Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Playoff Goalie Manifesto

Caps fans certainly have plenty to talk about these days....injuries, peaking at the right time, potential playoff pairings. And of course goaltending. Lots about goaltending. Neuvirth or Varlamov (or Holtby). Opinions have been voiced. Lines have been drawn.

And since this was supposed to be a blog about goalies, let's talk about goalies. Let's talk about Caps goalies, but not just Caps goalies. Really, let's talk about goalies and the coaches who love to play games with their heads. Because coaches like to talk about how goalies are weird, and about how they don't understand goalies, and how they just want nothing more than to not have to think about their goalies.

But coaches are usually full of crap about goalies. They love tinkering with goalies. They micromanage, they overthink. They're convinced that they know just what strings to pull, and then they just pull and pull until the whole thing unravels. And then they wonder why a big ball of thread can't win 16 games. So,'s my advice:

1) Pick One Starting Goaltender
You're the coach....act like it. Don't half-heartedly endorse your game 1 starter. Don't say one guy has looked particularly good lately and, um, he's earned it, so, you know, he's our guy...I guess. Don't have one foot in and one foot out, or worry about affecting the psyche of your (possibly) sensitive, tempermental back-up. Step up, make a decision, and own it. You've had 6 months and 82 games to figure out who you trust, and more importantly, who your team trusts. You want to be a head coach? Well these are the choices you have to make, and have to live with.

2) In the playoffs, wins and losses are the only stats that matter.
It doesn't matter how well a goalie plays, it only matter if he wins. If he plays well and loses four out of seven, it wasn't his fault....and you're all still golfing. If he struggles one night but still gets the win, you get to come back to work for one more day. Obviously you want your goalie to play well every night. But in the playoffs you really want your team to play well, to play confidently, to get on a roll. If you have a winning formula, run with it. No one cares how you win playoff games, only how many you win.

3) Barring injury, you are only allowed to change your starter once. Once.
Remember this: the whole point of changing your starter in the playoffs is that it gives your team an excuse for games they've already lost. It's not actually about goaltending, it's about giving your team amnesia, or some sort of get-out-of-adverse-momentum free card. Under no circumstances is this to become a rotation by whimsy, or gut feel, or coin flip. Give your 'tender and your team a fighting chance. The minute you start to flip-flop back and forth, it stops being about a fresh start and starts being about your lousy goaltending. And no one wins in the playoffs with lousy goaltending.

4) Only make that switch during round one, and only when down 0-2, 0-3, or 1-3.
Switching goalies is the act of a desperate man, and everyone knows it, no matter how many "we don't really care who's back there" quotes the players give. If you do it too soon, it just underscores the notion that you have no faith in your team. You can argue that it's more dangerous to wait too long before making a switch, but 2008 and 2009 show that doing it too soon doesn't work.

5) If you make a mid-game switch, be prepared for controversy.
Nip it in the bud quickly....either your started is still your starter, or this was about more than just one game and you're making a change. Don't equivocate in the post-game interview, or wait to see who looks better at the off-day practice. No head games.'re the coach. Act like it.

So there it is....just my two cents. Gun to my head, BB goes with Neuvirth. Which is fine... i think you can make a number of different arguments for each of the three goalies. I think all three are talented, capable, and each has matured in measurable ways this year. But the yo-yo act has to stop. The problem with coaches who love to tinker, is they don't know when to leave well enough alone. So here's hoping the Coach has grown up a little bit this year, too.


  1. Wow! You hit the nail on the head!!! Exactly how I've been thinking ...pick someone already...because that is the real issue here! This was the perfect post.

  2. "Barring injury, you are only allowed to change your starter once. Once."

    I recall a certain Montreal team deciding to put Carey Price in for starter Jaroslav Halak, and then deciding to shift back to Halak later in the series... I believe it ended up working out for them.

  3. It just depends on can argue that winning two series as an 8-seed is "working out". And honestly, when you're an 8-seed, we'll make an exception to do whatever you want, because you're probably playing with house money just being in the playoffs at all. But if the Caps start Neuvirth in games 1-3, Varly in game 4, Neuvirth in games 5-7, and lose in the conference final despite great play from Neuvirth throughout, will you say it worked out for the Caps?

    I mean, you can say alternating goalies worked great for the '97 Flyers too, until they got terrible goaltending in the finals and were swept by Detroit.

    Bottom line: goaltender roulette means no Stanley Cup parade 49 times out of 50.