April 23-- SAN JOSE, Calif.-Sharks goalie coach Johan Hedberg provides enough material in his scouting reports on opposing goaltenders to make a short novel out of all of his findings on their tendencies.
Chances are Hedberg's had to update his notes on more than one occasion for Vegas Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who has made the necessary adjustments in his style over the last two years to once again be considered one of the NHL's best at his position.
Fleury, 33, allowed just three Los Angeles goals for a 0.65 goals against average and a sparkling .977 save percentage to help the Knights sweep the Kings 4-0 in their first round series. He's the fifth goalie in the NHL's expansion era to win all four games of a playoff round while at the same time recording a GAA of 0.70 or less.
If there's one player standing in the Sharks' way of a second trip to the Western Conference final in three years, it might be Fleury, the former No. 1 overall draft choice and winner of three Stanley Cups who is at the top of his game.
"He's been a good goalie in this league for a lot of years," said Sharks forward Eric Fehr, who was Fleury's teammate in Pittsburgh from 2015-17. "Especially with the team in front of him that he has defending as strong as they do, he's going to stop a lot of pucks."
There are ways, though, for the Sharks to get to Fleury in their second round series, or at least do a better job of applying pressure than the Kings did.
"As much as the Kings generated shots and chances, a lot of the attacks were in straight lines," said Kevin Woodley, the Vancouver-based editor-in-chief of In Goal Magazine and contributor to NHL.com. "If you're coming straight at me, the closer you get, the more advantage I have as a goaltender because the net's getting smaller behind me."
Woodley said Fleury last year began to rein in some of the problems-positional aggression, he called it-that plagued him as a goalie in his mid-20s. After the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009, Fleury's save percentage for four straight postseasons from 2010-2013 was below .900.
Under the tutelage of former Penguins goalie coach Mike Bales, Fleury played much better in 15 playoff games last season when he filled in for the injured Matt Murray. Now working with coach David Prior in Vegas, Fleury is playing more at the top edge of his crease, but without the tendency to retreat in his net once he's in a comfortable position.
The key for the Sharks against Fleury, Woodley said, will be to make him move laterally.
"Unless you make me move, or there's a threat of me needing to move, I'm getting the advantage the closer you get," Woodley said. "He made a great save on (Anze) Kopitar in the clincher. It was an amazing save. It was a perfect example of how he held his ground and didn't retreat, and again there was no back-door threat. There was nothing he needed to worry about on the other side.
"To me, offense is created with lateral attacks. That's how you create your best percentage scoring chances, by making a goalie change his angle completely. And I just didn't see enough of that from the Kings."
In Sunday's practice, the Sharks spent a lot of time practicing odd-man rushes, particularly 3-on-2s. There might be a good reason-the amount of goals Fleury has given up this season off the rush is abnormally high.
According to Woodley's research, of Fleury's last 100 goals against, 49 percent were off the rush. Over the last couple of years and 3,500 goals tracked, Woodley said, the league-wide average is about 38.5 percent.
Fleury is known as one of the quickest goalies in the NHL. But Woodley feels Vegas can be attacked with lateral plays. According to his research, roughly 44 percent of the goals Fleury allowed included a play across the slot, which was also well above average.
"If you can create chances off the rush and attack (the Golden Knights) laterally, or soon after setting up in the offensive zone, they're a little slow to sort out defensive details," he said.
Hedberg's scouting reports on Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson may have led to a handful of Sharks goals.
On at least three occasions, the Sharks were able to score on forehand-to-backhand moves from in close, perhaps thinking that Gibson was a little slow to get off his post on the short side and to slide to the other side.
"Now it's an even bigger challenge because Fleury is on fire," Sharks forward Tomas Hertl said.
The Sharks have just started to break down their film on Fleury. Certainly by the time the series starts, they'll be well-schooled on how to take advantage of his tendencies.
It's just a matter of putting it into practice.
"Johan Hedberg breaks down the opposing goalies as well as anybody I've been around," Sharks coach Pete DeBoer said. "The analytics sheets on individual players now are as thick as a book. Having said that, Gibson played a hell of a series, so I'm not sure we broke him down.
"We found a way to win and get one more goal and that's going to be the same with Fleury. We don't have a magic answer to break him down. We just have to find a way to get one more goal than they're getting."
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