A huge part of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final has been the battle between 2013 Cup winner Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks and Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning. A new wrinkle was added to the battle Wednesday when rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy replaced Bishop as the Game 4 starter. Bishop is day-to-day because of an unspecified injury. NHL.com scouted the goalies before the series and is tracking their performances each game, identifying attack trends and shot quality. Kevin Woodley, managing editor of InGoal Magazine, uses Double Blue Sports Analytics software to chart goals and shots in each game. Here are his findings from Game 4, a 2-1 victory by the Blackhawks.
The spotlight may have been on Tampa Bay Lightning rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was making his first start in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but for the second straight game Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks was the busier of the two goaltenders, by shot quantity and quality.
The Lightning continue to make life more difficult for Crawford than the Blackhawks have done for Ben Bishop or Vasilevskiy, who started for the injured Bishop in Game 4.
Just as Chicago failed to generate a lot of lateral chances against a clearly hobbled Bishop in Game 3, there wasn't much pressure placed on Vasilevskiy, a 20-year-old Russian rookie, in Game 4. The Blackhawks had two shots on goal in the first period and 19 for the game.
The lack of shots early couldn't have been easy for a goaltender trying to find his rhythm in his first start since March 31. Vasilevskiy didn't face many tough chances either.
Of Chicago's 19 shots, eight were clean looks, and there were three screen shots. No deflections found their way on net. There were four one-timers and four shots off lateral passes, including a combination of those two specific instances on Vasilevskiy's best save of the game, on a shot by Chicago forward Patrick Kane late in the third period.
The save on Kane was one of three shots Vasilevskiy faced on plays that crossed the "Royal Road," an imaginary line splitting the offensive zone below the top of the faceoff circles. Introduced by former NHL goalie and current MSG Network analyst Steve Valiquette, the Royal Road helps identify the toughest scoring chances because shots from that area force a goaltender to turn and reset his angle. The other two chances led to goals; Jonathan Toews scored on a rebound after converting a backdoor chip pass by forward Patrick Sharp across the Royal Road, and Brandon Saad carried his own rebound across the slot and fired a backhand past Vasilevskiy for the winning goal.
At the other end Crawford faced three chances that crossed the Royal Road. But he saw more shots off lateral passes (10) and one-timers (six), including a great change-of-direction pass from Lightning center Valtteri Filppula behind the net that caught him looking over the wrong shoulder as unchecked Lightning forward Alex Killorn lifted the puck over Crawford's pad on the other side.
Crawford faced three screen shots and two deflections. Among the 10 clean-look shots, the zone chart shows he saw more chances from close range around his crease and from within the shaded home plate area, which extends from the edge of the crease to the faceoff dots and up to the top of the circles.
For all the focus on Vasilevskiy's early lack of rebound control, he gave up 10 on 19 shots; Crawford allowed 18 on 25 shots. There are times a rebound is inevitable; shots off the pads will create rebounds, and blocker shots almost always create a rebound. As the save and goal chart below shows, Vasilevskiy faced eight shots off the pads or stick and one off the blocker; Crawford had nine low shots off the pads or stick and five off the blocker.
The key for a goalie is how he controls rebounds. Some shots off the pads can be steered away with more control by using the stick, or a goalie can place pucks into the corner or even over the glass to get a faceoff the same way he can with a glove save. The same goes for blocker shots.
Crawford kept 13 of the 18 rebounds he allowed in safe spots; Vasilevskiy had six negative rebounds because he put the puck into dangerous areas in front of the goal.
Shot quality also plays a role. On great chances, making the first save is the only priority. But longer shots into the body generally should be controlled, and Vasilevskiy did not execute properly on a couple of those.
In general the attack on Vasilevskiy was balanced, which probably fits given how little some Blackhawks claimed to know about him.
As for Crawford, there were slightly more shots directed at the blocker than the glove, which is interesting to note for a goaltender who has had his glove hand so widely critiqued. Through four games of the Cup Final, Crawford has made 19 saves high- to mid-blocker and 18 in the same range on the glove side. He's allowed three blocker-side goals, including the one by Killorn in Game 4, and two goals on the glove side, one high and one in the middle.
There may be no obvious trend in where the Lightning are shooting on Crawford, but there continues to be an emphasis on where they are generating their shots. Crawford faced six sharp-angled shots in Game 4 after allowing a goal from below the goal line in Game 2 and getting beat twice on plays that involved his post-integration tactics in Game 3.
As outlined in the scouting report going into the Cup Final, Crawford has used the reverse-VH technique on his posts more this season, dropping his lead pad to the ice and leaning over that leg to seal the short-side post with his body. It cost him a couple of goals earlier in the playoffs because he sets his lead skate against the post, increasing how far he has to lean into the post and not allowing him to keep his shoulder all the way up to the crossbar. It has been targeted by several teams with sharp-angled shots directed under the bar.
Tampa Bay fired a couple of shots from below the bottom of the faceoff circles in Game 4. But Crawford kept his back skate edge planted and used it to drive his coverage up higher to take away the top of the net, especially on an early chance by Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman. Crawford also moved well out of the reverse-VH to get off his left post and across to rob forward Tampa Bay center Tyler Johnson on a backdoor power-play chance across the Royal Road.
Crawford made a good choice to avoid the reverse-VH entirely on a rush chance by Lightning forward J.T. Brown that ended up at the bottom of the faceoff circle eight minutes into the third period. Instead of moving into his post, Crawford kept his left skate outside the post, using an overlap butterfly to avoid getting caught up with his net, staying tall over his knees and shifting his left shoulder into a shot headed for the exact spot he often leaves open in the reverse-VH.
That shift into Brown's shot, rather than a straight drop into a default block, was another sign Crawford was on top of his game Wednesday.
After breaking down the shots he faced, he needed to be.