In the waning moments of regulation during the Minnesota Wild’s 1-0 overtime, game one win, Wild Twitter had pretty much one thing on it’s mind:
STOP. SHOOTING. GLOVE. SIDE.
And honestly, who can blame them, when Marc-Andre Fleury is making save after save like this...
Fleury denies Hartman. And then denies Fiala's one-timer. This game is bananas pic.twitter.com/hPoPNwwj7m— Spoked Z (@SpokedZ) May 16, 2021
Fleury just doing the absolute most with this one. It's Vegas, I guess. pic.twitter.com/2ZZLNTU4Vn— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) May 16, 2021
And don’t forget this...
Kaprizov and Hartman connect, but Fleury makes an INCREDIBLE glove save. pic.twitter.com/J8AeiSJHMk— Hockey Wilderness (@hockeywildernes) May 16, 2021
Now, granted, glove saves can be made to look all kinds of flashy, and Fleury was giving every grab all the glitz and glamour Las Vegas has to offer. The best line of the night had to be this one:
Jesus Christ if fleury embellished that anymore he would’ve gotten a penalty— Shmevin Shmiala (@shmevin_shmiala) May 16, 2021
But in all seriousness, is Wild Twitter right? Should Kaprizov, Zuccarello and everyone else have started trying to get things going on the blocker side or the five hole?
While the highlights of Game 1 say one thing, the Wild’s success against Flower in 2021 say otherwise.
In the six regular season games against the Vegas Golden Knights where Marc-Andre Fleury was the starting goaltender, the Wild scored 14 total goals (and one empty-netter). Of those 14, nine of them were scored on Fleury’s glove side. Only two of them were scored blocker side.
But Fleury showed on Sunday afternoon that glove side isn’t always going to work, especially when he’s seeing the puck well and has time to react. So what are the factors that make Flower susceptible to the Wild picking his glove? What can we learn from the success the Wild have already had against the Vezina-caliber goaltender?
Fleury has shown this year that he can be beat if the Wild can get a shot off with a quick release and a clean look at the net, as demonstrated by the following two gifs.
First, Joel Eriksson Ek’s wrister from March 10:
And here’s Kaprizov firing one home off the faceoff on May 5:
And finally, this snipe by Foligno on the odd-man rush...
Making time and space for getting a clean look at Fleury’s glove side can make all the difference, especially against a Vegas defensive corps that ranked No. 1 in blocked shots and got in front of 10 Wild attempts on Sunday afternoon.
Get Fleury Moving
Of course, making an NHL goalie move side-to-side is usually a good strategy. Whether it’s on the odd-man rush or with a well-timed centering pass, getting Fleury moving right to left has paid dividends for Wild forwards and defensemen.
Soucy beat Fleury’s outstretched glove on this one-timer:
Fleury’s glove didn’t even come into play on this power-play cross-ice feed, but Kaprizov still put it home:
But playoff hockey is a whole other animal, and with the increased intensity and pressure, the Wild might not have the time to get a clean look or a perfect pass off to get Fleury off his guard. In that case, like the did in Game 1, Minnesota will have to take what they can get.
If Fleury’s got the glove going and the five-hole closed, the Wild will have to take full advantage of whatever chances they get. Luckily, Fleury should provide at least a couple, as he ranked second highest in rebounds per save among goalies that played 25 games or more, just behind Sergei Bobrovsky, and last in the league in puck freezes above expected.
So loose pucks in the crease, funny rebounds, mishandled shots - the Wild need to be ready and able to take care of all of them like the did in the regular season.
Eriksson Ek won game one on a grimy goal, but it wasn’t his first of the season. He also tapped in a loose puck between Fleury’s legs back on March 10:
Jordan Greenway took advantage of a bad rebound and blasted one home under the outstretched arm of MAF:
And sometimes, you’ve got to rely on the absolute silky skill of your elite players, like Kirill Kaprizov did on this mid-air tap in, taking advantage of a moment where Fleury got tangled up with his defenseman:
Bottom line, Fleury will be a Vezina finalist for a good reason, and there’s no doubt that if the Wild win this series, it’s going to be with four wins in low-scoring or one-goal games with perhaps several of them going to overtime. Don’t expect the four or six-goal nights that the Wild enjoyed against Vegas in the regular season.
But just because the glove side didn’t look like the right option in game one doesn’t mean the stats and the tape doesn’t bear that out as the way to pick a corner against Flower.