Thursday, May 10, 2012

Understanding When to Make A Save

"Goaltending in the playoffs so much is about when you give up goals, giving your team a chance to stay in a game when the momentum's going against you or when you've had it.  Brian Elliott simply didn't do that...Conversely, Jonathan Quick, he was timely, he was strong on his game.  The St Louis Blues scored six goals in this series on Jonathan Quick, largely due in part to him not only being a talented goaltender, but to being dialed in to the time of the game and understanding that a save needed to be made, he was there all the way through the series."  (Craig Button, TSN panel)

I'm pretty sure that Jonathan Quick probably does understand when a save needs to be made a lot better than Craig Button does.  If any goalie is in a position to realize the importance of every goal against, it is the backstop for a Los Angeles team that ranked 29th in the league in scoring and played in nine 1-0 games this season.  Even with the Kings' improved playoff offence, it seems very unlikely that Quick was taking anything for granted.  Obviously any goalie who allows just six goals against in four games is making a lot of saves, not just a lot of "timely" saves, and Quick has been great so far in these playoffs because he has stopped nearly everything that has been thrown at him.

If you had to make a case for anything about the Kings being timely, it would be their scoring and possession game more so than their goaltending.  Against St. Louis Quick was pretty great regardless of score, posting a save percentage of .947 or better during each of the key score differentials (down by 1, tied, leading by 1).  The Kings' offence scored 1/4 (25%) while trailing by one, 6/33 (18.2%) while tied, and 3/35 (8.6%) when leading by one.

Los Angeles was also dominant on the shot clock over the Blues with the score tied.  In game one shots were 16-16 and goals were 1-1 with the game tied, and a strong effort from Quick was a big factor in the result.  In games two through four, however, the Kings outshot St. Louis 17-6 and outscored them 5-0 with the score tied.  To score almost as many goals as shots allowed is amazing.  In addition, the average distance on those half-dozen shots against was 42.2 feet and probably only a couple of them could even be marked down as scoring chances.

The biggest problem with Button's logic, though, is the implication that there is choice involved in goaltending.  His absurd premise is that any goaltender can choose to stop any puck, if only they have the necessary clutchness or understanding of clutch play to know that it would be best for them to make that save, and that the difference between a goalie who performs well in a pressure situation and one that doesn't is merely a matter of knowledge or understanding.  Anyone making that claim obviously doesn't understand how much making saves requires a netminder to play the percentages, particularly in today's NHL where key goals are often scored through screens or from deflections or on pucks ping-ponging around the crease or slot area.

Even if goalies can increase their focus or energy level and actually boost their results (which is debatable), that still doesn't mean they have any chance at all at stopping a screened double-deflection into the top corner no matter how well they understand the delicate balance of momentum at that exact point in the game.  It really doesn't take a mathematical background or a detailed knowledge of expected win probabilities to understand that goals against are a bad thing in close hockey games.  That simple knowledge is surely the most basic of prerequisites to tend goal in the NHL, and it seems preposterous that it actually has an impact on the outcome of any games.


Anonymous said...

After watching each Devil's game over a 20 year period, I have come to the conclusion that this site is a fraud...

Marty bailed his team out many times over the years, although not as much in his late 30's. With that said, he is still a good goalie.

I understand most people's frustration, or should I say fans of the teams he constantly beat, when it comes to the success Brodeur had. Did the team around Marty have something to do with it? Yes. But without Brodeur, those winning teams are nothing more than a competetive team.

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Doctor No said...

I don't understand the "Anonymous" comment above - first of all, it doesn't seem to address this post at all, and second of all, lots of NHL goalies bailed their teams out many times over the years. That doesn't mean that this site is a fraud.

Unknown said...

Great post always..I have done research & nhl games are either tied or up1/dwn1 ~75% of game.Most likely more in playoffs .Implication almost every save is a 'save'.
The other key point is how can so many analysts miss the mark so often like C. Button.D Dregher TSn actually said he was going to vote for Fleury for Vezina? if true, unbelievable. looks like these guys need to take logic 101 & stats 101!

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

Yes, I've seen a study that had it as 72% of the game being played within one goal, and as you say in the playoffs that number would only increase.

Anonymous said...

Pretty pedantic post. There are key moments in games where a big save will keep your team in the game and switch momentum around. Maybe it's not a "choice" but anyone who doesn't understand the importance of a big save has never played the game or spent too much time with his/her head buried in the stats 101 textbook while the game is on.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

Nobody said big saves aren't important. The argument is in fact the opposite, that nearly all saves are very important. That makes them all pretty big saves, especially in the low-scoring environment of the playoffs.

Is it possible to let in a goal and not switch momentum around? I think most people would answer that in the negative, which means that every save in a close game is a big save based on momentum and "keeping the team in the game".

For a guy like Quick, who plays in a close game nearly every time out, that simply means that talking about big saves is pointless. Just talk about saves, period.

nightfly said...

I'm a goalie. I'm not a pro or anything, but I've played in leagues and tournaments for about 18 years now. What people call "big saves" after a game are saves where that team eventually comes back and ties or wins the game. Similar saves in a game where that team can't tie, or when they give up a goal to salt away the loss, are games where the goalie "couldn't make enough big saves."

So, forget stats for a minute. You love narrative? Follow the advice of Mark Twain, who knew jack-all about ice hockey - "Conerning the adjective: when in doubt, strike it out." Don't say "big" saves, just say "saves." Sentence means the same thing, right? Team lost, goalie didn't make enough (---) saves. Big, small, acrobatic, routine, clutch, easy... none of that really matters on a scoreboard. Goalie didn't make enough saves, period. Or, teammates didn't score enough goals.

Easy peasy.

Sure, Brodeur's really really good. But a lot of his "big" saves become big because the Devils are usually a great team that scores goals to make those saves stand up AS "big." And when they haven't been that good - or when Marty hasn't been that good - you get tons of first-round exits and late leads lost and people saying "They couldn't do enough for Marty." At this point, Marty's reputation writes the story for him, instead of his actual play. No-one says he's terrible, but he makes saves look harder than they need to be sometimes, and has great numbers in part because he only faces 23-24 shots per game, which is a huge help.

Anonymous said...

10/10 post by nightfly

Jonathan said...

Regarding the 72% stat...

A save made when your team is ahead by two goals is just as important as a save when your team is down by a goal. Both saves make the difference between a 1-goal and a 2-goal game. So even more than 72% of all saves are huge and timely.

Bottom line is that most saves are important, and the goalies who do great in "clutch" situations also do great in garbage time.

Anonymous said...

Spectators & players associate 'big' saves with the degree of animation displayed by the goalie, especially during a glove save.

In reality, most 'big' saves are a result of a goalie being out of position in the first place & being lucky or athletic enough to recuperate in time.

In my opinion, the goalie who plays his/her angles, pays attention to the other team's rush, always tracking the puck, has a higher percentage of saves that look 'routinte' is the one that is 'big'. Goaltending is as much physical ability as it is mental stability.

Unfortunately, that goalie who plays solid is always taken for granted & usually only recognized by fellow goaltenders.

Brodeur is one of the few net minders in the NHL that plays hybrid style, not completely relying on his ability to butterfly his legs post to post. In my opinion, his play has been consistently 'big' & frustrating to everyone who isn't a NJ Devils fan over several decades. Not flashy, just consistent.

Anonymous said...

The truely idiotic thing about Button's comment is that it implies that there is a time when a goalie wold say to himself 'Nah, it's not important to make a save now.' Does anyone really think that's true?

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