Leading up to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final (Monday, 8 p.m. ET, NBC), Pro Hockey Talk will be looking at every aspect of the matchup between the Washington Capitals and the Vegas Golden Knights.
If there was ever a time to string together back-to-back shutouts, Braden Holtby doing so in Game 6 and then again in Game 7 to clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Final was as near to perfect as it gets.
If the playoffs change the National Hockey League to the National Goaltending League (as Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice suggested earlier this postseason), then a goalie getting hot right before the Cup Final can’t be a bad thing. But aside from a three-game stretch against the Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final, Holtby has been relatively solid and showed up in games where Washington needs him most.
Holtby seems to have benefitted from that late-season rest — and even losing his starting job at one point — and bounced back to put up a .938 save percentage in 5-on-5 situations in the playoffs.
Holtby’s GSAA (goals save above average) — an important analytic that will crop up later in this post — is second highest at 6.1.
It’s crucial that Holtby’s confidence needs to carry through to the Cup Final.
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
To win the Stanley Cup, the Capitals will have to do something no other team has done in these playoffs: solve Marc-Andre Fleury.
Fleury’s numbers are simply incredible to look at:
- Save percentage: .947
- 5-on-5 save percentage: .960
- High-danger save percentage. .929
- GSAA: 13.89
That GSAA number is more than double that of Holtby’s and over four times higher than anyone else. That’s astounding, and a testament to how good Fleury has been compared to any other goalie in the playoffs.
Beyond this season, Fleury is putting up historic numbers.
Fleury faced a tall task in the Western Conference Final, going up against the second-highest goal-scoring team in the NHL this season in the Jets. There would be no buckling under the pressure of Winnipeg’s shooters though as he limited the Jets to just 10 goals in the five-game series.
The Jets tried a lot of things, including throwing people in front of Fleury. It was all futile. He was simply too good.
And even when all seemed to be lost, he did this:
Advantage: Golden Knights
The edge here has to favor the Golden Knights.
Fleury has Holtby beat by nearly every metric that matters. He’s been the better goalie and seems just a half-second quicker than anyone else. His anticipation of shots has been on-point and he’s seeing everything, even with traffic in front of him.
If Fleury keeps his .950 save percentage going, Washington has a snowball’s chance in hell of winning the Stanley Cup. This is a simple truth. But can he? He’s doing things no one before has, including himself. There’s always a risk of fall off here with any numbers that are abnormally high.
Washington needs to emulate what Winnipeg did in Game 1 of the WCF if they want success. Get to Fleury, get to him quick and try and fluster him. It’s a tall task, but one that must be done.
Fleury frustrated Patrik Laine in the last round and could end up doing the same against Alex Ovechkin in the Final.
If you’re looking for more on this matchup, there’s a very good, in-depth breakdown here.
2018 STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW:
• Who has the better forwards?
• Who has better defense?
• Who has better special teams?
• Who has better coaching?
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final Schedule
Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck