Igor Bob split with Tonight bug

Goaltending is an integral part of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. To better understand the strengths and weaknesses of each goaltender, the last 100 goals allowed for each goaltender in the regular season and every goal in the playoffs were charted to see what patterns emerge.

The Eastern Conference Final between the Florida Panthers and New York Rangers features two athletic, technically sound goalies.

Game 1 of the best-of-7 series is at New York on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN+, ESPN, SN, TVAS, CBC).

Panthers starter Sergei Bobrovsky is a two-time Vezina Trophy winner (2012-13, 2016-17), while the Rangers No. 1 Igor Shesterkin won the award as the NHL's best goalie in 2021-22. There are certainly similarities in the skillsets of the two goalies headlining this series, but there are also tactical and technical differences that create different exposure and identifying and attacking those tendencies could help determine who wins it.

Igor Shesterkin

New York Rangers

Shesterkin has experienced ups and downs since winning the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goalie and being named a Hart Trophy finalist as League MVP in 2021-22 but he appeared to rediscover that form in the second half of this season, and through the first two rounds. His playoff performances have been consistently great in three runs as the Rangers starter, with a .927 career save percentage that dipped from .931 against the Washington Capitals in the first round to .919 in the second round against the Carolina Hurricanes.


Don't waste shots: Shesterkin only gave up two goals on clean looks all season, and has yet to allow one in the playoffs, and spits out a bad rebound on those low-quality shots even less, so it's important to increase the degree of difficulty by getting traffic and tips, creating scrambles in front, and making him move side to side. In fact, most of the goals he's allowed in the playoffs required a combination of those factors.

Deflections: Reinforcing that need to make things difficult was an increase in deflection goals by the Hurricanes, who tipped five past Shesterkin after deflections were the primary factor on just six of 100 tracked goals in the regular season, and none in the first round.

Rebounds in tight and elevate: Similarly, rebounds account for six goals in the playoffs (24 percent), which is double his tracked regular season rate (12) and above the NHL average (11.7 percent). Unlike some goalies now using pads designed to produce longer, more active rebounds, Shesterkin uses a more traditional build that can leave them sitting closer to the net, with all the rebound goals so far in the playoffs coming from below the hash marks. He can get caught out near the edge of his crease on broken play battles for loose pucks, which accounted for 21 percent of his goals in the regular season and 3-of-7 in the first round but just 1-of-18 in the second round. Funneling loose pucks to a teammate off to the side is effective, but Shesterkin is one of the best moving from his knees and usually gets a glove over that lead pad when he pushes side to side, so shooting along the ice even on lateral scramble plays gives him a chance to make a momentum-changing save.

Low-high, below bottom of circles: Passes from below the goal line below the bottom of the face-off circles accounted 23 percent of the tracked goals, and 2-of-7 in the first round and 5-of-18 in the second, all above the average of 17.1 percent. Shesterkin is one of the NHL's best skaters, so plays that force him back to his posts before a low-high pass can delay his ability to get out and set as cleanly as he would on other plays. It helps explains why lateral plays below the hash marks led to more goals (14 in the regular season and three in the playoffs) then cross-ice plays higher in the zone (four and one). Carrying the puck deep on rush chances also works, as he tends to overlap his post with his outside skate as it gets below the circle, creating a big rotation and push if the puck is moved laterally.

High glove, not blocker: All six high-glove goals in the playoffs came in the second round against Carolina after Shesterkin was perfect with the glove in the opening round against Washington. That's consistent with the 35 percent that went in over his glove among his final 100 goals of the regular season, which is almost 12 percent above the tracked average since this project started in 2017. While some of that is the inherent nature of players aiming for the top corners because every goalie drops into a butterfly, there was a notable discrepancy between the glove and the blocker side in the regular season. Shesterkin starts with his glove up near his shoulder, which is designed to take the space away visually for shooters, but tends to drop it onto his hip, especially if he's moving laterally into his stance (14 of the 35 high-glove goals came off cross-ice play and passes).

Sergei Bobrovsky

Florida Panthers

Bobrovsky backstopped the Panthers to the Stanley Cup Final last season before losing to the Vegas Golden Knights in five games and followed that up by earning another Vezina Trophy nomination this season. He defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round (five games) and Boston Bruins in the second (six games). His save percentage dropped from .915 in the regular season to .902 in the playoffs, but Bobrovsky has still shown an ability to make tough, momentum-changing saves and can be almost intimidating because his speed and athleticism mean he's rarely out of a play, making it even more important not to feed into his strengths when the stingy Panthers do give up chances.


Screens: "Get more traffic" is a cliché this time of the season for a reason, and while Bobrovsky managed screens at a slightly above-average rate in the regular season with 15 goals allowed, they were a main factor on 5-of-14 in the first round, and 3-of-12 in the second round for a total of 26.9 percent in the playoffs. If you can't catch him in an elevated stance that left the five-hole open at a rate above the tracked average of 12.8 percent in the regular season, shooters higher in the zone can wait for him to transition into his lower, wider save stance behind traffic before filtering high shots to the net.

Against the grain: As fast as Bobrovsky is, catching him moving helps, with shots in the opposite direction of that movement playing a role in 25 percent of the regular season goals, and 4-of-14 in the first round, and 5-of-12 in the second. That's 34.6 percent of the playoff goals scored on Bobrovsky, almost twice the average of 18.5 percent for the over 7,000 goals tracked since this project started in 2017.

Drag him wide: Bobrovsky has one of the NHL's most powerful cross-ice pushes and an impressive ability to extend into splits-type saves without losing access to active hands, so just making plays from one side to the other across the slot line isn't always enough. Those types of lateral plays, which increase the chances of scoring on any goalie, accounted for 23 percent of goals in the regular season and playoffs (6-of-26), just above the 22.1 percent tracked average. One way to improve your scoring odds on lateral plays is to stretch him out with tip options wide of the net below the hash marks that can be tougher to manage because he often plays the initial shot atop his crease, leaving space between him and the post if he pushes across flat, and creating openings on second chances because he's so extended. Pulling him wide is also a good strategy 1-on-1, especially to the blocker side, as Boston's Justin Brazeau did on a Game 1 breakaway, and Morgan Geekie did by cutting across the ice after a low-high pass in Game 5.

High glove not blocker: There was a lot of focus on Bobrovsky's blocker during last year's playoffs and the Bruins beat him there again on two of three clean-shot goals in the second round, including Mason Lohrei's short-side shot from the bottom of the left circle in Game 1 and Jakub Lauko from the left dot in Game 3. But those were from areas that put Bobrovsky into a more passive blocking position; the numbers say that side has typically been a strength, and the way Bobrovsky shapes and holds his stick to prioritize blocker coverage matches that. Shots just off his hip may be a better option on that side, or better yet, avoid it by shooting high glove, which accounts for the highest goals total in both the regular season (21) and so far in the playoffs at 38.4 percent (10 of 26).

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