2017 Playoff Preview, Round 2: Braden Holtby vs Marc-Andre Fleury
To say the spotlight in this series will be on the scoring superstars is an understatement: Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin’s second career playoff series meeting is deservedly generating enormous attention.
With the forward depth both rosters boast, we could see one or both teams shooting the lights out.
I wouldn’t count on it, however. Marc-Andre Fleury and Braden Holtby are coming off strong first-round performances, and while neither can be said to have stolen their series, both were strong in victory.
Holtby’s 92.5 save percentage in his first-round matchup versus the Maple Leafs is a good indication of his quality in that series. That being said, it also glosses over some of the uncharacteristic problems his game showed. At his best, Holtby is gracelessly efficient, getting from point A to point B seemingly without transitional movements. At times versus Toronto, however, he didn’t have his characteristic aggressive puck focus, and found himself dropping and reaching instead of moving with purpose.
This sequence with Kadri in the crease is telling:
As the shooter walks the puck into the high slot, Holtby doesn’t attempt to take appropriate depth, ceding his crease to Kadri, who is clearly in the blue paint. Instead, he passively drifts behind the screen, eventually lunging blindly. Count on Pittsburgh to exploit this tendency if it arises again.
Holtby’s regular season was impeccable, statistically speaking, and while he didn’t likely do enough to earn the Vezina, he certainly deserved the recognition he received as a finalist.
Looking at the rink location and goalie location graphics from Double Blue Sports Analytics below, we can see some tendencies in Holtby’s game. First, he is stingy in the home-plate area with 50.4 percent of his goals allowed coming from there, compared to the league average of 54.75 percent. He gives back some of that advantage in the low slot, however, with 36 percent of his goals allowing coming from there, compared to the league average of 31.87 percent. Also notable is that he allows 72 percent more goals on his glove side compared to his blocker. The Penguins may do better by pressing for shots in the low slot and tending toward the glove side, but that will be no easy task against a defensively strong Capitals squad.
In a strange reversal of last season’s playoff story, Fleury, not expected to start, was thrust into action when Matt Murray went down to injury just before the playoffs began. Fleury had a strong first-round series, sporting a 93.3 save percentage, including a 49-save clinching performance versus the Blue Jackets. Fleury’s greatest strength is also perhaps his greatest liability; he is a remarkable trickster, aggressive and active, attempting to force opposing shooters into his plans, rather than patiently waiting for pucks to arrive.
This sequence showcases Fleury well. He half bites on a move after faking a poke check, then launches a poke anyway, missing, before sliding back to make the save. There is method in this, though the results are not consistent or predictable.
|GP||Overall SV%||5v5 Sv%||LDSv%||MDSv%||HDSv%|
Fleury’s numbers this season were sub par, both compared to his career norms and league average. The early-season tandem experiment went poorly for him, and Murray stole the starter’s crease for most of the year. His five-on-five numbers were similarly poor, indicating that team systems didn’t impact him significantly. Murray’s strong statistics across the board are further evidence that Fleury’s struggles this season were of his own making. One bright spot was his high-danger save percentage, which put him in the middle of the pack among goalies playing at least 1500 mins (25 games).
The goalie location chart above highlights some important differences between Fleury and Holtby. First, while Fleury is somewhat more prone to allowing goals glove-side, the imbalance isn’t nearly as extreme as it is for Holtby. Also of note is the number of goals Fleury allows through the body: it makes sense that his more aggressive style would lead to goals under the arms as he reaches for pucks. The shot location chart is also telling: while Flower allows fewer goals than average from the low slot, he allows markedly more from the home plate area. If this trend reveals a weakness in Fleury’s game, the Capitals would do well to shoot early and often from the middle, even the high slot/very low point.
Washington will be looking to exploit the aggressive tendencies that too-often got Fleury into hot water this season. The valiant but sadly ineffective Penguin slide pictured above is the negative side of Fleury’s wily game, and without their top defender in the lineup, it will be interesting to see if Pittsburgh can keep Washington from exploiting Fleury’s overactive feet and stick.