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It wasn’t a good night for the Washington Capitals in New Jersey on Jan. 18. They didn’t manage double-digits in shots on goal against the Devils in any period. They were 0-for-5 on the power play. They were getting housed at 5-on-5, with a 37.33 Corsi for percentage.
Goalie Braden Holtby did what he could, making 28 saves on 31 shots for a .903 save percentage and helping the Capitals get a point for reaching the 3-on-3 overtime, aka a gimmick that really doesn’t favor the netminders. Thus, 34 seconds into the extra session, Taylor Hall scored on the Devils’ first shot on goal to win the game.
Holtby’s save percentage dropped to an .875 for the game, despite the goal occurring during that period of fire-wagon quasi-hockey.
What many goalies are asking these days is whether that’s fair.
“Some of the goalies have been talking about it, absolutely,” said Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck. “You go through a game. Let’s say you give up two goals on 30 shots. Then you go into overtime. This is looked at as a very good thing — you get your team a point. But let’s say you give up a goal on your first shot. Now your stats take a hit. When it comes contract time, that’s a big deal.”
Hellebuyck said goalies are discussing the equity of folding overtime stats into regulation stats, considering how tilted the ice is to the scorers in the 3-on-3. Entering the NHL All-Star break, the average save percentage for goalies at 5-on-5 this season was .929; the average save percentage for goalies in the 3-on-3 overtime was .869.
The NHLPA told ESPN last week that there have been internal talks about changing the way goalie stats are presented with regard to overtime but that no formal petition has been made to the NHL to alter that official tabulation.
Kevin Weekes, a former NHL goalie who is now an analyst for NHL Network, thinks these netminders have a legit gripe.
“I don’t disagree. There’s a lot of merit to that. People are looking for quantifiable stats. If you let in one of two [shots], you’re a 50 percent goalie, but no one is accounting for more time and more space. No one’s accounting for a different kind of defending, or a complete lack of it,” he said.
It all comes back to a common lament for NHL goalies: that any statistical evaluation of the work requires context. The three most commonplace stats for goalies: won/loss record, which tells you nothing; goals-against average, which is basically a team stat; and save percentage, which not only doesn’t tell you anything about shot quality, but folds in goals given up in power-play and overtime situations.
“I can see the angle that he’s coming at. I totally understand where he’s coming from: It’s not the same game, so why shouldn’t your stats reflect that?” said Price.
Conversely, Hellebuyck believes pulling out overtime stats would put a better emphasis on goalies who thrive in the offensive circus of the 3-on-3. “You want to know what goalies are performers and gamers and the guys that show up when crunch time happens. That would be a pretty good stat to know,” he said.
This isn’t meant to be an indictment of 3-on-3 overtime, which remains one of the better innovations in the NHL in quite some time. (And absolutely kicks sand in the face of the shootout.) This is meant to be an acknowledgement that every time a guy such as Alex Ovechkin gets to inflate his goal total with an overtime tally — three so far this season — a guy such as Holtby sees his save percentage unfairly impacted by it when he gives up one.
“We have fun, too. But there’s a business side of it,” said Hellebuyck.
The most dangerous postgame interview ever
Stefan Loibl is a forward for the Straubing Tigers of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga in Germany. On Tuesday, he scored a goal to help the Tigers defeat the Cologne Sharks — who must smell extraordinary. He was doing an interview with Telekom Sport when … well, when he was nearly run over by an ice resurfacing machine. Check out the 50-second mark here:
Stefan Loibl ist aktuell nicht aufzuhalten!!!
Erst ist er zu flink für die Haie, dann weicht er geschickt der Eismaschine aus.
Zum Glück ist weder den TelekomSport-Jungs noch Stefan etwas passiert.
— Straubing Tigers (@straubingtigers) January 30, 2018
Neither Loibl nor the audio technicians whom the ice resurfacing machine plowed into were injured.
Changing the playoffs
Unlike my friend Craig Custance at The Athletic, I didn’t get a sense of growing discontent with the NHL playoff format when I asked around at the NHL All-Star Game.
You had some players who preferred the 1-through-8 playoff format — which is the correct take, as that format was never broken and didn’t need fixing. You have some coaches lamenting the seeding of the current system, such as when Capitals coach Barry Trotz cited the inequity of having to face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the semifinals in back-to-back years.
But you didn’t have anyone outright demanding that changes needed to be made like you did for, say, goalie interference.
“I can’t say we’re receiving complaints,” said deputy commissioner Bill Daly.
That’ll change in about 2½ months, because someone is going to be screwed by this playoff format.
Look at the Western Conference. Heading into Thursday night’s games, there was a five-point spread between the second-place team in the Pacific Division, the San Jose Sharks (60), and the last place team in the Central Division, the Chicago Blackhawks (55). It’s entirely possible, given the Group of Death status of the Central, that the entire division could have more points than the No. 3 seed in the Pacific but the Sharks or the Los Angeles Kings or the Calgary Flames get in by virtue of finishing third. Whichever Central team gets squeezed out because of it is going to raise hell.
Over in the East, there have been rumblings about the Atlantic Division’s relative lack of a race despite the recent push by the Boston Bruins to challenge the Tampa Bay Lightning. At this point, with the Leafs over a dozen points clear of the fourth-place team, the only intrigue is home ice in the inevitable Bruins/Leafs first-rounder. Yawn.
What might trigger an NHL discussion on a playoff format change, which probably can’t happen for another two seasons anyway based on their initial agreement with the NHLPA? Widespread discontent from the general managers, which hasn’t manifested — yet.
“That’s a process that will ultimately be driven by our general managers and our owners. I think the players association wants to make sure all their needs are addressed, but ultimately, it’s a league decision,” said Daly.
Here’s Phil Kessel in a freeze chamber
As recorded and tweeted by his Penguins teammate Evgeni Malkin:
— Evgeni Malkin (@emalkin71geno) February 1, 2018
1. Hopefully, Kessel is trying to preserve himself in carbonite until the NHL returns to the Olympics in 2022 so USA Hockey can inexplicably and self-destructively snub him again.
2. Or, failing that, this is actually secret military footage of a cloning project so every team can have this kind of schlubby joy on its roster.
3. Also, we’re not sure what his Comic-Con plans are this year, but he should really consider cosplay as Beetlejuice.
4. Finally, from an ESPN legend:
Captain Kessel blinks yes, or maybe that means he’s making a left. pic.twitter.com/qwIfBFX73H
– Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) February 1, 2018
Amazing reference. Captain Christopher “Phil The Thrill” Pike.
Slava Voynov is both a very good puck-moving defenseman and very much in his prime at 28 years old, so naturally, NHL teams are looking at whether he can return to North America after his three-year deal in the KHL ends this season.
Which, of course, means they’re looking past the 90-day jail sentence he received in 2015 for choking his wife, pushing her into to a flat screen television and then telling police her swollen eye and the gash on her head that needed to be stitched up were because she fell out of bed.
Look, I know his wife has written letters and spoken about the incident in an effort to clear him. I understand he has served time that his reduced charges mandated. I believe in second chances. I just don’t believe the NHL should give him one.
They don’t owe him that. They don’t owe him anything, just like when they banned him from playing in the World Cup in 2016. Playing in this league is a privilege, not a right, and the NHL can determine who can and who can’t do so. If the Los Angeles Kings or the NHL Players’ Association want to take up the fight for a convicted domestic abuser, then the matter becomes a legal one and we go from there.
But if it’s the NHL’s call, one would expect that a league that’s trumpeting its involvement in sexual and domestic violence education movements wouldn’t clear him. Nor should a Kings team that had announced their involvement in these efforts after Voynov’s arrest want him back.
He has made a living as a hockey player in Russia just fine. Let him continue to do so. Don’t bring him back to the NHL, no matter which ghoulish opportunistic NHL team desires him.
Jersey Foul Of The Week
– Corey (@Hollowtide) January 21, 2018
First: Of course it is. It’s also one of the oddest Couples Jerseys we’ve ever seen. Why does he have the single ‘6’? If she had “THE BEAST 6,” at the very least it could have been a reference to Bret Hedican or Tim Gleason. So confusing.
This was cool: X-ray portraits of hockey goalies. [NYT]
Brian Gionta on Team USA: “It’s a bunch of guys that have been overlooked for parts of their careers. They’re a hungry bunch that wants to prove that they’re capable and deserving of this opportunity. Probably 75 percent have had NHL experience, and at some point been looked over or passed over. They’re out to prove something.” [SI]
Can young phenom Cayla Barnes tip the scales for the USWNT against Canada? [Tampa Times]
On Jaromir Jagr, fandom and hockey legends. [Stanley Cup of Chowder]
Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn’t read)
Scott Wheeler goes on the road with the Brampton Beast of the ECHL, embedded in the team to discover layers of “hockey hell.” [The Athletic]
In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN
Darren Rovell, as Darren Rovell is wont to do, takes a contrarian look at the NHL’s cancelled 2004-05 season and says it was great for hockey. [ESPN]