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The Myth of the Number 1 Goalie

Posted By Corey Krakower On May 27 2010 @ 11:24 am In Around The Rinks | 14 Comments

I was reminded yesterday of a conversation I had with a friend of mine (Ben), where the end result was that I could not have been more wrong. Immediately following the trade deadline, I told Ben “with so many goalies available, the Flyers and Hawks will regret not having traded for one, come playoff time”. Please go easy on me in the comments section.

I bring that up because I should have known better. Since the lockout, there is a trend regarding starting goaltenders that shows a strong correlation between a goalie’s playoff success and regular season games played. Here is a look at the workload of goaltenders that have gone on a long playoff run in the 5 seasons of post-lockout hockey. For the purposes of this study, “a long playoff run” is defined as going to the conference finals.

2005-2006

TEAM PLAYOFF GOALIE R.S. GAMES
Stanley Cup Winner Carolina Cam Ward 28
Cup Finalist Edmonton Dwayne Roloson 19
East Conf Finalist Buffalo Ryan Miller 48
West Conf Finalist Anaheim Ilya Bryzgalov 31
AVERAGE: 31.5

2006-2007

TEAM PLAYOFF GOALIE R.S. GAMES
Stanley Cup Winner Anaheim JS Giguere 56
Cup Finalist Ottawa Ray Emery 58
East Conf Finalist Buffalo Ryan Miller 63
West Conf Finalist Detroit Dominik Hasek 56
AVERAGE: 58.3

2007-2008

TEAM PLAYOFF GOALIE R.S. GAMES
Stanley Cup Winner Detroit Chris Osgood 43
Cup Finalist Pittsburgh Marc-Andre Fleury 35
East Conf Finalist Philadelphia Martin Biron 62
West Conf Finalist Dallas Marty Turco 62
AVERAGE: 50.5

2008-2009

TEAM PLAYOFF GOALIE R.S. GAMES
Stanley Cup Winner Pittsburgh Marc-Andre Fleury 62
Cup Finalist Detroit Chris Osgood 46
East Conf Finalist Carolina Cam Ward 68
West Conf Finalist Chicago Nikolai Khabibulin 42
AVERAGE: 54.5

2009-2010

TEAM PLAYOFF GOALIE R.S. GAMES
Cup Finalist Chicago Antti Niemi 39
Cup Finalist Philadelphia Michael Leighton 27
East Conf Finalist Montreal Jaroslav Halak 45
West Conf Finalist San Jose Evgeni Nabokov 71
AVERAGE: 45.5

Adding up the 5 seasons; the goalies that make it to the conference finals or better play an average of 48.1 games in the regular season.

This essentially destroys the myth that you need an elite goaltender to go on a long playoff run. The question now becomes why the relation between regular season games played and playoff success is so apparent. The answer is simple, the goalies are overworked and exhausted by the time the playoffs roll around. The explanation however, is a bit more complex.

First of all – PARITY is one of the driving forces that tires out goaltenders. The introduction of the salary cap has created a more level playing field amongst the 30 teams, meaning there are less “elite” teams and less “awful” teams. With fewer games that seem to be automatic wins, and the difference between playoff teams and non-playoff teams being so slim, coaches are forced to play their “number 1 goalie” more often and end up tiring them out.

MORE OFFENSE is another explanation as to why goalies that play many games are exhausted come playoff time. Rule changes introduced post-lockout have resulted in more shots, more scoring chances and more powerplays than ever. So not only do goalies play many games, they are forced to work harder than ever in those games.

The SPEED OF THE GAME has also increased in the new NHL, and that has also had an effect on goaltenders. Since the game now promotes speed and skill, goalies need to be faster and more skilled as well if they want to survive in the league. Combine that with the fact that goaltenders must now wear SMALLER EQUIPMENT, and you’ll realize that they are now required to be more athletic than ever, and not just stand in one place with gigantic pads covering the net.

Finally, because of the nature of the SALARY CAP, teams can no longer afford to invest big money into a backup goaltender; thus reducing the quality of the number 2 goalie on many teams.

My recommendation would be for teams to have the same attitude towards games played by a goaltender, that MLB teams do towards the pitch count of their pitchers. GMs need to be resourceful and find backups that can play 25-30 games and be effective, otherwise, the teams that burn out their starters over the course of the regular season (Brodeur, Luongo, Lundqvist, Kiprusoff) will continue to be disappointed in the postseason.

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