2017 Playoff Preview: Sergei Bobrovsky vs Matthew Murray
Two legitimate Stanley Cup contenders clash in this powerhouse matchup, backed by two excellent goaltenders. The Blue Jackets’ Sergei Bobrovsky will have to outplay the Penguins’ Matt Murray significantly to overcome Pittsburgh’s potent offensive weapons, but either keeper is capable of turning the tide in his team’s favour. Although Bobrovsky is easily the more veteran of the two, Murray has the decided edge in playoff experience, having appeared in 21 games to Bobrovsky’s 13. The former Vezina winner has not had success in the playoffs, but this season, behind a far better team and more competent defence, Bobrovsky could make his previous playoff failings a distant memory.
(statistics via Corsica Hockey)
Bobrovsky is coming off a superb season, making him the Vezina Trophy favourite. His impressive numbers are no fluke: Bobrovsky is one of the strongest goaltenders in the world, and pushes laterally with more power than anyone. This means that, even from his knees, he arrives on time with his torso upright and over his skates in situations that would have other goaltenders sprawling desperately. He can afford to be patient, trusting his legs to get him where he needs to be in an instant.
The flip side of his ability to burst suddenly into optimal position is his tendency to commit very hard. Bobrovsky does not wait patiently for the puck to hit him: he is constantly engaged and working to optimize his position, aggressively pursuing the play. This can result in his overcommitting, and getting stranded when the play gets broken or he makes a bad read. Even the fastest legs can’t save you all the time.
Bobrovsky also exhibits an interesting tick while in his half-ready stance. His glove is closed, left arm positioned strangely. It disappears when he enters his full-ready stance, but it’s a quirk that could be exploited by a team intentionally shooting from unexpected places at surprising times.
While not as impressive as Bobrovsky, Murray has had a great season himself, winning the starter’s role from teammate Marc-andre Fleury, and proving that his solid run through the 2016 playoffs wasn’t simply beginner’s luck. Murray’s game is characterized by sharp footwork and a thoroughly balanced approach. He doesn’t have Bobrovsky’s explosive power, but he does move very efficiently with great control, meaning he isn’t often caught far off his angle line.
Murray’s tendency (noted during the 2016 playoffs) to drop his left pad first when driving into the butterfly, opening up space on his high glove side, seems to have been worked out of his game. However, he hasn’t quite been able to correct a problem with goals through the body. Shooters seem to be targeting holes between his arms and body, especially on his blocker side. This “leakiness,” while not a great weakness, is something talented shooters will be looking to take advantage of.