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Game 3: Caps @ Flyers

[AP Preview - WashingtonCaps.com Preview]

I'm beginning to think I'm the only person in the hockey world not in awe of Martin Biron. Yes, the guy has three shutouts in his last four starts. But on Sunday, at least, he was the beneficiary of a great team defensive effort and a good bit of luck (his supporters will refer to this luck as "good positioning"). Was he good? Sure. Great? No. Good enough? That's all that matters, isn't it? But he's still the same Marty Biron that stopped just 22 of 27 shots on Friday night.

In fact, even with his Game 2 whitewash of the Caps, Biron has the third-worst save percentage in the playoffs. At the other end of the rink, Cristobal Huet - the source of some criticism for his performance so far - is a few percentage points ahead of Biron (but trails him by half a goal in GAA).

Two games is a small sample, to be sure, so let's take a look at the two netminders' performances thus far, goal by goal (for Game 1 video, click here, and for Game 2, click here). First, Biron:
  • Game 1, Goal 1: Donald Brashear, even strength, wrist shot, 9 feet, previous shot attempt 29 seconds earlier; Tom Poti's shot/pass deflects to an open Brashear who deposits the puck in a gaping net
  • Game 1, Goal 2: David Steckel, even strength, wrist shot, 19 feet, previous shot attempt six seconds earlier; Steckel finds himself open, Biron looks to be in position, but is beaten from a decent angle
  • Game 1, Goal 3: Mike Green, even strength, wrist shot, 11 feet, previous shot attempt 45 seconds earlier; Alex Semin to Sergei Fedorov to Green past a helpless Biron
  • Game 1, Goal 4: Mike Green, power play, slap shot, 44 feet, previous shot attempt six seconds earlier; with Patrick Thoreson writhing in pain, Green blows a slapper past Biron on what had become more or less a 5-on-3
  • Game 1, Goal 5: Alexander Ovechkin, even strength, snap shot, 17 feet, previous shot attempt 49 seconds earlier; Red Jesus outwaits Biron and roofs it
And Huet:
  • Game 1, Goal 1: Vaclav Prospal, even strength, snap shot, 58 feet, previous shot attempt before last faceoff; a seeing-eye puck beats Huet, who is completely screened by Scott Hartnell
  • Game 1, Goal 2: Daniel Briere, even strength, snap shot, 40 feet, previous shot attempt before last faceoff; Briere exits the penalty box behind the Caps' D and beats Huet on a partial breakaway
  • Game 1, Goal 3: Vaclav Prospal, even strength, wrist shot, 30 feet, previous shot attempt before last faceoff; the red sea parts for Prospal, leaving him with a golden opportunity that he buries
  • Game 1, Goal 4: Daniel Briere, power play, wrist shot, 18 feet, previous shot attempt before last faceoff; with plenty of traffic around the crease Mike Richards finds Briere on a backdoor cut for a tap in
  • Game 2, Goal 1: R.J. Umberger, even strength, wrist shot, 18 feet, previous shot attempt before last faceoff; John Erskine falls asleep, Umberger gets a breakaway and partially fans on his shot, sending a knuckler past Huet
  • Game 2, Goal 2: Jeff Carter, even strength, wrist shot, 8 feet, previous shot attempt one second earlier; Mike Green coughs up the puck, Mike Knuble's initial shot isn't handled by Huet and Carter deposits the rebound
There's the raw data from the NHL's play-by-play feeds for the two games. The thing that jumps out at you right away, of course, is that there aren't any bullets under Biron's name that begin with "Game 2." Deeper than that, however, you notice immediately that Biron has only allowed one goal from more than 19 feet away, while Huet has allowed a trio of such tallies. Here are each of the goals in a tidy little graphic:


Which of these goals would Huet like back? I'd guess he isn't thrilled with allowing Briere's first in Game One, perhaps the Umberger goal and the rebound on Carter's goal. In other words a partial breakaway, a full breakaway and an odd-man rush.

As for Biron, I'm sure he'd love another chance at stopping Ovechkin, and can't be happy with the Steckel goal.

What's interesting is that Huet has been an absolute wall shorthanded, stopping 18 of the 19 shots (.947 SV%) he's seen on Flyers power plays, but has only an .884 save percentage at even strength - much of that can be attributed to breakdowns in the defense in front of him with the manpower level (I count four such instances). Biron has had a more even effort, with a .909/.892 split, in large part because the defense in front of him (with one incredibly glaring exception) hasn't made too many mistakes. The dreaded matchup entering the series - the Flyers' second-ranked power play against the Caps' 25th-ranked penalty kill - has yet to really burn the Caps and, contrary to what the regular season stats may have predicted, Philly has been the better team five-on-five.

The other notable stat is the shot disparity. Through two games, the Flyers have outshot the Caps 63-51. Now, that doesn't sound like much, but 12 shots against any goalie, statistically, is likely to yield a goal (11 saves on 12 shots against is a .917 save percentage). In a playoff series as tight as this one is expected to be, one extra goal over two games can certainly be the difference.

Further to that last point, the Caps have had 15:17 of power play time through two games, but have managed only 11 shots on goal. Philly has had 13:49 of extra man time and, as mentioned above, has fired 19 shots on Huet. The Caps have simply got to find a way to get pucks to the net on the power play.

Alright, bottom line time. It's no great secret that the Caps defense has been shaky so far, but if they can tighten up, there's every reason to believe that the Caps can get right back into the driver's seat in this series. Even if the defense makes a mistake or two, Huet is playing well enough to keep them in every game and hasn't yet come close to playing his best game of the series. Martin Biron, on the other hand, has had an unimpeded view of nearly every shot he has faced, and has been average... and he probably has already played his best game of the series.