Price vs. Lundqvist is a Study in Different Styles
The great goaltending match ups of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs continue in the Eastern Conference Final, but unlike Carey Price versus Tuukka Rask in the last round, the impending battle between the Montreal Canadiens stud and New York Rangers star Henrik Lundqvist is a compelling study in opposite styles.
The most obvious difference in this gold-medal rematch from the 2014 Sochi Olympics is where the two goaltenders play, with Lundqvist famously back on his goal line and Price refusing – stubbornly at times over the years – to back up beyond the top edge of his crease.
On its own, that contradiction will make for some great breakdowns (Chris Boyle had a great comparison of their positioning in a Sportsnet story earlier this season that correctly predicted Lundqvist’s turnaround, and there is NHL.com looked at every goal Price and Lundqvist gave up this season), but the differences between how and where Price and Lundqvist play go well beyond initial depth.
They include backwards flow, save stance and glove position, all of which have evolved in opposite directions for these two goalies, as well as post-integration tactics.
If you ask Lundqvist it doesn’t matter what style you play – as long as you believe firmly that it works.
“To have success you need to be consistent, whatever you do,” Lundqvist told InGoal Magazine in the final weeks of the regular season. “If you are an aggressive goalie, stick to that. But if you play deep, play deep. If you mix it up you are going to have mixed results.”
Lundqvist learned that the hard way this season, telling InGoal his well-documented struggles in the first half stemmed in large part from abandoning the deeper, goal line-out style he learned from Benoit Allaire as an NHL rookie, and playing closer the top of his crease.
The harder Lundqvist tried, the more aggressive he got.
“Sometimes it’s hard to stick to basics when you are not having the results you want. You try too much and you want to win so much,” he said, “And that’s not really what I am looking for in my game. For me it’s about staying deep and just believing in my ability. Early on it was probably the toughest stretch of my career if I look back at my 13 years as a pro. I didn’t take it easily. It was definitely a test for me, a challenge for me. I am so happy with the way I turned things around and managed to get my focus where it needed to be.”
For Lundqvist, who used to play an aggressive system in Sweden, that now means an “inside-out” style that starts from his goal line. He will still attack plays from there out near the top of his crease when needed, and over the past three seasons Lundqvist has even started coming out well beyond the blue paint on breakaway situations, timing his retreat with backwards flow to match the attack. He even added breakaways by teammates at the end of every pre-game warm up session to work on the rhythm of that retreat.
For the most part, however, Lundqvist stays deep, using the extra time and relying on his incredible reactionary game to make up for the net coverage he gives up.
“You have to be very consistent with the way you make decisions and focus and not try too much,” Lundqvist said.
For Price is a more aggressive positional game, one several goaltending coaches in Montreal have tried to reel into the blue ice. Under new goalie guru Stephane Waite this season, Price has found a nice balance straddling the top of his crease.
“Just trying to stay at the top of the paint – heels in, toes out usually,” Price told InGoal during the season.
How he arrives there differs from Lundqvist. Price prefers to have a little rhythm in his movements and plays more of an “outside-in” style against the rush, starting beyond the top of the crease and matching his retreat back to the top of the crease with the attack.
The differences in the evolutions of these two star goalies don’t end with positioning.
Lundqvist has narrowed his stance over the years in order to get taller, something he believes helps with the patience his game relies on.
“If I look at myself now and six years ago, it’s a big difference in my stance,” Lundqvist said in a 2012 InGoal Magazine cover story. “I am way more upright. I was low all the time and now I feel like my timing is better and it’s easier for me to be patient when I am upright. When you are really low you tend to go down on every shot, no matter whether it’s high or low. But when my stance is a little higher I feel like my patience is a little better.”
Price went the other way this season, cutting his stance noticeably at the waist and hunching over more as he readied to make a save, whether from his skates of his knees. It’s designed to help him track through screens when he’s up, while also making him quicker to recover laterally when down. This more active, engaged approach also leaves him less likely to pull off high shots.
“With his new stance he’s quicker side to side to beat the pass, and he’s better to track the puck through the screen,” Waite told InGoal.
Lundqvist also raised his glove over the years, adopting a higher, “fingers up” position to take away the amount of net a shooter sees behind his deeper positioning, even using a stiffer, practice-style glove in games because it stayed more open and presented bigger.
Price has also altered his glove position over the years, but only to move it forward a little, never buying into the glove up trend.
“It’s just so natural to have it wherever it lies, you really have to think about it,” Price told InGoal at the end of the 2011-12 season. “I’m pretty stubborn in my ways. I used to have it a lot back like that, so just having it forward a little bit allows you to free it up.”
If there’s one area Price has evolved more over the years, it’s post-integration tactics. He shared some of them for an InGoal Magazine feature that included video demonstrations with Price and former Canadiens goaltending coach Pierre Groulx, and has since also added Reverse to his repertoire, giving a nice blend of post play options that allow him to retain that silky smooth, yet still powerful, mobility.
Lundqvist has added some paddle-down, Reverse-like tactics on plays from behind the net, but still relies mostly on a traditional, rebound-producing VH when sharp-angle attacks come out of the corner or even from well above the goal line.
It’s a tactic that has led to a few leaky goals and scramble-inducing rebounds, including at key moments in the Olympics and these playoffs, but as Lundqvist said, it may be more important to stick with your system and style, especially this late in a season.
For Lundqvist and Price, that means a lot of differences in how they play. Given their track record at the Olympics and where they are right now in the NHL playoffs, it obviously doesn’t have to create a big difference in how well they play.