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Second Round

Petr Mrazek vs. Robin Lehner

Lateral plays, second chances could decide series between Hurricanes, Islanders

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com Correspondent

Goaltending is an integral part of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. To better understand the strengths and weaknesses of each goalie, the 100 most recent goals allowed for each in the regular season and every goal 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.

Goalies Petr Mrazek of the Carolina Hurricanes and Robin Lehner of the New York Islanders are each reclamation projects signed to one-year contracts last offseason. But it will be a study in contrasting styles when they play one another in the Eastern Conference Second Round.

 

[RELATED: Complete Islanders vs. Hurricanes series coverage]

 

Though Mrazek remains one of the more active goalies in the NHL, a double-edged sword that can lead to momentum-changing highlight saves and where-is-he-going moments, Lehner has quieted his game significantly during a Vezina Trophy finalist season, staying almost exclusively within his crease and relying on his 6-foot-4 frame and evolving technical game. 

There are strengths and weaknesses to each style that could determine the winner of the series. Game 1 is at Barclays Center on Friday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS). 

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

 

Petr Mrazek, Carolina Hurricanes

Mrazek split time with Curtis McElhinney but had the hot hand late, going 12-3-0 with a .943 save percentage after Feb. 8. 

Explosive laterally and capable of spectacular-looking reactive saves, Mrazek can also be over aggressive with his positioning and loose technically. His dynamic approach can be harder to target in pre-scout viewing. Staying in control will be important after Mrazek had an .899 save percentage against the Washington Capitals in the first round.

 

GOAL TRENDS

Lateral plays: Of the 95 goals Mrazek gave up this season, 45 (47.4 percent) came off plays and passes across the slot line, an imaginary line dividing the offensive zone from the goal line to the top of the face-off circles. These saves are tough for every goalie because they require a complete rotation from one side to the other, and there were plenty of goals on cross-ice passes off the rush where Mrazek didn't have much of a chance. 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 to cover to get across to the other side. There were 16 rush goals this season where starting wide of the net played a role, not allowing him to get across in time, regardless of the strength of his pushes or the extension of his leg pads. Washington's first two goals in Game 2 are good examples. Mrazek was stuck outside his crease and not covering any net on a cross-ice pass from Alexander Ovechkin to Nicklas Backstrom on the first and stranded when T.J. Oshie cuts to what becomes an open net on the second.

Quick shots: Side-to-side plays were a factor in 40 one-timer and quick-shot goals in the regular season and 27 of those were along the ice outside of his skates, indicative of an open net. Quick shots are effective against Mrazek's active style and movement inefficiencies simply because they increase the odds of catching him moving. They were a factor in nine of 19 goals by Washington. 

Against the grain: Extra movement also contributed to Mrazek giving up 26 against-the-grain goals (27.4 percent) in the regular season, more than 10 percent above the tracked average (16.9 percent). It included a tendency to slide laterally on his knees on plays he could beat on his skates and, much like Lehner, push into point shots rather than reaching. That's normally a good thing, but it can leave him going the wrong way on deflections and rebounds. 

Loose pucks around crease: Speaking of rebounds, it's important for attacking players not to do a fly-by around the Hurricanes net, because pucks tend to leak through Mrazek when he gets caught moving. He allowed three rebound goals against the Capitals and they missed converting a couple of others in Game 7.

 

Robin Lehner, New York Islanders

Lehner simplified his game this season, playing less aggressively even against rush chances and improving the efficiency of his movements by continuously gaining an angle as plays move into the zone rather than retreating flat along the goal line. His save percentage went from .908 last season to .930 this season and jumped to .956 while sweeping the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. But Lehner hasn't totally abandoned the raw instincts he sometimes relied upon too much earlier in his NHL career, which, much like Mrazek, can make it harder to break down his tendencies.

 

GOAL TRENDS

Tips versus screens: Improved traffic management is something Lehner talked about this season, working with his defense in terms of picking which side each is responsible for, and it was on display with several great saves through screens early against the Penguins. But he also tends to sit behind opposing screens a bit deeper in his crease, creating additional exposure on deflections, which accounted for three of the six goals he allowed in the series. That mirrors a trend from the regular season. Lehner allowed 12 goals on screens, but deflections created 22. Ten of those goals were against the grain, catching him moving in one direction while the tipped puck went the other way, and the extra movements from a deeper position were a factor in two goals against the Penguins. 

Second chances and sharp angles: Pittsburgh failed to score a rebound goal, but second chances accounted for 25 goals in the regular season. The highest number of rebound goals (10) came off low-to-high plays from sharp angles and these actions were a factor in nine other goals. Lehner has tightened and simplified his movement patterns and technical elements but exits from post play remain a work in progress. The Islanders are forcing play to the outside and making it hard to get pucks to the net, so sharper-angle shots aren't a bad option for creating rebound chances. 

Along the ice: Speaking of second chances, Lehner prides himself on a willingness to go outside of the box with reactive saves, but that also includes a tendency to lift and reach with his left leg pad on lateral plays and rebounds in tight. Though the instinct for shooters is usually to elevate these chances, a shot back along the ice isn't a bad option against Lehner. It played a role in five of the 14 five-hole goals that went under his left pad, and the space under the pad was open 4:31 into Game 1 for Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist, who instead tried to elevate in tight and shot right into Lehner's raised pad.

Blocker side? There weren't enough goals scored by Pittsburgh to read too much into five of six going in on the blocker side, especially since his mid- and high-blocker totals (18.3 percent) weren't much above the 17.2 percent average in the regular season. Still, Lehner is more likely to turn on shots to his blocker side instead of cutting off pucks in front of him, a tendency that appeared to improve as the season went on but is worth watching again.

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