Thursday, March 11, 2010

Shaking off the Rust?

Heading into the Olympics, the league average save percentage in the NHL this season was .912. That put the league on pace for the highest average save percentage since 1970, higher even than the average during the pre-lockout period with its clutching and grabbing and huge goalie equipment. I'd say that's more evidence that the goalies today are better than ever, and that goalie equipment is not as big of a factor as many make it out to be.

Yet even though it has been 11 days since the closing ceremonies, I think some of the goalies in the league must still think they are on vacation. Goalscoring has been up significantly since the NHL resumed, with an average of about 6 goals per game in the 63 games since Crosby's OT winner. The netminders have not been making the stops of late, combining for an average save percentage of a mere .899.

It's possible that the goalies are rusty from having not played for two weeks. It could also theoretically be possible that the jam-packed Olympic year schedule may be having some effect, but as mentioned they were doing pretty well in December, January and February and most of the league's starters should have been able to rest up while they watched the Olympics on TV.

Much gets made about goalie fatigue and whether certain teams are playing some goalies too much. I'm still not exactly sure of the size of the real fatigue effect, but I suspect it is likely not as significant as generally assumed. To me, it seems like going a long time without playing might very well be more likely to result in poor performance than regularly playing every second or third day. I'm reminded of this post from a while back that showed that October was on average the worst month for goalies. It could be that we tend to show too much concern for starting goalies and their perceived heavy workload, and don't properly appreciate the backups who have to stay sharp despite sometimes going weeks without facing shots in game situations.

On the other hand, even some of the goalies who did play in Vancouver are doing poorly, headlined perhaps by gold medalists Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur and their matching .869 save percentages in March. Perhaps there is no underlying cause, and this is just a brief, random streak in the long NHL season where offence comes to the fore at the expense of goaltending.


Agent Orange said...

My perception of goalie fatigue is more impqctful during the playoffs.

I think most goalies can handle the rigors of a 70+ game regular season because teams usually work in a few days off for a goalie when the schedule permits and the all-star/olympic break.

I don't think it becomes and issue unless you make a deep playoff run. And then only if you are in long dog fight series.

Back to back 7 game series take a toll on all players but for a goalie to play 14 intense games in 28 days can be quite grueling.

This becomes hard to evaluate because how many goalies have started 70+ games then 2 7 games series?

Just my thoughts on the subject.

quoipourquoi said...

Back in 1998, Patrick Roy credited the Olympics with derailing the Colorado Avalanche heading into the 1997-98 Playoffs. Going into the Olympic break, Roy had a .923 SPCT, only to see his post-Olympic SPCT fall to .896 in the Regular Season and .906 in the Playoffs. This was one of the reasons he preemptively turned Team Canada down in 2002.

He also had a .923 SPCT going into the 2002 Olympic break, but with the added rest, his SPCT in the post-Olympic Regular Season was .929 (and he even had a .917 SPCT in the Playoffs up until his last game where under any other circumstances, he would've been pulled early rather than personally opting to go down with the ship).

Dominik Hasek, on the other hand, saw a big boost in his game after the 1998 Olympics. Prior to the games, he had a .924 SPCT, just a point above Roy's, but his post-Olympic SPCT of .948 was what earned him the Hart Trophy over Teemu Selanne and Jaromir Jagr (and he posted a .938 SPCT in the following Playoffs).

Granted, Hasek's 2002 Post-Olympic break wasn't as impressive, he did win the Stanley Cup. I guess what I'm saying is that it depends on the goalie.

Scott Reynolds said...

Do you know if there was a similar drop in league save percentage after the Olympics in 1998, 2002 and 2006? If not, I think randomness if probably the best explanation.

james benesh said...

This is probably just random. Aren't the skaters all relatively as rusty as the goalies? The two should wash out. Otherwise we would see phenomena at the starts of seasons where save percentages tend to be lower across the board, because the goalies haven't played in months.

Mike McLaughlin said...

@ Agent Orange

I was curious about the impact of fatigue in the playoffs as well. But, as The Contrarian Goaltender discovered with his 2008 study, I found no correlation between save percentage and number of regular season games played.

You can click on my name to follow the link to my results.