Thursday, January 16, 2014

Goalie Utilization at the Olympics

From the reports I heard, Mike Babcock is looking to pick one goalie as his starter and run with him, rather than auditioning several goalies out during the preliminary rounds.  I think that makes sense, because trying to find the hot goalie is probably little more than shooting in the dark to begin with, and it's better to just throw your chips in on the best guy.

EV SV% since 2010-11:
Luongo .928
Price .926
Smith .926

EV SV% since 2012-13
Price .927
Smith .923
Luongo .922

There's probably not that much between Canada's goalies.  Chris Boyle has made the data-supported argument that Price has faced more difficult shots, which I certainly find interesting, and with his slight advantage in recent play and his strong form this year I do think Price should have the inside track on being the guy in Sochi.

That said, the compressed Olympic schedule means that it likely would not be sensible to start one goalie all the way through.  Canada plays 3 games in 4 days in the preliminary round, and if they don't earn a first round bye and have to go through the qualification game, then they would be looking at another 3 games in 4 days just to get through to the semifinals.  A semifinal loss means a bronze medal game the day after, while at least the gold medal game participants get a much-needed day of rest prior to the final showdown on Feb. 23.

Given the data on goalies making back-to-back starts, and considering that most countries have at least two quality netminders on their rosters, the argument could be made that few if any countries should be starting the same goalie in back-to-back games.  Canada should be in good shape no matter what they do against Norway and Austria, since you'd expect those to be easy wins and likely a light workload for their goaltender regardless, but it would probably be a good plan to split those starts.  And while it would be an extremely gutsy decision by any coach who elects to do so, if Canada ever got to a qualification game against one of those teams or another weak sister nation like Latvia or Slovenia, there would at least be an argument for the team to start their backup goalie and save the real starter for the quarterfinal the next day.

I really doubt any team would actually do this because if it ever backfired the coach would be raked over the coals, and you'd probably create all kinds of controversy by switching back and forth between goalies because everyone wearing a media badge loves to pounce all over that kind of manufactured drama.  No teams tried this at the last Olympics, as all 4 qualification game winners put the same netminder right back between the pipes for the quarterfinals.  That said, this strategy would make the most sense for a powerhouse team like Canada, because it would seem to have the least risk.  Goaltending didn't matter in the 8-2 playoff win over Germany in Vancouver, it seems almost certain that Canada would have ran away with  the game if either Brodeur or Fleury were tapped ahead of Luongo.  As it happens goaltending didn't really matter against Russia either, because of Canada's outstanding offensive display in scoring 7 goals, but it's not hard to envision an alternate scenario where Luongo's 25/28 would be not good enough to advance.  Don't even bother try to imagine one, just go back four years prior to when Brodeur's 31/33 QF against the same opponent resulted in a disappointing early exit for Canada.

I'll be watching Olympic goaltending decisions with interest, both in terms of why plays and when.  I'm expecting pretty conventional decision-making all around, but if anybody decides to think outside of the box I'll be impressed, whether it works or not.

2 comments:

  1. It is in-game decisions that matter. I would definitely pull either goalie as soon as the Canadian team falls down two goals. A two goal deficit is small enough for the strong Cdn tm to rebound from. And, it works inb baseball with relief pitchers. I feel a change in goalie also can disrupt the other team forcing them to adjust as well.

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