Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Men They Couldn't Hang

For hockey fans, the easiest way to evaluate goaltending is to treat it as a series of binary events. Either the puck goes in the net, or it doesn't. And there's something to be said for that school of thought in a results-oriented environment like the NHL. They are always stats like GAA and Save Percentage that are easy enough to compare and contrast, but as Mark Twain (and/or Benjamin Disreali) once wrote, "there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." And any goalie will tell you that wins and losses are the only stats that really matter anyway. It's a basic concept, and it doesn't matter if you're watching your first hockey game or your 500th: the scoreboard isn't always fair, but it always tells the final truth.

And so it is that fans view goaltenders as ones and zeros. Goal, No Goal. Win, Loss. Comfort, Concern. Asset, Liability.

Except that goaltending is a detail business. And so this is a detail blog.


Last year the Washington Capitals finished the regular season with a record of 54 wins, 15 losses, and 13 overtime losses, good for 121 points and the Presidents Trophy as the NHL’s best regular season team.Then they got bounced in the first round by Montreal.But if you’re reading this, you know that already.Furthermore, you know that the Caps brought back essentially the same roster from 2009-2010, which makes sense given the year they had as a team.

But the goaltending….ah, the goaltending.Last year Jose Theodore led the team with 30 wins, and finished the season on a 20-0-4 run.Then he lasted roughly a game and a half in the playoffs before Semyon Varlamov took over and played just well enough to lose the series in seven. And now Theodore is gone, Michal Neuvirth is up from the AHL, and the best team in hockey is at the mercy of a pair of 22-year-old kids with a combined 73 career NHL games heading into the 2010-11 season.

Which brings us to why we’re here. I'm not a Caps fan per se, although I think they're a talented team and should be fun to watch more nights than not. I can count on one hand the number of times I've seen either goalie play. I am, however, a fan of goaltenders, having been one up through college, and I find the Caps goaltending situation too compelling not to follow closely. These guys don't need to be the best tandem in the NHL, but at some point one or both of them need to emerge as bona fide starters at this level. The point of this blog is to dive headlong into that evolution with the perspective of someone who knows the position but not the particular guys playing it, and maybe get a little nerdy about it. I'll watch as many games as I can with an eye not just on goals and saves, but also on decision-making, technique, patience, effort, consistency, and all the other details that matter at the NHL level.

Of course, not everyone considers goaltending a binary event, and this sort of study that may seem mundane at times, and even occasionally obvious. But with any luck, over the course of 82 games it might add extra insight into the season, the goaltenders, and the way people watch the position. Thanks for stopping by…

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