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Conference Final

Marc-Andre Fleury vs. Connor Hellebuyck

Golden Knights-Jets series study in contrasting goaltenders

by Kevin Woodley / NHL.com 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.

The Western Conference Final will be a battle of goaltending opposites in terms of experience and approach.

 

[RELATED: Complete Western Conference Final coverage]

 

Vegas Golden Knights starter Marc-Andre Fleury brings an active, athletic, aggressive style along with 125 games of playoff experience and three Stanley Cup championships. His Winnipeg Jets counterpart, Connor Hellebuyck, plays a deeper, more contained and controlled style that has served him well during his first taste of Stanley Cup Playoff hockey.

Hellebuyck meets Fleury in the Western Conference Final, which begins with Game 1 at Winnipeg on Saturday (7 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, TVAS).

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

 

Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights

Fleury is long past the puck-chasing habits that led to playoff meltdowns with the Pittsburgh Penguins from 2010-13, nicely blending the improved post integration that helped turn around his career in Pittsburgh with the more aggressive positional preferences of Vegas goaltending coach Dave Prior. But as Fleury plays outside the crease more, there are targetable trends, some of which the San Jose Sharks took advantage of to score 14 goals in the middle four games of a six-game Western Conference Second Round series that began and ended with a Fleury shutout.

 

Goal trends

Traffic at edge of crease: Fleury playing past the edge of his crease has been a factor in playoff goals. Screens played a role in 41 percent of goals in the playoffs compared to 14 percent during the regular season, and well above the 22.4 percent average for goals tracked in breaking down playoff starting goalies for this project the past two seasons. Deflections factored in on 29 percent of playoff goals compared to 17 percent in the regular season and a 20.5 percent average, and rebounds were up to 29 percent in the playoffs compared to 22 percent during the season and a 21.7 percent average. There was contact outside the crease on defenseman Brent Burns' wraparound goals in Game 2, and forward Evander Kane's clean-shot goal shortly after a power play expired in Game 3, and Vegas lost challenges for goalie interference in each case. Adding a couple scramble goals in tight with traffic forcing Fleury deeper into his net means it will be important for the Jets to make life outside the blue ice uncomfortable.

Video: VGK@SJS, Gm6: Fleury makes a pair of strong pad stops

Below the goal line: San Jose scored three goals off wraparound plays and another on a pass from below the goal line. Fleury's sharp-angle and low-high numbers weren't markedly worse than average during the regular season, but there were trends worth noting. Burns took advantage of Fleury squaring up outside his post on a rush down the wing and beat him to the other side, and though Fleury doesn't do that every time, it's something shooters can look for when attacking wide. More common is Fleury using an active stick to cut off passes through his crease. Like the poke check, Fleury uses it aggressively and effectively, but it can leave him leaning past his post on the short side and exposed on the far side to quick shots off pass-outs or even rebounds off his stick, as was the case on center Tomas Hertl's goal in Game 5.

Off pads for rebounds, over to score: Fleury tends to kick low shots out with active pads rather than steer them into corners with his stick, but it's important to put those rebounds back over his pads because he rarely is out of a play laterally along the ice.

Patience up high: Prior's preferences paid off on high shots, especially on the glove side, with Fleury's mid- and high-glove goal totals 10 percent below average and well down from his totals last season. He showed off that glove against the Los Angeles Kings in the first round, but the Sharks scored five goals there.

 

Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets

Hellebuyck had a breakout season after rebuilding his body last summer, training to keep it in one piece when moving around his crease and into shots. But the work to update key elements of his game actually began the season before with Jets goaltending coach Wade Flaherty. It paid off with 44 wins, a .924 save percentage, being a Vezina Trophy finalist and, after a little reaching early during the Western Conference First Round against the Minnesota Wild, helped him get past the President's Trophy-winning Nashville Predators in the second round.

 

Goal trends

Make him move: Even though he plays deeper in his crease, Hellebuyck's size (6-foot-4, 207 pounds) and tight stance usually forces shooters to beat him around the edges on straight-line attacks. It's important for opponents to create lateral plays, which accounted for 51 percent of tracked goals in the regular season and 70 percent of his goals in the playoffs, 35 percent higher than the average. Quick shots after plays across the slot line, an imaginary line that divides the zone between the goal line and the top of the face-off circle, are harder for goalies because they have to completely readjust their angle from one side to the other. But Hellebuyck has been beaten by same-side and above-the-circles lateral plays on 40.7 percent of playoff goals so far. Movement inefficiencies that leave him not always square when he arrives played a role, especially moving to his blocker side, something Nashville took advantage of with defenseman P.K. Subban's right-shot one timers.

Video: WPG@NSH, Gm7: Hellebuyck denies Turris with kick save

Clean shots: Hellebuyck was also above the 21.9 percent average for clean-shot goals when he was set and could see the release, with 30 percent in the regular season and 25.9 percent in the playoffs, including four on the glove side against Nashville. He got caught drifting and shifting on two shots down the left wing, and was pushing into the middle when he got beat short side on good 1-on-1 chances down the right side. Good shots by good players were a factor, but that tendency to move before or while making a save was costly and continues to play a role in against the grain goals, when the play is moving one way and then shot or pulled back in the other direction. Hellebuyck was worse than the 14.8 percent average during the regular season (21 percent, including seven clean shots), and so far in the playoffs (25.9 percent).

Blocker, not glove: One of the biggest changes Hellebuyck made last season was his glove position, which he used to hold unusually low along the edge of his pad, leaving him over-reliant on his elbow to make chicken wing saves high. His numbers were all higher than the average above the pad on the blocker side, however, and accounted for 43 percent of his tracked goal total. Unlike the glove, he has a tendency to turn and pull away on high blocker shots rather than cutting them off in front of him, which contributes to more pucks under that arm.

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