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First Round

Petr Mrazek vs. Braden Holtby

How each stays aggressive while remaining controlled positionally could decide Hurricanes-Capitals series

by Kevin Woodley / Correspondent

Goaltending is an integral part of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. To better understand the strengths and weaknesses of the goaltenders, the final 100 goals allowed by each in the regular season and each goal allowed in the playoffs were charted, with the help of Apex Video Analysis and Save Review System from Upper Hand Inc., to see what patterns emerge.

Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals won the Vezina Trophy in 2016 and helped the Capitals win the Stanley Cup last season.

Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Petr Mrazek is in the process of re-establishing himself as a No. 1 in the NHL. He hasn't started a playoff game since April 21, 2016, with the Detroit Red Wings, and went into that season as the second option there.

Much like Holtby, Mrazek has plenty of raw skill, athleticism and an active playing style, and already is on a hot streak to help get the Hurricanes into the playoffs. How long he can maintain it playing a style more dependent on rhythm and timing, especially if the Capitals can target some of the tendencies that come with that active approach, will play a big role in the Eastern Conference First Round. Game 1 of the best-of-7 series is at Capital One Arena on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET, USA, SN360, TVAS2, NBCSWA, FS-CR).

Here is an in-depth look at each goalie's game:


Petr Mrazek, Carolina Hurricanes

Mrazek finished his first season in Carolina with a .914 save percentage in 40 games, almost the same as playing partner Curtis McElhinney, who had a .912 save percentage in 33 games. But Mrazek had the hot hand late, finishing 12-3-0 with a .943 save percentage in his final 15 regular-season games after Feb. 8.

Explosive laterally and capable of making momentum-changing reactive saves, Mrazek can get a bit aggressive with his positioning and loose technically. Maintaining a dynamic approach without getting out of control will be an important balance against a Capitals team that has attacked goalie-specific weaknesses before.


Goal Trends

Lateral and quick: Of the 95 goals Mrazek gave up this season, 45, or 47.4 percent, came off plays and passes across the slot line, an imaginary line that divides the offensive zone from the goal line to the top of the face-off circles. These are tough plays for every goaltender because they have to rotate completely from one side to the other, and there were plenty of goals on cross-ice passes off the rush that Mrazek didn't have much of a chance on. But there were also a lot of times he didn't give himself a chance because of a tendency to set up outside his posts laterally on the initial puck carrier, increasing the distance he has to cover to get across to the other side. Too often Mrazek didn't get across in time, no matter how strong his pushes or extended he can stretch his pads, which played a role in 40 goals off one-timers and quick shots, and 27 along the ice outside of his skates, indicative of an open-net shot.

Against the grain: Mrazek gave up 26 against-the-grain goals (27.4 percent), more than 10 percent above the tracked average (16.9 percent). There were several factors on these plays that caught him moving one way before shooting, passing or pulling the puck back the other way. Part of it simply is aggressive positioning and the extra movement that comes with it, including a tendency to slide laterally on his knees on plays he could beat on his skates, though it seemed more prevalent early in the season. There also are some movement inefficiencies that can leave him late to position, and behind the play when the puck is moved again quickly. Mrazek also tends to push into point shots laterally rather than reaching, which normally is a good thing, but can leave him going the wrong way on deflections and rebounds.

Sharp angles: Mrazek gave up one goal from below the goal line, but inconsistent sharp-angle tactics and movement in and off his posts factored into 11. He got caught outside his post on several rush chances, delaying his ability to get across if they became wraparounds.


Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals

Holtby struggled late last season but bounced back nicely during the playoffs. He had a second-straight "down" season statistically, including a .911 save percentage that is the second worst of his NHL career after last season's .907. But that's not something the Capitals will worry about. As the playoffs went on last season Holtby looked more like goalie who won the Vezina Trophy in 2016, combining the explosive power that defined him early in his NHL career with a more controlled game plan that leaves him a little less reliant on physical skill.


Goal Trends

High glove?: The 25 mid- and high-glove goals allowed during the regular season jump out, but it's important to note these aren't save percentages and don't account for how many more, or better-quality shots Holtby might face on the glove side during the season. He can, however, get passive with his glove at times, relying more on his elbow or shifting a shoulder into high shots on his left, so it will be worth watching to see if the Hurricanes try to target that corner any more than usual.

Against-the-grain tips: Holtby gave up 18 deflection goals this season, which is a little better than the tracked average (20.3), but nine were against the grain. Like Mrazek, Holtby's tendency to push into shots is considered a strength but can become a liability if you get him moving the wrong way on shots from higher in the zone. Deflections played a role in 12 of 23 goals (52 percent) against Holtby in the first three rounds of the playoffs last season. Holtby is not as active as Mrazek but does play a fluid style, and like Mrazek that can mean getting caught moving because he moves more, with 29 against-the-grain goals overall this season.

Along the ice: Goals along the ice often are the result of tap-ins after cross-ice passes, but Holtby's high totals include additional exposure because his narrow butterfly reduces low coverage, both on screens and while pushing laterally on and from his knees.

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