Two of the best teams in the NHL at preventing pucks from being sent toward their goaltenders are going to meet in an Eastern Conference First Round series.
The Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings are also two of the teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with legitimate questions about said goaltenders, and the presence of superstar talents and elite coaches matching tactics should make for a fascinating series.
Detroit finished the season with the fewest shot attempts against at even strength in the NHL. Tampa Bay was fourth, as well as third in shot attempts against per 60 minutes. The Red Wings and Lightning, in large part because of their ability to limit shot attempts against, were two of the four teams in the NHL to control at least 53 percent of shot attempts (SAT%). The Los Angeles Kings were one, so Detroit, Tampa Bay and the Chicago Blackhawks are the only three remaining.
How Detroit and Tampa Bay get to 53 percent of the shot attempts on a team level (suppress the opposition) is similar, but how they get there on a per-player basis is pretty different. The top players on the Red Wings have better puck possession numbers than the best on the Lightning, but Tampa Bay is deeper.
Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg lead the way for Detroit, as would be expected, but Tampa Bay's top possession driver is still not considered an elite player by everyone. Defenseman Anton Stralman was great for the New York Rangers last season and has proven to be one of the best free agent signings of the summer. He and Victor Hedman give the Lightning two elite defensemen, and Jason Garrison, Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn complement them well.
Up front, Steven Stamkos is a world-class player, but Tampa Bay's most productive trio, especially at even strength, has been Tyler Johnson flanked by Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov. It will be interesting to see who Detroit coach Mike Babcock deploys Datsyuk and Zetterberg against, or if he'd consider splitting them up to deal with the Stamkos line and "The Triplets."
The Red Wings' fourth-line players absorb a lot of defensive zone starts, and they are the only regulars on either team with an SAT% below 49 percent. Each team is deep and full of young, talented players, but it will be interesting to see if Babcock and Jon Cooper make lineup decisions or distribute minutes based on experience.
Goalies Ben Bishop and Petr Mrazek are expected to start. Neither has played in a Stanley Cup Playoff game. Mrzaek has nice numbers, including a .930 even-strength save percentage this season, but it came in limited duty. Bishop and Jimmy Howard each had a .919 ES save percentage, which is below average this season. The only goalie who might start with a worse save percentage at even strength is the Vancouver Canucks' Ryan Miller.
Which team can continue to protect its goaltender the best, especially given his lack of experience at this level, could be the key to surviving this series.