Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Canadiens Season Preview

NHL Goalies

For those that have been tiring at the previews over the last week (I know, defensive defencemen, yawn), this should perk you up. The goaltender preview. You know we've been hard on Price and aren't afraid to point out his blemishes. I know some of you don't like it. Should be a good mix for some discussion.

Price - Halak

Carey Price

NHL SeasonGPStartsPulledMinWLOTLGAASave %SO
08-09 (MTL)5249130362316102.830.9051
07-08 (MTL)414022413241232.560.9203

Personal save profile

  • Slightly above average save percentage at even strength

  • Made more saves than expected (based on shot quality) at even strength

  • Was among league worst at making saves on PK (worst among starters)


Stats notes
Carey had a few missteps in the second half of last season and it shows in his statistics. While even I would have bought the thoroughbred line in January, but was seriously sceptical of being told I shouldn't believe anything but in Gainey's patronising post-season talk. While I have covered Carey's season in much more depth elsewhere (Are These Thoroughbred Stats?), I'll do the highlights from the stats here today:

1) Very sound at even strength
One thing you'll notice from the special goalie pie is that Carey Price has a very good save percentage at even strength. Playing behind a defence that is letting up shots that should go in 9.5% of the time, he makes sure that only 8.6% go in. From watching his play, I can tell you this is what I like. When the play is at normal tempo, without any added complications, he covers the angles and makes more saves than an average goalie would.

2) Bad last season when shooters had time
I think the PK save percentage is quite an interesting one. While the stats sites haven't run the same expected save % numbers on these stats, I have tried to paint the picture myself. For Carey, the picture isn't good. Price was pretty much the worst goalie in the league on the PK last year. And while apologists tell us the defence let him down, that bright green segment tells us that compared to most goalies in the league, Carey was actually getting decent defence, even above average at times. My interpretation of this is that Price hasn't adapted his game to the PK yet. While at ES, his amazing positioning and movement is more than enough, on the PK it isn't. On the PP shooters enjoy more time and free positions, they can set their feet for shots and even pick corners without the pressure of defence. Goaltending against this kind of attack is typically difficult, but can be improved with quickness and reflexes. Carey's 0.803 save percentage tells us he's not up to the standard of his peers in those skills yet.

3) Defence never as good as it could have been
When you see a 0.920 save percentage on a first place team, you shouldn't then glance left and see 2.56 GAA. When a team has goalies that make more than the expected rate of saves, it seems wasteful to then turn around and allow more than the average amount of shots. Apart from the help he got on the PK (and decided not to take), Carey hasn't been as insulated as you might hope a very young goalie would be. This is not an excuse, merely an observation. I would be remiss not to also note that many do manage more with less.

Carey's career has taken in more highlights and lowlights in 2 years than many veteran goalies have had in a career. From great to merely good, we must hope he turns the trending of his progression around, because even sticking on good at this point may not be enough.

Tobalev on Price:

Carey started the year well, but injuries, All-Star festivities, the Centennial, the expectation to win and a whole bunch of other issues seemed to affect him in a very negative way. His problems (even at his best times) have always been his inability to rebound from a bad goal (or stint) and his glove hand - these two areas were a huge concern in pretty much every game he played from January onwards. I think that last winter was when we, the team and even Carey may have realised that he was no Dryden or Roy; no, for now, he was average and he'd have to work to progress. The defence surely let him down on numerous occasions (as did the offence), but at the end of the day he simply wasn’t good enough (or as good as he had been) to take us anywhere; he was one of the main reasons we almost missed the playoffs.

The one good thing heading into this year is that Carey will get much more support from his teammates on a nightly basis. I think that the general consensus is that we have a better coach, a better system and better defencemen. All of this may turn Carey’s off nights (or weeks or months) into something that we can work with. I am not too concerned with his numbers, except for one – wins. If he can find a way to let in one less goal than the other keeper and find ways to bounce back from rough goals/outings, then he may indeed be here for the long haul. I am afraid, however, that if he picks up where he left off last year then we will eventually have some choices to make. I for one am not sold on him being the centerpiece of the next two decades for this team, and he’ll have to play quite well to change this mind. That said, all I want is for us to win games and for now we know we’ll have to give that a shot with Price back there.

Gainey will make sure, if healthy, Carey plays in 50-65 games (regardless of performance), so you should expect to see 25-35 wins. I predict 2 shutouts (the defence is better after all) and slightly improved numbers; 2.60 GAA and .914 Save %.

Where Price will start 2009-10: Starting goalie

Where Price will end 2009-10: Starting goalie

Key stats: 33 W, 2.60 GAA, 0.914 save%

Jaroslav Halak

NHL SeasonGPStartsPulledMinWLOTLGAASave %SO
08-09 (MTL)343331931181412.860.9151
07-08 (MTL)6402852112.110.9341
06-07 (MTL)1616291210602.890.9062

Personal save profile

  • Above average save percentage at even strength

  • Made more saves than expected (based on shot quality) at even strength

  • Among league leaders at making saves on PK


Stats notes
Because there are only 2 goaltenders, this preview certainly does lend itself better to head-to-head comparisons. The debate is likely to once again rage and settle and rage and settle as to who to start in important games (it is Montreal). I can only start it off here by pointing out that Halak, last season was the better Canadiens goalie on the whole, but that really he was the better of two average goalies:

1) Very similar to price at ES
Although you'd never think it from watching them both play at ES, both Halak and Price are well above average. Halak's pie does look different, but a closer look at the numbers show that although he snuck into a higher quintile, raw save percentage and raw expected save percentage were very similar.

2) Excellent last season on the PK
If the two were all but the same at ES, PK is where their fortunes diverged. While Price was league worst, Halak flirted with the Backstroms and Lundqvists of the league with his 0.890 rate of efficiency. To extend my theory on Price, I believe that is because Halak has better reflexes and is better at improvising at this stage of his career – two skills that serve him well under bombardment.

3) Even worse defence than our man Price got
Better save percentages and worse GAA say that on average Halak did not enjoy even the level of mediocrity that Price did from his skaters. Here's the rub though, it shouldn't matter. Good goalies find ways to let in less goals overall, even if means they have to post gaudy 0.930+ save percentages. If Halak wants to grab a starting position here or elsewhere, he'll need to cut down goals against whatever his defenders decide to do.

2006-07 was an unexpected surprise. 2007-08 was tantalizing with numbers. It seems 2008-09 was just about the real Halak. If that's true what you get is a goalie who makes saves he shouldn't and from worse starting position than his more technically-sound rival. I'm not sure he's the best back up int he league, but another season of 0.915+ and you'd have to think he's close.

Tobalev on Halak
On the whole, Halak’s 2008-09 season looks pretty good - 18-14-1, 1 SO, 2.86 and 0.915 – but there were still some concerns. I seem to remember that when given the chance he never really took the bull by the horns. To be fair to him though he did have that one incredible stretch that was interrupted by the flu, an illness that likely cost him more starts and his team a deeper run into the playoffs. I guess what I am trying to say is that Jaro isn’t as good as Price-bashers make him out to be (he himself is only really average and has yet to perform for long stretches at a time), but he is better than some people make him out to be too (he would be a very desirable back-up options for most GMs). His season last year taught us that he is definitely good enough to play a lot of games and to squeak out wins, but also that he isn’t (at least not yet) an elite NHL goaltender; we are therefore batting 0/2 in that department.

I can’t see Jaro really going anywhere anytime soon, he should be in Montreal all year. A lot of people want him traded, but I don’t think our depth would allow for that, besides, he isn’t quite good enough that he’d get us very much in return. Therefore, he is best suited to playing in Montreal for now, behind Price. I believe that the starter job, however, could be up for grabs by as early as Christmas and I really believe that Halak has a shot at being that guy this time around. If (or maybe when?) Price falters, look for Jaro to start getting some consecutive starts. For now, however, he will play about once every three or four games. I fully expect his Save % to remain high and his GAA to go down to the 2.40-2.60 range (again, thanks to team etc.). If I had to bet I would say he features in 35-40 games and will likely play for about a .550 winning %. That should give him about 15-20 wins when you consider that he’ll be coming into some of those games as relief.

Where Halak will start 2009-10: Back-up

Where Halak will end 2009-10: On a charge again

Key stats: 16 W, 2.47 GAA, 0.915 Save%

While Halak was surely better than Price last season, he was frustrating to his supporters in not being able to prove that he will be better than Price. As Tobalev said, both have lots to learn, both are currently occupying the average territory in league goaltending ranks.

Perhaps not as controversial as I promised. I think I held back knowing that I'd done a bit of this work before, and that I wouldn't have the time or the inspiration to match it. For those who want to see that follow the link to the little read Carey Price Segment from last May.

Statistics adapted from nhl.com, behindthenet.ca, Olivier

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