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Styles and Contrasts? Islanders Shot Blocking for Nabokov vs. Montoya

Don't be frontin' like Lars ain't a Dane.
Don't be frontin' like Lars ain't a Dane.

Occasionally Islanders fans try to decipher whether the team plays any different in front of Evgeni Nabokov than it does for Al Montoya or Rick DiPietro.

It's a common reach to explain any perceived trend in any team's season, but as is so often the case there's not much clear data to go on -- especially when one strays into "tries harder for" and "likes playing for" territory.

One noticeable difference in the two goalies' styles though is that Montoya plays higher in his crease than Nabokov.

Another difference might be buried in Elliotte Friedman's 30 Thoughts last week:

Martin Biron says there is no way Dominik Hasek could play for the Rangers, because he hated players blocking shots in from of him. "He would always yell 'Must see, must see!'"

Another goalie like that: Islanders' Evgeni Nabokov, who's been pretty good as of late. Islanders defencemen say he wants them "fronting" opponents instead of between them and the net. "If the puck gets behind you," Steve Staois said, "he wants to be one-on-one with the shooter. He doesn't like it when you're between the two of them."

Is this a key difference to your eyes? I dug up some shot-blocking data for the Islanders in front of Nabokov and Montoya to help out. There are way too many variables involved -- roster personnel and that night's stat keepers among them -- but I thought it would help give us a quick snapshot and provoke discussion:

Shots and Blocks for Montoya vs. Nabokov, Last 10 Starts

I cut the survey off at each goalie's last 10 complete games -- so games when either appeared as an injury replacement or left the game with an injury were excluded. The other warning in this comparison is Nabokov's last 10 games were all in January, whereas Montoya -- whose injury enabled Nabokov's uninterrupted string of starts -- goes all the way back to Thanksgiving.

Goalie's Last 10 Complete Games Shots on Goal Shots Blocked % of Shots Attempts Blocked
Evgeni Nabokov 282 178 38.6%
Al Montoya 270 165 38.0%
Rick DiPietro*
146 82 36.0%

*Only five complete games for DiPietro, including when he relieved Nabokov early vs. Montreal.

For Montoya, shots blocked in a single game range from eight (road win at New Jersey after Thanksgiving) to 30 (home OTL to Toronto). For Nabokov, the range was 12 (home loss to the Flyers) to 25 (road win at Philadelphia). I only included DiPietro because people would ask, but he's really had so little exposure this year -- five starts -- that you can't even consider his numbers here.

Again, I cannot overstate how inconclusive this data is: Ten games is nothing. Shot-blocking stats are notoriously wonky. And even if they were ironclad accurate, every game features different personnel, different opponents, different amounts of special teams, different score effects (i.e. playing with the lead vs. trying to erase a lead) and quite possibly adjusted approaches since Montoya's sample goes back to late November while Nabokov's is all January. It'd be great to have 40 games of each, knowing what the shots and blocks per 60 was at even strength, on the PK, and with the score tied, etc. Alas.

I only pulled these numbers because recent discussion and Staios' quote about Nabokov's preference had me thinking about the different approaches the goalies (and their defense) take. Upon reflection, I figured a that discussion would prompt claims that the players block more in front of one goalie vs. the other. The very crude, small-sample, non-situationally nor opponent-controlled numbers suggest there is no meaningful difference there: How the Islanders attempt to prevent attacks is more important than which goalie is behind them...

Long Introduction to a Simple Discussion Topic

...which brings us back the the qualitative question you can take as narrowly or as broadly as you like:

What differences do you observe in Montoya and Nabokov's approaches, and how does that affect what their teammates do in front of them? (Note: I've avoided puckhandling so far, but that's obviously another variable in this question.)