Vasilevskiy vs.  Kuemper, Francouz goalie matchup in Stanley Cup Final

Vasilevskiy vs. Kuemper, Francouz goalie matchup in Stanley Cup Final

Goaltending is an integral part of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. To better understand the strengths and weaknesses of each goalie who could play in the 2022 Cup Final between the Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning, the last 50 goals allowed by each goalie in the regular season and every goal in the playoffs were chartered, with the help of Apex Video Analysis and Save Review System from Upper Hand Inc., to see what patterns emerge.

The 2022 Stanley Cup Final will feature two very different goaltending situations.

While there is no question that Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiywho played every minute while winning the Stanley Cup the past two seasons and during this playoff run, will be in goal, there remains uncertainty about whether the Colorado Avalanche will start Darcy Kuemper gold Pavel Francouz in Game 1 at Ball Arena in Denver on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN+, ABC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

There are differences in size, style, tactics and technique among each of the three goalies. How each team attacks their strengths and weaknesses could go a long way in determining the winner of the best-of-7 series, and whether the Lightning can make it a three-peat or if the Avalanche will win their first championship since 2001.

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

Trying to break down Vasilevskiy’s game isn’t easy. You don’t win a Vezina Trophy in 2018-19 as the NHL’s top goalie, a Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs in 2021, and the Stanley Cup in consecutive seasons if there are obvious holes in your approach. He has elevated his game, going from a .916 save percentage in the regular season to .928 in the playoffs, and his results when it matters the most have become the stuff of legend, including a 1.28 goals-against average in potential series- clinching games since 2020.

With all that in mind, coming up with a plan to score on Vasilevskiy is as much a warning about staying away from his strengths as it is trying to find his weaknesses, and not allowing Grade-A scoring chances to become momentum-changing saves for an incredibly flexible Russia-born goalie.

Left to right, blocker-side high: There’s been a lot of focus on teams trying to beat Vasilevskiy on the blocker side in these playoffs, and while the location is higher than it was in the regular season, the blocker side also allowed the most goals in the regular season. Part of the reason may simply be to stay away from a great glove hand that remains engaged and active even in desperation-save situations. Part of it may be a tendency to pull up and away a bit on high blocker-side shots rather than cutting them off out in front as he does with the glove. The most important factor appears to be completing lateral passes to that side before the shot. After excelling on passes across the slot line — an imaginary line that divides the offensive zone from the goal line to the top of the face-off circles — in the regular season, they’ve accounted for 13 of 39 goals in the playoffs , including 10 that got him moving left to right.

Screens and chaos: The next biggest factor is screens, which account for nine goals against Vasilevskiy this postseason. It is hardly surprising given the focus on “taking away the eyes” of goalies at this time of year, but it was also one of the few areas he struggled with in the regular season too. Just getting one player in his sightline isn’t enough given how adept he is at using his 6-foot-3 frame, and tall stance, to look over traffic. Layered screens with multiple bodies and deflections and one-timers after being screened on the pass all played a role in those playoff goals.

Work the posts, beware of the stick: Goals off low-high passes from below the goal line or behind the net have dropped from 22 percent in the regular season to 13 percent in the playoffs; however, getting Vasilevskiy moving in and out of his posts with pass outs has worked in the past. The Lightning goalie has an active stick and is adept at cutting off some of those passes, but his tendency to stay paddle down on the blocker side can be exploited with short-side shots over that shoulder or on pass outs and quick shots to his glove . Any reach with the stick and blocker inherently delays him getting off the post and across to the other side.

No such thing as an empty net: Vasilevskiy continues to produce some of the lowest chartered totals of goals allowed along the ice and outside his pads. These goals are typically representative of tap-ins after a lateral play, rebounds or a loose puck. The ones that have gone in during the playoffs have mostly bounced off a player at the side of the net. The important lesson here is to never get complacent on open looks because few in the game are better at getting a pad across when least expected, and since Vasilevskiy is so flexible, he can usually get a glove extended over top of it too.

Darcy Kuemper, Colorado Avalanche

Kuemper’s numbers have dipped from the regular season (.921 save percentage) to the playoffs (.897), but it’s more likely the result of injuries and longer-than-usual gaps between starts than any specific tendency being exploited. That said, for a big goalie (6-5), Kuemper plays with a lot of flow and movement in his game and isn’t averse to getting outside the blue paint, both above his crease and out to the sides, all tendencies than can be targeted.

Bodies in front: Broken plays accounted for 34 percent of the regular season goals tracked. Screens were another issue for Kuemper (18 percent), some of which were the result of getting locked in low and trying to look around traffic, rather than using his size to look over it. His struggle with screens has not continued in the playoffs, but seven of his 24 goals allowed have come off broken plays.

Against the grain: Kuemper tends to slide into point shots rather than shift into them, which leaves him vulnerable to deflections and rebounds, especially when they go against the grain — the opposite direction in which the goalie is moving. This played a role in 24 percent of the regular-season goals allowed and 21 percent in the playoffs. He is also more likely to slide across on lateral passes below the top of the face-off circles, rather than beat those up on his skates. It makes him more vulnerable to quick shots the other way before he can set.

Lateral plays off open looks up high: Kuemper will get out past the top of his crease on point shots and will sometimes drift out on open looks higher in the zone, rather than setting his feet before the shot. Both create a longer recovery needed on rebounds and deflections to the sides, so even if the puck bounces back in front, having someone off to the side and available for a quick lateral pass is a great way to score. This is reflected among the seven goals along the ice on the blocker side in the playoffs (29 percent), which are often indicative of a tap-in.

Pavel Francouz, Colorado Avalanche

Francouz has also seen his numbers drop from the regular season (.916 save percentage) to the playoffs (.906), and he also tends to play near or past the edge of his crease, which is more expected for the 6-0 goalie . But most of the style similarities between Francouz and Kuemper end there, and differences worth noting for the attacking team go well beyond the fact he catches with the opposite hand.

High shots with traffic: Francouz, who started the final three games of the Western Conference Final sweep against the Edmonton Oilers and came on in relief in Game 1 after Kuemper suffered an upper-body injury, plays with a narrower, more upright stance than his goalie partner. He is more likely to beat lateral plays on his skates rather than sliding from his knees and shifts more subtly into shots, which helps explain why his results on broken plays through traffic are better. But Francouz simply isn’t tall enough to look over a lot of screens, and the need to find a sightline by looking around bodies led to poor results during the regular season. Shooters should look to catch him transitioning from one side of a screen to the other with high shots.

Stretch him out: Whether it’s lateral plays lower in the zone — odd-man rush passes are better made closer to the net rather than further out where he can beat them without sliding — or 1-on-1 chances in tight, including breakaways, Francouz’s relatively narrow butterfly can be stretched out. Doing so leads to more tap-ins than expected against a goalie who moves so well on his skates, but sometimes reaches prematurely from his knees rather than getting his body across with a good push. His pushes also tends to be a bit flat, rather than right back to the post, again leaving him vulnerable to getting stretched out.

Pass-off pads: Francouz doesn’t have an overly active stick when facing low shots, leading to those shots finding the middle of the ice off his pads, which contributed to several rebound goals.

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