For some reason, the subject of goaltenders has been coming up a lot lately. Although I’m a fan of math and stats–when it comes to goaltenders–confidence and attitude must have some impact. Right?
Jack Shupe, his coach in Victoria, offered an appraisal of Grant that holds up right through the 80s. "Fuhr has a really good temperament to be a goaltender. He’s always easy-going and nothing seems to get him upset. You can score on him and he doesn’t change outwardly whatsoever. I’ve always felt he was tougher and played better if he let in a soft goal."
Kevin Lowe to Stan Fischler, Champions (1988)
That quote came to mind yesterday afternoon. I’d spoken to two of my Nation Radio guests about goaltenders, Eric Tulsky about Ilya Bryzgalov in Philly and Terry Jones about Devan Dubnyk in Edmonton. I asked Tulsky "how much did Bryzgalov’s unique personality, crisis of confidence and difficulty with the media impact the Flyers season?" and Eric replied he’d have no way to quantify it and wasn’t certain how much it had impacted the player.
I understand Eric’s point, and the Russian’s slide last season is clearly available via stats (SP slid from .921 to .909) but could have as much to do with systems and injury as anything Bryzgalov did during the year.
Which got me thinking about ‘perception’ and ‘storylines’ and how that can impact a player and career. The Flyers were unable to recover from Chris Pronger’s injury–what team could?–and their style of play is less button down than the Coyotes situation that gave Bryzgalov success and the big free agent deal.
So, how much of all of this is ‘confidence’ or ‘intangibles’ and how much of it is ‘shit happens’ and ‘you try losing Pronger and see how you like it?’
I asked Terry Jones about the Oilers chances of making the playoffs in 12-13 and he mentioned Dubnyk turning a corner, becoming more confident. Jones said Dubnyk was a different player at the World Hockey Championships this spring, and although he didn’t play a lot DD showed maturity and played well when called upon (.955SP in 2 games). Jones–who has seen a goalie or two play for the Oilers over the years–suggested Dubnyk appeared ready to take the mantle of #1 and was doing all the right things in preparation. It might be what the Oilers saw too when giving Dubnyk his 2-year deal this summer.
Dubnyk is likely to play in front of an improved defense this season. Although the club lost a valuable player in Tom Gilbert, they also said goodbye to an injured and ineffective Cam Barker and suffered through some tough times when Ryan Whitney returned from injury.
This season, Dubnyk will play in front of a more veteran Smid-Petry tandem, a healthier Whitney along with two men named Schultz–the elder offering stay-at-home coverage and the younger presenting a wider range of skills. There’s improved depth and that should mean a net gain even if the club is unable to add another veteran hand (ST suggested recently the team is still on the lookout).
WHO GETS CREDIT?
If the Oilers do improve defensively this season and Dubnyk is the starter, who and what gets credit? Dubnyk and his confident play, or the big goalie and his improved PK SP (which HAS to be better)? Or is it Justin Schultz and his puck moving ability, or maybe Ralph Krueger and his verbal (another intangible) that made the difference.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Improvement in performance is measurable–Dubnyk was splendid at EV SP this past season but the overall SP number was compromised by his PK SP–and of course a player who is getting results will credit confidence and an improved attitude. We know you can’t measure confidence and math suggests that an improvement for Dubnyk and Bryzgalov will have a lot to do with injury and performance–theirs and the performance of the men around them.
Who gets credit? Depends on your point of view.