The chatter about goaltenders in this Stanley Cup Finals series between the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning has been constant and varying in nature. That’s not surprising, considering the ’Hawks have a starting goalie in Corey Crawford who would probably draw fans’ wrath for making a shutout look too easy, while Tampa hasn’t been able to settle on a single goalie for this series.
Crow had what some will refer to as a redemption game in Wednesday’s win, although he played well to very well in the series’ first three games. Meanwhile, Chicago has seen 169:11 of Lightning goalie Ben Bishop and 67:44 of backup-turned-starter Andrei Vasilevskiy.
We’re going to discuss those latter two netminders, more specifically why it doesn’t matter which one of them is in the net for Saturday’s Game 5, Monday’s Game 6 and Wednesday’s potential Game 7. There are two reasons we can say this: Both Bishop and Vasilevskiy display readily exploitable weaknesses, and the ’Hawks have to worry more about themselves than who they’re shooting at.
Da Windy City
It’s not yet clear who will be starting Game 5 in net for Tampa. If Bishop goes, the ’Hawks will be facing a goalie who is clearly far from 100 percent, especially considering his previous comment about the likelihood he’d miss a Stanley Cup Finals game (said before he ultimately missed such a game). Bishop won’t be magically cured if he’s in the crease Saturday. He may moved a little better than he did during Monday’s Game 3, but if the ’Hawks can get Bishop moving every which way, whatever is nagging the Bolts’ starter could easily flare up. Also, while some might think Bishop’s size (he’s listed at 6-foot-7) is something the ’Hawks would rather avoid, consider they’ve already defeated a pair of 6-5 goaltenders in these playoffs in Nashville’s Pekka Rinne and Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk. Plus, Vasilevskiy isn’t exactly tiny at 6-3.
On top of all that, Bishop has struggled at home — where Saturday’s Game 5 and Wednesday’s possible Game 7 will/would be played — these playoffs, and his advanced numbers against the ’Hawks thus far are nothing to write home about.
Bishop has participated in 12 games in Tampa Bay this postseason, and he currently sports .888 save percentage in those outings, according to War on Ice. The Bolts’ struggle to maintain possession on their own ice has been well documented, and it hasn’t helped Bishop’s stats in this department. But Bishop has ugly save percentage marks of .897 against medium-danger shots and .771 against high-danger shots at home in this postseason. For comparison’s sake, Crow’s numbers in those categories at home are .983 and .817. Take a look at those numbers in this Stanley Cup Finals series, both at home and on the road, and you see Bishop at .895 for medium-danger shots and high-danger shots, while also at .933 for low-danger chances. The message: Bishop will be plenty beatable should he get the call Saturday.
Jun 10, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) during a break in the second period in game four of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Moving on to Vasilevskiy, we see a very inexperienced goaltender who, while receiving pretty strong praise in this series, hasn’t had to face a great volume of shots. He has faced a whopping 24 shots in 67 minutes of action, including five in his nine-plus relief minutes in Game 2 and two in the first period of Game 4. As such, Vasilevskiy has perfect save percentages for low- and medium-danger shot attempts in this series, though that figure tumbles to .600 for high-danger bids thanks to Jonathan Toews’ and Brandon Saad’s goals in Game 4. Over the course of the entire playoffs, however, Vasilevsky has a .900 save percentage from low-danger areas while facing just 57 total shots, according to War on Ice. The backup was greatly benefited by his team slowing its fast-paced rushing attack, displayed in Games 1-3, in order to stay closer to Vasilevskiy and keep him better protected. If Jon Cooper decides to have the Bolts return to their go-go-go style, the ’Hawks will have opportunities to test Vasilevskiy’s abilities. Though Tampa expresses all the confidence in the world in Vasilevskiy to the media, we still have to consider he didn’t start Game 3 despite Bishop being clearly injured, and despite Vasilevskiy closing Game 2.
Another thing to consider if Vasilevskiy starts is his rebound control. NHL.com came to the apparently difficult-to-see conclusion that Crow had a tougher workload than Vasilevskiy in Game 4. But among the stats compiled to come to this extremely obvious summary was Vasilevskiy permitting 10 rebounds on 19 shots, including six classified by the article as “negative rebounds,” meaning the puck wound up in “dangerous areas in front of the goal.” While Crow’s style of play is to let shots rebound off his pads and be swatted clear by Chicago defensemen, it’s clear that is not Vasilevskiy’s gameplan, especially considering both Toews’ and Saad’s goals were produced off rebound attempts. If Vasilevskiy goes in Game 5, the ’Hawks should look to exploit the young goalie’s rebound woes early and often.
But behind all of these positives, from Chicago’s perspective, to take away from Tampa’s goaltending situation, there’s another consideration as to why the ’Hawks needn’t worry about which Bolt starts the remaining games in net. They likely haven’t played their best game yet against Tampa, something that could be indicated by the ’Hawks winning two games they likely could have lost and losing two games they likely could have won. The ’Hawks were outshot in both of their wins against the Bolts, and they were heavily outpossessed in Game 4. The only game so far the ’Hawks have truly dominated possession was Game 3, which still went to Tampa. Therefore, Chicago needs to worry more about its own play than the silly mind games Cooper and Co. are trying to play with their goaltending situation.
Jun 10, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane (88) chases the puck with Tampa Bay Lightning center Valtteri Filppula (51) in the third period in game four of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
The ’Hawks had a tough time successfully completing more than one or two passes in a row Wednesday, and they were turned back into their defensive zone by the Bolts too many times to count. Both of those factors played heavily into Vasilevskiy not seeing many shots, although the ’Hawks created plenty of good-to-great chances when they were able to apply pressure. Part of this had to do with Tampa’s desire to protect Vasilevskiy more than they would have stayed home for Bishop, and part of it probably had to do with Joel Quenneville’s interesting line juggling. While it would be advisable for Q to roll the lines he’s used most frequently of late, especially for chemistry’s sake at this stage, the ’Hawks need to find ways to be cleaner and quicker in their decision making and play creation from here on out. It won’t matter if Cooper himself puts on the pads if the ’Hawks have more two-shot periods in the future. This isn’t a sign of Chicago running out of gas, which was a bizarre anecdote that popped up on social media after Wednesday’s win. Rather, it’s a sign of Tampa sticking to a playing style the ’Hawks weren’t anticipating, the ’Hawks having an off night on offense and Q’s line combos creating some extra struggle among the ranks. Even if Q rolls the same lines Saturday that he started Game 4 with, and especially if he doesn’t, the ’Hawks will likely come out with a better showing than they did to start Game 4. And it won’t really matter who’s in net for Tampa, in either case.
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