, about one-third of even-strength goals against Quick included screens (9) or deflections (11), which can push him deeper in the crease than he'd prefer. Eighteen goals came after low-high passes from below the goal line, forcing him to push off the post to the top of the blue ice. Quick gets there faster than most, but it increases the chances of catching him moving.
Sharp angle attack back -- Quick's post play is normally the envy of many NHL goalies, including a technique copied widely after his Cup win. He moves on and off his posts seamlessly and gave up five dead-angle goals all season, but was burned four times on sharp-angle attacks by the Ducks in the second round.
Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks
Goalie - CHI
GAA: 1.97 | SVP: 0.931
Respect for Corey Crawford
has been slow to come from some quarters despite the fact he won the Stanley Cup last season and has the Blackhawks back in the Western Conference Final. But Crawford has found a nice balance between the more technical, blocking foundation which defined him coming into the NHL and the more reactionary athleticism which he tried too hard at times to show off during his second full season.
When he's on -- At his best, Crawford is reacting from his skates, moving into shots in straight lines with his feet and hands, starting near the edges of his crease and holding his ground.
When he's off -- Crawford reacts from his knees more, defaulting down to more of a blocking butterfly then reacting out to perimeter shots with his legs and up with his hands.
The glove-side numbers will draw the most attention given how much was made of Crawford's glove hand during last year's playoffs. It's natural with 44 percent of goals (68 of 154) going in mid- and high-glove compared to 28 percent (43 goals) on the blocker side. What these numbers don't include is Crawford's save percentage on either side, which would provide a better indication of how efficient his glove is and whether opponents are targeting it.
Pulling off mid-net shots -- Regardless of whether it's targeted, when Crawford defaults down to more of a blocking butterfly before reacting back up with the hands, there is a delay and a tendency to pull his torso slightly off shots just off his hips, actually turning out of the save space at times. He's not the only NHL goalie who does it, and he doesn't do it all the time, but it played a role in some of the 74 goals he’s given up in the middle of the net on either side; 16 of 26 playoff goals have gone in mid-net too.
Bigger five-hole -- Crawford prefers straight pads because they used to close in a "V" in front of him when he dropped into the butterfly, trapping any pucks he couldn't completely control on body saves. But he admitted last summer it might not be as effective after offseason reductions in pad height. With 20 goals through the five-hole in the regular season and three of 14 through his legs in the Western Conference First Round against the St. Louis Blues, that might be the case, though he kept it closed against the Minnesota Wild.
Straight drops -- Some goalies push laterally into shots from farther out, a habit with positives and negatives, but Crawford is more of a straight dropper, making small adjustments and shifts and/or leaning his torso behind shots to control rebounds. He rarely slides into saves, and though there are lots of positives to this practice, like not opening up holes by moving too much, it can create backdoor-pass options which strand Crawford atop the crease on the initial shooter.
Late into post play -- Whereas some goalies will execute post-seal tactics that put them on their knees and up against the iron while the play is still behind the net to eliminate the chance of getting caught in the transition down, Crawford tends to wait until there is an attack threat. As a result, there are times when he gets caught low, including the goal that tied Game 1 against the Blues with 1:15 left, and again on a harmless play from behind the net against the Wild.
Shoot from anywhere -- The zone chart shows the entire season, but in the playoffs Crawford has given up 11 of 26 from outside the home plate area used to roughly define the quality of scoring chances.