2017 EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL PREVIEW: MARC-ANDRE FLEURY VS CRAIG ANDERSON
If you’d been told in January that Marc-Andre Fleury and Craig Anderson would be facing off in the Eastern Conference Final, you might well have laughed. Fleury had already ceded his starter’s crease to Matthew Murray, and Anderson was playing for a Senators team that seemed unlikely to win a playoff round.
Who’s laughing now? (Probably Fleury – does he ever stop smiling?)
|GP||Overall SV%||5v5 Sv%||LDSv%||MDSv%||HDSv%|
Despite a poor regular season where it looked at times like his best years were behind him, Fleury has been an unexpected strength in this year’s playoffs. Posting a 92.14 save percentage in all situations against an offensively elite Capitals squad led by power play wonder Alex Ovechkin is no mean feat. Compared to the Capitals, the Senators’ offence should feel like an anticlimax to Fleury, and it’s unlikely he’ll have to maintain the same level of play for his team to be successful.
When Fleury is on top of his game, he is aggressive in two senses of the word: he comes out far to challenge, and tries his best to disrupt plays with his stick and body before they even turn into shots on goal.
Fleury’s agressive depth on the initial shot puts him in good position to deal with the possible tip, but means he has to travel much further much more quickly to stop the rebound. His strong skating and superb lateral movement (with a true flare for dramatic stretches) enable him to make up for his depth disadvantages surprisingly often. The last shot in the sequence is especially telling – he moves out quickly to gain depth on the quick release from the high slot, and is still moving forward as he makes the save. Fleury tends to choose depth over being set, and favours continuous motion over still patience. This is a recipe for inconsistency, and the Senators have to expose Fleury’s eccentricities if they hope to advance.
Had Craig Anderson played more games this regular season and maintained the same excellent numbers, he would have been a Vezina finalist. Behind a team that many at the start of the year questioned would even make the playoffs, Anderson pitched an excellent campaign, showing why he remains a key figure on an Ottawa team boasting very little star power (Prince Erik Karlsson excepted, of course).
Anderson plays a less aggressive game than Fleury, but his style is no less exciting for that. Since he broke into the league, Anderson has relied on his size, instincts, and athletic ability to see him through: now 35, his game has remained fundamentally unchanged, with the exception of grafting some newer elements (like blocking and post-seal postures) onto his existing foundation.
Looking at the rink graphic above, one number jumps off the screen: Anderson surrendered 4.5 per cent of his goals this regular season on netback plays like wrap-arounds, very-sharp-angle shots, and bank-ins: the average for playoff starters this season was 1.23 per cent. The most obvious culprit for this unusually high number is Anderson’s post play.
In the sequence above, Anderson sets up in RVH, a post-integration technique used to defend against dead-angle and netback plays. His form is fine until the initial wrap attempt is broken up. Anderson can’t resist breaking his blocking posture to poke at the puck, and as he does, he opens up a hole. The shot ramps over him and into the net.
Anderson has the capability to steal a game from even the strongest offences. However, his (relative) weakness with dead-angle and post-integration postures means that he is also capable of leaking weak goals from the worst places. With almost no margin for error against a very potent Penguins offence, the series may well turn on such a goal.