Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Whither Consistency?

David Johnson over at Hockey Analysis is getting all giddy with Raycroft's recent performance. Because of 7 good games in a row, he appears to think that Raycroft has turned the corner:

"So, if this play by Raycroft become the norm and not just an anomoly (sic) then one has to ask if the rest of the Leafs have what it takes to be Stanley Cup contenders."

Suffice it to say that his arguments in the rest of the post can only be described as extremely optimistic, and contain hypotheticals that could apply to almost any team in the league. However, we are concerned here with the assertion that a recent hot streak is evidence that a goalie has elevated his play, and that he can be expected to play at a high level for the rest of the year.

Every goalie has hot streaks during the season. It is the nature of the position, where the difference between a mediocre .900 save percentage and an excellent .920 is about half a save a game. A couple weeks of lucky bounces, improved team defensive play and natural statistical clustering can make any goalie temporarily into a superstar. Almost every starting goalie in the league will have put together a hot streak much better than his actual record.

Want proof? I grabbed two random bad goalies, Tim Thomas and Jose Theodore. Thomas is admittedly more streaky than most because of his ridiculous throwback style, but despite his mediocre seasonal stats (.902, 3.24, 22-17-3), he put together a pretty good 9 game run in there (.933, 2.13, 7-2-0). Jose Theodore's been even worse (.892, 3.30, 10-12-1), but he had a 9 game run that was pretty decent as well (.924, 2.42, 5-3-0).

Raycroft's best 9 games? .931, 2.06, 7-2-0. Almost identical to Thomas. I just had a thought: If the Bruins could just get this kind of consistency in goal for the rest of the year, maybe they could challenge for the Cup...

I don't think we need to read anything into this at all. Raycroft's probably the same goalie he's ever been over 46 games this year, which is a much better sample size for analysis than a couple of weeks. The Leafs have been playing better as of late, and that has definitely had an impact on his play as well. Every NHL starter has the capability of putting together a few hot games in a row; they are, after all, among the 30 or 40 best goalies in the world. It is easy to say that if only a goaltender could show some consistency, he would really be good. That is precisely the difference between the best goalies and the average ones: They put together consistently excellent performances. In this season alone, Roberto Luongo has put together 3 9-game streaks comparable to what Raycroft has done, which is a clear indication that he is playing at his true level of ability, rather than just getting lucky.

In summary, don't extrapolate hot streaks, and don't expect something that a goalie is never going to give you. All goalies have good games and bad games, and all goalies put together hot streaks. Good goalies have good games more consistently, that's why they are good. Bad goalies don't just suddenly become consistently good (unless the teams in front of them are excellent, but even then they are not really "good", they just appear to be so). And all the evidence still suggests that Raycroft has quite a way to go before he can even be considered "good", much less Stanley Cup caliber.

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