It’s OK, Blame The Goalie

We all know the Oilers goaltending was, at best, a complete
and total disaster last year (and the year before). Deep down in our hearts, we
know this to be true. Still though, there are going to be people who refuse to
believe that goaltending was to blame. Yes, Scrivens and Fasth were dead last
among their peers in almost every important category, but…you know…that
defense, or something. Obviously the people who say these things are wrong, but
it’s not entirely their fault. It’s the way they were raised.

We were all raised to think this way, for the most part. It
is simply never the goalie’s fault in our society. Maybe it’s because the
goalie was usually the kid who couldn’t skate and we all felt bad for him
anyway, but no matter what happens out there we can find a way to heap the
blame on the skaters by default. That might save some hurt feelings, but it
also costs teams real money, wins, and even championships.

And who tells us that it’s not the goalie’s fault? The
announcers. And who are the announcers? Former goalies. I’ve had 30 years worth
of education about the goaltending position and who to blame for the puck going
in by a group of people who labor to say the goaltender has done anything
wrong. So every game we are bombarded with the message that defense is to blame
for goals going in unless the netminder does something so ridiculous that even
a card carrying member of the Goalie Union has to admit there was a problem.

Imagine if the other positions were the same. Imagine if we
were constantly told the defensemen NEVER made mistakes on the ice unless they
were Jultzing. Risky pinches, slow footspeed, poor positioning, inactive
sticks, what if all of it was ignored and we blamed the forwards for making
defensemen look bad? Eventually we would all start to believe the lies.
Eventually we would get to a point where we really questioned how good a
defense could look playing behind those terrible forwards.

But you know what happens when it isn’t the goalie’s fault? When
the agency for how well a goalie performs is taken away from the goalie himself, you end up signing Ondrej Pavelec to a five year extension even though at the
time he only ever had one season near the league average in save percentage. The
Jets should have made the playoffs in 2013-2013 and in 2013-2014 but Pavelec
only managed .905 and .901 save percentages respectively. Mind-boggling.

That’s real money out the window for the Jets. Opportunity
completely wasted because they refused to blame the goaltender for his own poor
performances. They made the playoffs this year but only after Pavelec had a
year that was 12 points better than his career average (.920 vs .908) and a
competent performance from Hutchinson as the back up.

But that’s just making the playoffs. What about Fleury in
Pittsburgh who has cost the Penguins chances at multiple championships? Is
there any way that a team loaded down the middle with Crosby, Malkin, and at
one time Staal should have just a single Stanley Cup?

This team hitched their wagon to a career .911 regular
season goaltender who has a career .905 save percentage in the playoffs. We
aren’t talking about losing out on a few million dollars because it’s never the
damn netminder’s fault. We’re talking about losing out on a legacy. We’re
talking about windows for greatness closing on one of the most star heavy teams
in the salary cap era.

And it’s all because we don’t want to blame the goaltender
when he is unable to make a save.

Wrong. All wrong. Criminally wrong.

It’s liberating if you just say what you truly know. It
really is the goaltender’s fault if he doesn’t stop the puck. It’s his job to
stop the puck. He’s not doing his job if the puck goes in. Say it. It’s not the
defense. Ok, maybe once in a while the defenseman does something completely
unexpected and it’s his fault, but most of the time it isn’t.

The Oilers had the worst even strength save percentage in
the NHL from their 1A and 1B goaltenders. Yes, number 46 and 47 out of 47 who
played at least 1000 minutes 5v5.

Is it because they have the worst defense in recorded
history? No.

Is it because both goaltenders played really poorly? Yes.

The hard part is acknowledging that sometimes good goalies
can have extended periods where they play like complete garbage. Conversely,
poor goalies can have extended periods where they play like all-stars. But,
over time, the cream rises to the top.

Take Devan Dubnyk. He had an even strength save percentage
above .920 from the time he started in the NHL until 2013-2014. Sometimes it
was a little better, sometimes it came back down, but it was always above
.920%. Then the cataclysmic season occurs and it’s his contract year to boot.
His 5v5 save percentage dips all the way down to .902%. That was bad. That was
60/63 goaltenders who played at least 750 minutes bad.

And you know who was ultimately to blame? Dubnyk. His GM
didn’t do him any favours by undermining his confidence (and that’s an issue all on its own), but the onus to perform
ultimately lies at the feet of the players. Still though, he had thousands of
minutes being a quality NHL goaltender to fall back on and sure enough he
rebounded. I would never have guessed his 5v5 save percentage would get to be
the 4th highest in the NHL for goalies with 1000 minutes, but he did
it.

I don’t begrudge the Oilers for moving on from Dubnyk last
year because of his contract status as a pending UFA it just seemed like
everybody was going to walk away from the situation. The theory that it was
Edmonton’s defense doesn’t hold up because he was just as bad in Nashville and
with the Canadiens’ organization and they had better defenses. He was just playing
really poorly. It happens.

People are automatically ready to connect the dots with the
defense because Scrivens and Fasth were so horrible for the Oilers but only if
we conveniently ignore the positive work done by Brossoit and Bachman at the
end of the year when Edmonton’s defense as at its most decimated. There’s just
no proof that Edmonton’s defense soured the well with the goaltending.

It just looks that way because we want to make sense of the
story between the pipes. We want to ascribe meaning and build narratives that we
can connect with, but there isn’t one. Whatever we make up there is pure
fiction.

Goalies are just weird that way. They defy explanation.

Prof

Say it with me. It was Scrivens’ own fault that he played
poorly. It wasn’t the defense.

Here is his NHL 5v5 save percentage history:

2011-2012: .9081% – 50/58 with 500 minutes played

2012-2013: .9205% – 27/40 with 750 minutes played

2013-2014: .9317% – 7/31 with 1500 minutes played

2014-2015: .8998% – 46/47 with 1000 minutes played

Scrivens doesn’t have the steady history that Dubnyk did,
but he has more than enough of one to suggest he isn’t nearly as bad as he was
this past season. He was brutal, no question, but even though he couldn’t stop a beach ball this year we know enough to say with some degree of certainty that he will rebound.

When he does pull it together I doubt he will be in the position to take the
starting role in Edmonton, but with another year on his deal I think it’s safe
to say he will be set up to re-establish himself as a legitimate option
in some capacity.

He can play better in the future. He HAS played better in
the past. He has control over how he performs, not the defense in front of him.
Now he just has to go out and get the job done.

  • hagar

    I have made fun of scrivens multiple times as a goat, but I have also done the same for every frustrating oiler player.

    I have however seen scrivens do thing that aren’t possible by an average goalie.

    He has something in there somewhere.

  • hagar

    Anyone want to throw wanye or whoever is the guy that won’t spend the money on his rent 100 bucks that scrivens will be a top 10 goalie in two seasons from the start of next season?

  • Anton CP

    Totally agree! Thanks Matt for coming out and stating what I was always thinking!! Our tendency not to blame the goalie is soooooo Canadian; similar to our national reputation for apologizing so much! Its all a bunch of misguided BS. And to top it off I have to watch the Flames in the playoffs this year…..uuuggghhh!

    I recall a story that Grapes told when Bobby Orr scored on his own net. “Don’t worry, Bobby!”, Grapes yelled, “the goalie should of had it!!!”.

    Yep……

  • Here’s the thing, friend. IMHO, the Oilers fan base numbers a larger percentage of former ice hockey players among them than any other (maybe Winnipeg could compete?). We don’t blindly accept whatever verbal someone tries to put on a game, be they an announcer or a blogger. We learned hockey by playing it competitively, not by blindly accepting whatever drivel some know-nothing vacuous baritone throws our way.

    We recognize that goaltenders have no control over the difficulty of the shots their team concedes. We recognize that there is such a thing as a goalie being “hung out to dry”. We recognize the fragile trust between the goalie and his team, and we understand what being hung out does to the goalie while also understanding what the soft goals do to the team. We recognize that the second coming of Hasek would have looked merely ordinary with this Oilers team in front of him. This is not us being indocrinated by sneaky former goalie announcers. This is us drawing on our own experience playing hockey.

    I get that you have to make copy and that there are only so many spins you can put on another awful season. However, this article is well below the level of hockey understanding I have come to expect from Oilersnation writers. Goaltending in Edmonton this year was one disaster among many. No more, no less. There is not one member of the Edmonton Oilers who was put in a position to succeed this year, and that’s on the management. But, hell, the goalie let all those shots in, so let’s blame him!

    You point out that Laurent Brossoit and Richard Bachman enjoyed success. Brossoit played 1 game! Bachman played 6! You should research the phrases “small sample size” and “regression to the mean”.

    Have you ever considered covering the Canucks? Their fan base loves this kind of thing.

    #blamingthegoalieiseasierthanunderstandinghockey

  • chuckcouples

    If it’s the goaltenders and not the team defence (not just the defensemen) that is the problem, can someone explain to me why every single goalie that has played for the Oilers in the last 8 seasons has a higher save percentage on other teams then they did with the Oilers. Every single goalie who’s played for the Oilers and for another NHL team. Every single one of them.

  • robc186

    It’s this blame the goalie and blame the coach carousel of sadness that’s led to our demise. It hasn’t worked for management and it will never work until they realize we need players to play actual defense.