Stanley Cup Final: Crawford and Bishop Breakdowns
With the Stanley Cup Final underway between the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lighting there will be a lot of focus on goaltenders Corey Crawford and Ben Bishop, and a lot of it will be tied to narratives based on past perceptions of each puck-stopper that have little to do with their actual styles.
We’ve seen it already in these Stanley Cup Playoffs, with writers and broadcasters alike throwing around terms like “shaky” and “down too early” when assessing Bishop’s use of the Reverse-VH despite the act he’s used it the same way in the same situation all season. It works the other way too, with superlatives thrown around after games in which the goaltender really didn’t face any true quality scoring chances.
In an attempt to cut through the rhetoric, InGoal Magazine has a breakdown of the style trends and tendencies, including some that have already been exploited in these playoffs. With the help of the impressive Save Review Systems (SRS) from Double Blue Sport Analytics, InGoal managing editor Kevin Woodley tracked every goal each goaltender gave up during the regular season and playoffs for NHL.com breakdowns, and spotted some interesting trends for Crawford and Bishop:
Bishop was beaten most often high over the glove 29 times, more than anywhere else in the regular season, but it’s the 23 goals low past the left pad that should jump out even more. Those two numbers are a big part of a big discrepancy in the number of goals Bishop gave up on his glove side (75) compared to the blocker side (47). Both are also linked to a tracking habit that causes him to pull off and open up on glove saves when he’s not playing well and also limits his mobility moving left, leaving him reaching too often.
When Bishop is playing well his movements are more controlled. He keeps his massive 6-foot-7 frame over his knees and shifts into plays and shots, rotating into lateral plays and keeping his big frame squared up on shooters. But when he’s not on top of his game, Bishop tends to drop and reach with his glove and legs rather than moving his body into the puck, opening holes that are bigger because of his size, twisting his torso away from shots and leaving him stranded when that aggressive positioning creates extra recovery distance now even his long limbs can make up for.
That latter tendency has shown up at times in the high number of rebound goals through the first three rounds of the playoffs. Ten of his 42 postseason goals were scored on rebounds, but eight of those came against the Rangers in the Conference Final, when Bishop gave up five goals in three different games. They weren’t all were on Bishop. Some came off deflections he was just lucky to stop in the first place, but there were also second chances after shots into the body that Bishop tracks and controls better when playing well.
Bishop is a good skater, especially for his size, and recovers more to this skates than many goalies, but his mobility limitations from the knees can be exploited with lateral plays, especially on second chances.
In the regular season 62 percent of the goals against Bishop involved a lateral movement and 30 percent of those were across the Royal Road, an imaginary line that splits the offensive zone below the top of the faceoff circles. According to research done by former NHL goalie and MSG Network analyst Steve Valiquette, passes and plays across the “Royal Road” lead to a better shooting (and lower save) percentage.
In the first round against Detroit eight of the 13 goals involved lateral movement, including six across the Royal Road. The Montreal Canadiens did a poor job of creating chances across the Royal Road in the second round, but five of their 10 goals involved forcing some type of lateral adjustment by Bishop. The Rangers scored 10 goals that included some type of lateral play, including seven across the Royal Road, but like the Canadiens failed to create lateral attacks while being shut out in Games 5 and 7. New York’s best chances came in straight lines, or off lateral passes above the faceoff circles, which allowed Bishop to square up early and present his big frame aggressively atop his crease.
In Game One of the Cup Final, Chicago only generated two shots across the Royal Road, but one led to the winning goal by Antoine Vermette, with Bishop again pulling away on his attempted the glove save:
Bishop’s size, even stretched out along the ice, means he is never out of a play. Even when Bishop is forced to reach and stretch, he is never out of a play, in part because of a willingness to abandon technique and battle, and in part because of his incredibly long legs. The Rangers found this out the hard way several times, including a right pad robbery on Martin St. Louis midway in the third period of Game 4, and a similarly desperate left pad denial of Jesper Fast early in the third period of Game 2.
Bishop’s tendency to recover back up to his skates on plays where a lot of goalies would stay on their knees fuels his ability to get out to more aggressive save positions at the top of his crease even on rebounds and after scrambles, but there are times it also opens up space low along the ice and through the five hole.
Bishop also eliminates a lot of scoring chances with confident, aggressive puck handling that can stifle any forecheck not smart enough to keep dump-ins away from him. If the offense Bishop’s puck handling prevents isn’t obvious, the offense it creates is: He has three playoff assists from jump-starting Tampa’s transition game. Bishop had 19 touches in Game 1, including 15 times at even strength, and the Lightning got possession 15 times and out of their zone 13 times as a result of his puck handling.
As for the above-linked post play, Bishop typically uses reverse-VH technique on sharp-angle plays near or below the goal line, dropping the short-side skate and pad on the ice and sealing the post by leaning his upper body into it. He can tend to use reverse-VH earlier than needed, but it hasn’t cost him, in part because he covers most of the short side right up to the cross bar even though his long legs means having to lean further back over them to seal the post. That can leave gaps over the pad that cost Bishop goals during the regular season, and that big lean back into the post to try and close those holes can also slightly delay his ability to get off the post, especially on the blocker side, creating backdoor openings.
Crawford has found a nice balance between the technical, “blocking” foundation that defined him coming into the NHL and the reactive athleticism he tried too hard at times to show off in his second season.
The temptation remains to dismiss him as the product of a great team even after winning the Stanley Cup in 2013 and getting to Game 7 of the Western Conference Final in 2014, especially after losing the starting job early in the Western Conference First Round against the Nashville Predators, and there are times he defaults back to that blocking style, dropping and pulling his hands in tight on the shot release before reacting back out. But when Crawford is at his best, he is reacting from his skates and moving into shots in straight lines with both his feet and hands, starting near the edges of his crease and holding his ground.
The regular season glove numbers still draw the most attention given how much was made of Crawford’s glove hand en route to the 2013 Stanley Cup. However, the total goals scored high to mid-glove are down from 44 percent last season to 30 percent this season, and a lot were among the 56 percent of goals that came from high-quality chances in the middle of the slot, where goalies can’t be solely faulted.
There are style trends that account for the glove side totals as well as the high number of low-blocker goals, but most butterfly goalies get beat more in these areas, and Crawford’s playoff goal breakdown (left) shows an equal number beating him mid-to-high on the glove and blocker side in the playoffs. Short of a save percentage on each side it’s hard to say either spot is targeted.
There are two habits that explain many of the high glove and low blocker goals against Crawford, and both were a factor in the 10 clean shot goals he has given up in the playoffs. The first plays a role on both sides: defaulting into a tight block and pulling the hands in as he drops to his knees before reaching back up or out. It’s a costly delay most likely to occur on plays closer to the net and from further out when he’s struggling, including the first goal he surrendered in the 2015 playoffs.
The second is a tendency to pull off shots, particularly on the glove side and low blocker. It starts with his head tracking over his shoulders, which pulls his torso off shots on the glove side, actually turning out of the save space at times. He’s not the only NHL goalie that does it, but it also limits his reach on the blocker side while turning the blocker over so the front of it is almost parallel to the puck the further he has to extend it.
The Ducks second goal in Game One is a perfect illustration on the glove side. Despite getting caught on his post after reaching to deflect a pass out from behind the net, Crawford was still in decent position when the puck goes straight to Kyle Palmieri. Watching replays from behind Palmieri, the shot is headed towards Crawford’s left shoulder, but instead of tracking down into the puck, he comes up off it as he tries to pull his glove up late, actually moving out of the way:
Both habits are exacerbated by lateral movement, explaining why 58 percent of the goals in the regular season came on plays that forced Crawford to move side to side. It doesn’t need to be a complete turn either: 39 percent were across the Royal Road. In the playoffs so far 57 percent of the goals involved lateral movement, but just 27 percent across the Royal Road.
Crawford used to get caught on his skates on plays from below the goal line, which left him caught in transition and beat by low shots several times last season and in the playoffs. This year he’s using a reverse-VH technique on plays below the goal line but has Crawford has struggled with execution.
A tendency to drop into reverse-VH prematurely cost him on a high short-side shot by Wilson from just above the goal line in the first round and Ryan Kesler beat him from a similarly bad angle in Game 7 against the Ducks. In both cases Crawford went into the reverse-VH early and because he does so with his skate on the post rather than inside it, the amount he has to lean back over his leg to seal the post doesn’t let him stay tall enough to close the gap under the cross bar.
Crawford wears pads designed to produce active rebounds, which he likes because it buys him more time to recover laterally. It wasn’t enough to prevent 26 percent of regular season goals against him from being scored on rebounds, but the key is recognizing they will come off his pads harder and not getting caught too close, which may work to Crawford’s advantage in the playoffs with players fighting so hard to get to the net.
You can still read the complete playoff breakdowns of Crawford and Bishop at NHL.com. And look for game-by-game breakdowns of the scoring chances using goal, shot and chance-type charts from Double Blue Sports Analytics at NHL.com throughout the Cup Final, starting with Game 1.