In Vegas, all we have heard about leading up to the Stanley Cup Final is how good Sergei Bobrovsky has been. At an 11-2 record, 2.21 GAA, 935 SV%, I’d say he’s been pretty good. Let me remind you that Adin Hill has had a slightly better SV% (.937) and GAA (2.07).
There is one alarming number that Vegas Golden Knights fans need to be aware of. Per MoneyPuck.com, “Goals saved above expected” means the expected goals against minus the actual number of goals the goalie has let in. In short, a positive number means the goalie is saving more goals than the average goalie would. “Expected goals against” is the number of goals a team is expected to have conceded based on the quality and quantity of shots faced. Bobrovsky’s goals saved above expected is 19.7, and expected goals against is 52.66, in which both rank top in the playoffs. For comparison, Hill’s goals saved above expected is 6.4, and expected goals against is 27.39, which both rank him third in the playoffs.
What do all these numbers mean? Well, both goalies have been great. There is no denying that. Why are Bobrovsky’s goals saved above expected and expected goals against numbers so much better than Hill’s? Is Bobrovsky the better goalie overall? I mean, Bobrovsky makes ten million per season versus Hill’s just over two million. Let’s take a deeper dive. Bobrovsky is facing more high danger chances. While he has faced elite teams in the Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes. (Toronto Maple Leafs are not elite, talk to me when they consistently make it out of the second round) Those teams failed to capitalize on their opportunities, and they had plenty of them. Bobrovsky’s average shots against per game is 36, while Hill is at 30.3.
Ok. We know the Florida Panthers are going to give up more high-danger chances than the VGK. How can VGK capitalize? What can VGK do differently than the Bruins, Maple Leafs, and Hurricanes to get the puck behind Bobrovsky? It all starts with a commitment to clean entries at the blue line. This can be done simply by carrying the puck in or playing the dump-and-chase game. VGK needs to take what is given to them. More importantly, VGK needs to be quick to adjust if they are having trouble making clean entries. When VGK was struggling in the middle of the season, players were trying to carry the puck in too often versus dumping and chasing. Besides clean entries, it’s all about the shots, shots, shots (insert Lil Jon’s voice). So VGK needs to take more shots? No, not what I’m saying. But you just said shots, shots, shots. Yes, but it’s not about the quantity as much as the quality.
Under the Pete DeBoer era, VGK struggled to score despite logging thirty-five or more shots night and night out. There is nothing wrong with firing pucks to the net, a shot not taken is a goal not scored. However, lazy shots hitting the goalie in the crest are not going to do it. In the Dallas Stars / VGK series, William Karlsson and Jason Robertson scored goals off plays when the puck was shot in from the blue line, hit the dasher behind the net, and bounced right to their sticks. Those are not lucky plays; those are designed plays. It is similar to a quarterback going through their reads and looking off the defense. Simply put, VGK needs to work hard to get quality shots on the net and generate high-danger chances. There will be a time for those shots shots shots, but VGK needs to be in position for rebounds if the plan is to shoot early and often.
VGK needs to get underneath and have traffic in front of Bobrovsky. Let’s learn about who will be trying to prevent that from happening. #7 Radko Gudas is a mean dude, and we are going to hear his name a lot in Vegas. He comes across as the protector of Bobrovsky. Kind of like how Michael Oher protects the quarterback in the movie, “The Blind Side.” The VGK forwards will have their hands full trying to get inside when Gudas is on the ice. If there’s a positive to when Gudas is on the ice, it’s that his plus/minus is the worst of the Florida Panthers defensemen at a plus one. Goals will be scored against his defensive line, which includes Josh Mahura. Mahura and Gudas are the third defensive pairing for the Panthers, which means they will see a lot of VGK’s top scores. Mark Stone, William Karlsson, Jack Eichel, and Jonathan Marchessault all must be willing to take plenty of punishment to pot goals in this series. Winning hurts, and VGK is going to hurt plenty after this series.
A hot goalie can win a playoff series all by himself. This is no longer an eighty-two-game marathon; it is a race to four wins. Coach Bruce Cassidy needs to be ahead of Paul Maurice as far as adjustments go. Cassidy hasn’t needed to do a whole lot in the Playoffs beyond removing Phil Kessel from the lineup and rotating Teddy Bluegar and Michael Amadio in. We have also seen Nic Roy, Brett Howden, and Amadio rotate in different spots. Cassidy will have to read the temperature of the game quickly. Every chance counts against a hot goalie, and VGK must make the most of them. Cassidy will need to have a hero line in his back pocket or multiple hero lines. I would not be surprised to see the misfits on a line or a hero line of Stone, Eichel, and Chandler Stephenson at some point in this series. I expect Bobrovsky to continue to be great, he is built for this moment. Can Cassidy spin the dials, if needed, to create more offense? Thankfully, he has not needed to yet. However, goals will be much tougher to come by this series. While I believe the main storyline of the Stanley Cup Final will be Hill versus Bobrovsky, Maurice versus Cassidy may be what ultimately determines the Stanley Cup winner.