Thursday, December 24, 2009

For Your Consideration

Life has been hectic during the Holidays and will likely only be moreso when I move next month so I'll be posting fewer game reports, but a week-in-review for the Canadiens, Capitals and Blackhawks each Sunday will be put up instead and other postings during the week about thoughts I'm having regarding hockey, this week, I'll work to shelve the Price V Halak debate by showing what issue the team is up against.

Goal Scoring:

When it comes to the goalies, we can all throw the numbers around as much as we like and I'm sure there's enough numbers to make either goalie seem like the Legit, No. 1 man for the next ten years in Montreal but I'm considering this.

It's a team game and the team has let down the goalies a lot more than the goalies have let down the team, considering the amount of 1-goal losses this team suffered when either goalie needed to manage a shutout or 1.00 GAA to get the win. Right now, let's examine Montreal's ability to fill the net with some rubber and in front of which netminders they did it.

By the Numbers in Team Scoring and Goals Against:

October: discounting the OT shootout winning goals, the team was at 2.5 goals per game, while allowing 3.21 goals against them, not a happy number and a serious strike against the offence when the GA was that high.

Goals Scored, Goals Against with Carey Price in October: 14 Goals scored, 24 goals against. 2 wins in 7 games, pulled in Vancouver after 6 goals against and put in the final period of the Montreal-Pittsburgh match when 2 more goals were scored, so if you count that as his missing period from the Vancouver pull, the team scored a flat 2.00 Goals Per Game (GPG) in front of him with 3.43 GA. That's a mountain for any goalie when you're giving up 1.43 GA on average in a month.

Goals Scored, Goals Against with Jaroslav Halak in October: 22 goals scored, 20 goals scored against, 5 wins in 7 games, was in nets for the final goal in Vancouver but was pulled after 4 goals against in Pittsburgh. Balancing the numbers, counting his 3rd period in Vancouver and his missing period from Pittsburgh, the team scored 3.14 GPG with him in nets and 2.86 GA. Not hard for a goalie to build a winning record if the team is scoring more than they're being scored on.

What it Shows: Evidently, Price would had to have been absolutely heroic to turn some of his games into wins with 14 goals scored over 7 games, especially since 10 of those goals came from 3 games alone! That's a scoring problem, not a goalie problem especially with his theft in Toronto and Buffalo. Jaroslav Halak enjoyed an average of

November: It got worse in scoring, 2.16 goals per game for Montreal, but the numbers against went down, 2.41 Goals against them for the month, thanks to some nifty netminding by Carey Price, that number could have been a couple tenths higher alone if not for his magic in Nashville.

Goals Scored, Goals Against with Carey Price in November: 23 goals scored, 29 goals against, 5 wins in 11 games played, with a rate of 2.09 GPG, with 2.63 GA. His best stretch came from his 53-save performance in Nashville that he built on, exhaustion caught up with him by the end of the month though. Still, the opposition was outscoring his team, not as bad as last month but almost every point collected in his starts was due to his heroics in nets.

Goals Scored, Goals Against with Jaroslav Halak in November: One lonely start, 1 loss, 0.00 GPG with 1.00 GA for the Calgary start, other than that, riding the pine as it were. Calgary wasn't his fault, but it certainly blew a hole in the "Team plays more confidently in front of Halak" argument.

December: Montreal is scoring 2.77 Goals per game, and if you call the Centennial Game the "Turning Point" of sorts, we're at 3.09 Goals per game which is a winning goal-scoring number in today's NHL. Montreal is averaging 2.29 Goals against this month, Post-Centennial? An impressive 1.92, which means we are scoring on average more than a goal than our opponents are per game in the last 12 games, thanks to recent offensive outbursts by a certain gentlemen called Tomas Plekanec to create an elite scoring line.

Carey Price, Goals Scored, Goals Against in December: 19 goals scored, 18 goals against, 3 wins in eight games played. That's an improvement in GPG, with 2.38 GPG with 2.25 GA. He didn't have that good a night against Toronto, but like Jaro against Calgary, the team was shut out so they were no help to anything. He had a flat 1.00 GAA for 3 straight games, then ran into some glove trouble, which shook him up a little in Pittsburgh, leading to the last 4 losses of the month. Albeit, 15 goals scored were in 4 of his eight starts and that's , 3 goals left over to win 4 games, statistically impossible. He wasn't that good following the Pittsburgh game flubbing Dupuis's shot for the GWG, but the team didn't exactly have a barn-burner of goal-scoring against Toronto, Minnesota or New Jersey either.

Carey's "Turning Point" Numbers: 19 goals scored, 15 goals against, 3 wins in 7 games played. GPG improves to 2.71 and GA goes to 2.14. Winning record for GPG to GA and a couple of games do fall on his shoulders, but again, 1 goal in each the Minnesota and New Jersey games do not help matters, not saying he didn't make mistakes but again, scoring is key to wins.

Jaroslav Halak, Goals Scored, Goals Against in December: 14 goals scored, 14 goals against in 5 games played, 2.8 GPG with an identical 2.8 GA for the month. However, his Save % over his last three games is an astonishing .970, with 133 saves on 137 shots against with a 1.33 GAA!

Jaro's "Turning Point" Numbers: Fantastic, 12 goals scored, 8 goals against in 4 games, an exact 3 GPG with a flat 2.00 GAA, that is a winning record by far, he's entered the benefit of the Habs discovering their scoring and the return of Andrei Markov while playing his best games.

Basic Fact: Goalies have been left hung out to dry too often by this team, but the rise in scoring will mean more wins for either goalie, whether playing to their best or not as goalies can't always be at their best, but teams scoring 3 goals a game at least? That means there's a lot more wiggle room for goalies to get wins and not be worn out from having to save the tame with a 2.00 GAA or less.

Myth to Dispel: "The team plays more confidently in front of Halak", they were shut out against Calgary at home, then were beaten twice by the Buffalo Sabres with Halak in nets, a lax performance in the first game but Halak did not play well and the second game really ended no better. The Dec. 21st win over the Thrashers was a result of Halak's brilliance and Plekanec's Heroics, not a confident team really, the Dec. 19th Islanders win could have gone the other way as well if not for the return of Andrei Markov. That's 5 games where the team didn't seem to display much confidence in the goalie they apparently are so confident in. 5 games of his 14 starts this season, just over one-third, where the team played without confidence in their netminder.

Regarding Carey Price: Price is still just 22 years old, he has 50 career wins faster than Patrick Roy did in his youth when Roy had a far superior defensive corps to protect him. He has been brilliant this season in key games and while he has struggled, he played basically the entire month of November when the team was barely managing 2 GPG on average and kept the team's head above water, but he still wasn't ready for a grinding pace like that. Price is young and needs breaks to keep that mental focus that lets him play like he did in Nashville or his game-theft work in Buffalo, Toronto or Phoenix. He's stolen key games, OT points and kept the team alive through tough times. The team hasn't thanked him in return nearly enough by having many games where they overcame his mistakes in nets to seal the deal and earn a regulation win. His 9 wins came because he was brilliant in nets and his OT losses? Much the same case, his losses came from some bad performances but also a team that has rarely found the net in front of him. The team scored 56 goals in his 26 appearances this season so on average, 2.15 goals scored with him in nets this season, while he posts a 2.75 GAA. For the record, Patrick Roy's career GAA was 2.78 in Montreal, Jacques Plante was 2.23 and Ken Dryden's was 2.24, so really, are we expecting Price to be better than those guys in his 3rd career year when he doesn't have a Dynasty team in front of him like Dryden and Plante or in Roy's case, some Selke and Norris winners?

Price needs some glove-side work, although someone's number crunching showed that it's not in fact that weak and plenty of goalies let in glove-side goals more than anywhere else, Henrik Lundqvist is a notoriously weak glove for an elite goalie for example. Price's main roadblock it's more his mental focus that needs adjustment, he is highly athletic and his 6'3" frame gives him advantages, but while he rarely collapses after a bad goal these days in the same game, he tends to take that bad goal around with him from start to start when it does happen. He's corrected one issue by not letting the bad goal really interfere with the game he's playing at the time, but he needs to purge that goal from his mind altogether for his next game and the game after that if he wants to be a top goalie. He plays the puck well and while he's a bit reckless with it, he'll learn with time when not to play the puck and honestly, the way the team handles the puck in their own end sometime, can you really fault Price for wanting to manage the puck himself? Granted he needs better judgement, but that comes with time and above all, he needs to stay mentally sharp against everything, that will come but right now, it's risky putting him in for more than 5 games in a row, especially if a softie goes by him in game 2.

Regarding Jaroslav Halak: Yes he's been good this season, he was good last season and the whenever he was used the season before that. However, he's not faced the No. 1 job in name, only in duty from time to time. Being the Starting goaltender in Montreal is the most stressful and hardest position in the NHL and it has crushed many a goalie long before Halak ever heard his draft number called. Halak however showed weakness last season when he played long stretches of starts, much like Carey Price has as well. They're young goalies so they find it difficult to maintain that mental focus a goaltender needs over long periods and both of them can only get it from getting many consecutive starts in a row. However Halak has not outdone Price when the two of them have a lot of starts, both decline the same amount over time I find. Halak's also had the advantage of padding his record on weaker teams this season compared to a lot of the teams Price has had to face and Halak's not done that well against Contender teams, so it's hard to say Halak could be No. 1 when he hasn't really beaten a contender team by himself yet, save maybe Atlanta. Jaro is at 2.57 GAA this season, better than Price but I don't see how he could have saved a few games that Price lost in to be honest, even as well as he's playing now, Price was just as good if not better in November and his 3-game streak in December was no accident on his part. The team scored 36 goals in his 15 games, 2.4 GPG average and with a .17 difference, it's easy to see why he's a bit ahead of the standings, easier teams to beat, a team with scoring troubles will score more often and be scored against less.

Halak's rebound control and ability to play the puck is not something you'd say he has on equal with elite goaltenders, he is certainly a battling goalie who hates to let the puck in the net when he's 'on', but those rebounds are a problem and too often, I hear the goalpost ring when he's in nets. These are things that can be corrected with time of course, much as Price is facing his own issues, but Halak does have his weak points, his playing the puck isn't reckless like Price's at times, it's just not good, Price can generally put the puck where he wants it, Halak seems to have trouble with the initial handling of it. Price gives up rebounds of course, but so does Halak and in front of just about everyone, which is partly why I suspect he's not done well against the better teams, stronger teams know how to take advantage of the boune, the rebounding puck better than weaker teams and it leads to more goals. Halak obviously deserve more puck-clearing assistance from his teamamtes but Halak's rebounds have inflated the shot count against him in his last 3 starts I find, more than he stopped 40+ top quality shots. His style as a battling goalie has him fighting against those rebounds, but I find he should work to make sure they just don't rebound as often. The goalpost ringing, I'm not sure if it is a bias of mine, but it just seems we hear those posts ringing more with Halak than Price, does he cover the space between himself and the post not as well as Price, or is it just he doesn't give the opposition anything but the posts and himself to shoot at? I don't think he's that good at positioning myself to force that kind of shooting and no goalie really likes to offer the inside of a goalpost, since the bounce can go against them. I suspect it is partly that he needs to work on his positioning, because better scorers will find a way between him and the post to score that goal rather than be hounded by a ringing goal post.

For Consideration:

In October, A 3 GPG minimum would've meant as many as four more overtimes rather than regulation losses and possibly as much as 4-8 more points, but let's say 6 going on the team's OT Record.

In November, 3 GPG for the month would have meant at least 2 more overtimes and two other wins from Nashville and Detroit alone, plus with the team's OT record, at least one of those OTs would've been ours, adding 3 points from that and another 3 points from the Nashville game and the win point from the Detroit game that went to shootout, 6 extra points.

What 3 GPG would have meant for the season: 12 points to add to the current 39, Montreal would be at 51 points in the League. A winning record, secure place in the Conference, that's what a proper goal-scoring average does, it prevents it from being all about which goalie is white-hot this week to keep us in games we should be losing because we can't find the opposing team's twine.

Right now, we have the tools for 3 Goals per game and should enjoy that while we can, Gionta's return can up that average further, an average like that is what got the Capitals to the top 4 of the Conference. We have an elite scoring line, an All-Star Defencemen, a PP specialist in Bergeron and a shiny new toy in Benoit Pouliot with the Triple-M line always being a scoring threat in a pinch, with two solid young goalies in nets, we can ride that 3 GPG average to a Playoff spot and maybe the 2nd or 3rd round of the playoffs.

Definition of a Good Team: Good teams play well enough to give each other a break, goalies will post 50-save performances to deliver a game, then forwards score 6 goals in a game to overcome failures that led to 4 goals against the goalie by the defence. Or the forwards kick in two goals to create a padded 5-2 win when the goalie allows two soft goals in the third and the team needs insurance, or the defence and goalie just play heroically as the forwards are frustrated by a hot goalie on the other end. Everyone has to help everyone else out, it's hard for a team to have confidence in a goalie that allows a soft goal now and then, but how hard it is for a goalie to hold themselves in a tight mental focus to maintain to a strict 1.00 or 2.00 GAA when they have no confidence the forwards can score better than 2 goals per game on average or the defence to leave them hanging helplessly for 2 goals against them? It's got to be a team game at the end of the day.

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