How do you beat a two-time Stanley Cup-winning goalie? Shoot to the glove side.
That seems to be the strategy the Capitals are taking against Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray.
In the three games of the series, the Capitals have scored 10 goals. One goal was on an empty net in Game 2. In Game 3, John Carlson scored on a deflection and Alex Ovechkin whacked the game-winning goal out of midair.
The other seven? All of those goals have come against the glove of Murray.
Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan, however, dismissed the idea of Murray's leaky glove, saying shooting to the glove side is a common strategy for goalies that play his style.
“When you look at the ways goaltenders play the position in today's game, there's a lot of butterfly style goaltenders,” Sullivan said. “When goaltenders butterfly, there's certain areas of the net that tend to get exposed. Usually under the crossbar is one of them. Our guys try to do the same thing. I just think that's the style of most of the goaltenders in the league in today's game.”
There are numerous goalie techniques in the game of hockey, but they all boil down to two main styles of goaltending: stand-up and butterfly. Stand-up goaltending is rather self-explanatory. In the butterfly, goalies will drop to their knees to make a save with their legs and arms out on either side. As one would expect, the stand-up technique leaves openings for low shots, while the butterfly leaves more of the top half of the net exposed.
For the most part stand-up goaltending is all but extinct. Essentially every goalie in the NHL is playing some form of the butterfly, but aspects of stand-up are incorporated into hybrid techniques that combine both styles. So while every goalie plays the butterfly, some are not as quick to drop to the ice as others.
Braden Holtby, for example, is a more patient goalie than Murray when it comes to the butterfly. That’s not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing, it’s just a difference in style. In Game 5 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Matt Calvert scored on a shot that looked like it completely froze Holtby, but it only looked that way because Holtby is not as quick to drop to the butterfly. The more patient the goalie, the more likely they can get “frozen” by a quick shot that is not low to the ice.
The flipside of the coin is a goalie like Murray who is very quick to drop. Watch this goal from Game 1:
Despite the fact that Evgeny Kuznetsov's shot is high to the glove side, Murray’s reaction is to drop immediately. Both of his knees are down when the goal is scored.
Since Murray likes to drop so quickly, focusing on the glove makes sense because he is more likely to leave more of that area of the net exposed, especially with the number of clean looks the Caps are getting with opportunities off the rush. Either Pittsburgh will have to start getting in the way of those shots or Murray will just have to get faster with the glove.