Who decided that goalies should get wins? I mean, please! They play a reactive position in a team sport. There are so many factors beyond their control. If you leave Alexander Ovechkin alone in the slot five times in a game, he scores a hat trick, and your team goes on to lose, why does your goalie get tagged with the loss? Why is it permissible to pillory the goalie for not robbing the league’s best goalscorer five times at point blank range? If the defenseman blew his coverage on the play, why doesn’t he get the loss on his stat line? It’s far easier to get a stick on an enemy forward’s stick than for a goalie to do his best Ken Dryden impression multiple times on an elite player.
“But hold on a second,” you might be saying. “Not every shot a goalie faces is going to come from Ovechkin in the slot. What about soft goals? You know, the ones that shouldn’t go in, but somehow do?” And you’d be right to raise the question. Shots don’t necessarily translate into quality scoring chances, which is why it’s virtually pointless to use two other statistics, goals against (GA) and save percentage (SV%), to measure a goalie’s performance on a given night.
Neither GA nor SV% pay attention to the quality of the shot taken to score the goal. Using GA, a goalmouth scrum in which a forward puts in a loose puck after the goalie has already made two or three heroic saves is treated exactly the same as an weak, unscreened wrist shot from the blue line. Using SV%, a token shot from the red line as the buzzer sounds to end the period holds as much weight as Evgeni Malkin on a breakaway.
As long as we persist in ignoring shot quality when assessing goaltending, we’ll never get an accurate read on the goalie situation. On the heels of last night’s embarrassing 6-2 loss to the Flyers, it would be tempting to say that Jaroslav Halak had a miserable night: 5 goals on 17 shots for a .705 SV%. But when your 24-year-old goalie makes the first save, only to see a Flyer forward put in the rebound while two defensemen representing almost $9 million in cap space (Roman Hamrlik and Jaroslav Spacek) stand around and watch, you have to look beyond the net to assess the real problem: absolutely atrocious team defense.
We’ll look at team defense another time. In the meantime, cut our goalies some slack.