Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A (recent) history of goaltending
... and today's one-shot difference

The following was put together after a few days of research, and the results may have to be digested in chunks given this is a really, really long post. Perhaps a new record. For this, James apologizes.

It's fair to say that this introduction is a trend familiar to most hockey fans, but bear with me on a quick walk down memory lane.

Rewind the NHL back to the 1950s, hockey's post-World War II era, and you would find goal scoring at pretty much the same rate it is right now — the Dead Puck Era's forefather. From 1950 to 1970, teams scored somewhere between 2.5 and 3.0 goals per game, and that generation's goaltending greats posted all kinds of gaudy numbers (Terry Sawchuck's 103 career shutouts come to mind).

Beginning in 1971, however, as the league ballooned, more pucks started going in, and by 1979, the end of the WHA era, we were at 3.5 goals per team per game. Along came the Edmonton Oilers, who ushered in hockey's highest-scoring era, which saw goals hit the 4.0 per game mark from 1982 to 1986.

Eight years later, in 1994, we were back at 3.25 and sliding, so much so that the 1998 season fell into the same 2.65 range we've seen for just about the past decade. I'd bet good money that that's where things will sit this coming season, and likely for the near future.

That's all really just a very wordy way of saying what stats man Gabe Desjardins has put together here, a nice graphical compilation of the rise and fall of goals in hockey.

Now, at a very basic level, there have always been two explanations for what happened, for where those goals "went":
  1. Teams started playing more defensive hockey, the result of talent dilution and better coaching systems

  2. The goaltending got better
But what I've never seen is an analysis of how netminders' numbers have changed since that high point. What would it mean, for example, if instead of only goals decreasing, shots on goal also fell off considerably? Or, conversely, what if shots on goal have always remained stable, and it's only the goals that disappeared?

Wouldn't that then mean the majority of the goal's disappearing act could be blamed on the 'tenders? Or is it more complicated than that?

Oh, the things that keep you up at night...

The pertinent year with regards to the rest of this post is 1982-83.

The Boston Bruins were a powerhouse, leading the league with 110 points, and Wayne Gretzky was his high-scoring self, notching 71 goals and 196 points in 80 games with the Oilers. Steve Larmer was the rookie of the year with Chicago, Pete Peeters won the Vezina with Boston, and Edmonton was swept by the Islanders in the Stanley Cup final.

1982-83 was also the year detailed shots on goal statistics were kept, so that's where we begin.

The shrinking goals against average
Statistics do not include empty-net situations

1982-83 840 3.798
1983-84 840 3.825
1984-85 840 3.780
1985-86 840 3.862
1986-87 840 3.555
1987-88 840 3.615
1988-89 840 3.629
1989-90 840 3.563
1990-91 840 3.354
1991-92 880 3.368
1992-93 1008 3.531
1993-94 1092 3.140
1994-95 624 2.846
1995-96 1066 3.036
1996-97 1066 2.803
1997-98 1066 2.528
1998-99 1107 2.538
1999-00 1148 2.641
2000-01 1230 2.648
2001-02 1230 2.516
2002-03 1230 2.551
2003-04 1230 2.464
2005-06 1230 2.928
2006-07 1230 2.770

No surprises there, really. Goal scoring began to bottom out just before the last lockout, and we saw enormous year-over-year declines from 1992-95, which included the rise of Dominic Hasek and the New Jersey Devils, among other defensive influences.

It should also be noted the rise in number of total games played coincided with these declines as well.

But what about save percentages? Were goalies simply seeing fewer shots and, therefore, allowing fewer goals? And how did fewer goals against affect the number of shutouts posted per 60 minutes of play?

The Shutout Era

Year GP Sv% SO/60
1982-83 840 0.8757 0.0262
1983-84 840 0.8736 0.0259
1984-85 840 0.8746 0.0229
1985-86 840 0.8743 0.0295
1986-87 840 0.8800 0.0165
1987-88 840 0.8798 0.0341
1988-89 840 0.8794 0.0259
1989-90 840 0.8811 0.0242
1990-91 840 0.8860 0.0300
1991-92 880 0.8882 0.0354
1992-93 1008 0.8849 0.0335
1993-94 1092 0.8951 0.0449
1994-95 624 0.9006 0.0472
1995-96 1066 0.8984 0.0451
1996-97 1066 0.9047 0.0580
1997-98 1066 0.9062 0.0719
1998-99 1107 0.9078 0.0702
1999-00 1148 0.9044 0.0548
2000-01 1230 0.9033 0.0745
2001-02 1230 0.9078 0.0722
2002-03 1230 0.9088 0.0699
2003-04 1230 0.9109 0.0768
2005-06 1230 0.9013 0.0468
2006-07 1230 0.9052 0.0596

These days, an .875 save percentage is almost unheard of. Dan Cloutier posted an .860 in limited action last season, which made him one of the worst netminders in the league, but 24 years ago, it wouldn't have been all that awful.

Predictably, save percentages have followed an inverse path to goals against average, with the average figure cresting over the .900 mark for the first time during the lockout-shortened campaign.

On a related note, and as the next chart will attest, the past 12 years have also been the era of the shutout, as goose eggs are far, far more likely than in the mid-80s. In 1986-87, for example, you would see a shutout every 61 games, on average — and there were only 28 in total that year.

More recently, it's been down to as common as one every 13 games (and people like Brian Boucher have put together strings of five in a row). Last season, there were 148.

Few surprises, perhaps, so far. But what I really wanted to know from all of this was if netminders were facing fewer shots these days when compared to the goal-scoring heyday, and if so, how many fewer? Was a considerable amount of the decline in goals attributable to a lack of shots?

And, to follow that logic, would we increase goal scoring in the NHL by somehow getting more pucks on goal?

Saves and shots against
(per goalie per 60 minutes)

Year Svs/60 SOGa/60
1982-83 26.75 30.55
1983-84 26.43 30.26
1984-85 26.37 30.15
1985-86 26.85 30.72
1986-87 26.08 29.64
1987-88 26.47 30.08
1988-89 26.46 30.09
1989-90 26.41 29.98
1990-91 26.07 29.43
1991-92 26.74 30.11
1992-93 27.15 30.68
1993-94 26.79 29.93
1994-95 25.80 28.64
1995-96 26.85 29.89
1996-97 26.62 29.42
1997-98 24.44 26.97
1998-99 24.99 27.53
1999-00 24.98 27.63
2000-01 24.73 27.37
2001-02 24.76 27.27
2002-03 25.43 27.98
2003-04 25.20 27.67
2005-06 26.72 29.65
2006-07 26.46 29.23

From the very, very peak of NHL goal scoring, 1985-86, the year Gretzky had 215 points, to last season, goaltenders faced an average of 1.5 fewer shots against per game and made 0.4 fewer saves.

Not much of a difference, really.

Looking at the past 24 NHL seasons, the highest shots on goal against ever reached was 30.72 in 1985-86, and the lowest was 26.97 in 1997-98.

Here's the swing represented in a graph:

Are goaltenders facing fewer shots? Yes, quite clearly. But what we don't know, at least from this data, is if that's a result of better netminding (fewer rebounds, etc.) or more defensive hockey. Anecdotally, it's certainly true that coaching systems and the like have improved immeasurably in the past 25 years, and it would appear 1997-98 was the pinnacle of clutch-and-grab.

But in the past two seasons, with more power plays and a push by the league to create more offence, we've seen shots on goal levels return to within one per game of the absolute peak of shot production in the NHL. The average goals against average from the heyday to the postlockout period, however, is nearly a full goal per game lower.

Goaltenders now are making relatively the same number of saves they did from 1982 to 1993, around 26.5 per game. The past two seasons, they've simply faced one fewer shot per game — and that swing alone is enough to drop save percentages by 3 per cent.

And in the periods where shots on goal fell lower, to below 28 against per 60 minutes of play, goal scoring dropped dramatically.

Now, it's no surprise that shots on goal and goals scored are related, as more offensive hockey would certainly produce both. The year shots on goal dropped dramatically (1997-98), shutouts rose considerably and Hasek won his second consecutive Hart Trophy.

Shooting percentages have fallen from a high of 12.5 per cent to a low of close to 9 per cent over the past 25 years, but what's really amazing is that, throughout an era that has seen a dramatic change in goals scored, netminders have continuously saved almost the exact same amount of rubber.

A 26-save performance was as average in Gretzky's 215-point season as it was last season.

But does it all come down to a one-shot difference? And if goaltenders were to, somehow, face an all-time high number of shots per game, let's say 31-plus, would that 'solve' the league's goal-scoring problem?



At 7:05 a.m., September 18, 2007, Blogger The Peerless said...

Thanks for that excellent look at goaltending trends. One of the things that has occurred to me, anecdotally, is that shots matter from a defensive point of view. At this level of play, there just isn't that much difference in save percentage among goaltenders in the NHL (last year, the top 20 goalies in save percentage with at least 50 games ranged from .902 to .922).

But looking at one goaltender to whom I pay attention -- Olaf Kolzig of the Capitals -- the effects of shots is telling. Kolzig faced 1,771 shots last year (33.4 shots per 60 minutes of play). For his trouble, he had a goals against average of 3.00, 20th in the league among goalies with at least 50 games, while posting a .910 save percentage. In order to shave that GAA to, say, 10th (2.58, Rick DiPietro) facing the same number of shots, Kolzig would have had register a save percentage of .923. Had he done so, he'd have led all goaltenders who played 50 or more games in that statistic.

Here is another way to look at it. Marty Turco and Kolzig had the same save percentage in the regular seson (.910). But while Kolzig had his facing 33.4 shots per 60 minutes, Turco had his facing 24.9 shots per 60 minutes. The arithmetic results in a 0.77 differential in their respective GAA (more than 25 percent better in Turco's case). Which team's goalie -- and team -- was more successful?

That's a long way round to the point that "shots" seem the most underrated statistic in the sport. Which brings to mind another factor in this -- what has been the trend in blocked shots and missed shots? And, have goals scored as a share of "shots taken" (as opposed to "shots on goal") changed over time?

At 7:28 a.m., September 18, 2007, Blogger Hossim said...

Better than coffee.

Going beyond the numbers, goaltending has turned more and more into a science the last 15 years or so. Not saying the the rest of the sport hasn't just that perhaps goaltending had more room to work with. The nutters weren't even wearing masks a while back (a long while perhaps) and goaltending equipment has also perhaps played a part.

There's always more to the story than just numbers, but these numbers are eye-opening. Late at night, and in the a.m.

At 8:33 a.m., September 18, 2007, Blogger Matt said...

Well done, James.

I could roll out the usual suspect answers like goalie equipment and larger nets, but you brought up the point of quality shots (which is something I know The Forechecker really works on) and better quality goaltending (i.e technique).

As you pointed out, shots (and saves) haven't dropped enough to matter, but shooting percentage has. It's most likely a result of the defensive hockey keeping guys out to the perimeters (and more players becoming perimeter players) and forcing lower-quality shots. This also means any rebounds that are given up are usually easily controlled by the defence.

To answer the question you pose, no, I don't think that a record number of shots per game would make a difference in the league's scoring trends. Not without other external changes. I'm not a fan at all of the bigger nets, but of the smaller equipment. I don't think there's any way to come up with "illegal defenses" (i.e. abolishing the trap), because coaches will always find a way around it. It's just the way 21st century sports are. The "science" of sport will always exist, and there's really nothing the NHL can do about it unless they tinker with the rules and try to stay one step ahead of the coaches.

At 9:46 a.m., September 18, 2007, Blogger Chemmy said...

I wonder if this all comes back to goalie masks. Bear with me here.

1959: Jacques Plante begins wearing a mask. This is 48 years ago. There were a few short lived mask experiments before Plante, but he was the first goalie to wear the mask full time.

1973: Andy Brown is the last goaltender in the NHL to not wear a mask.

1994: SV% breaks .900 for the first time.

What all of this says to me is this. In 1960, kids were born in the mask era. By the time they were six or seven and started playing goal they would have worn a mask. By the time they were 30, in 1990, they would have been pioneers of playing hockey with masks.

They didn't learn from people with masks though, they still played stand up styles to protect their heads, following their teachers and coaches from the maskless era.

Now though you have guys playing with masks full time developing new styles. These goalies are free to get down low and wide, since getting hit in the face doesn't matter at all.

I guess this post is light on real analysis, but the timing seems right to me, to say that basically in the mid 90s we saw the first goalies who were taught by goalies who wore masks, 2nd generation mask wearers who begin to exploit the competitive, not just the protective advantage of the goalie mask.

The change is drastic, look up some videos of Felix Potvin playing goal in 1993 or Kirk McLean in 1994 and compare it to pretty much anyone playing in 1998.

At 10:49 a.m., September 18, 2007, Blogger McLea said...

And if goaltenders were to, somehow, face an all-time high number of shots per game, let's say 31-plus, would that 'solve' the league's goal-scoring problem?

No, because those additional shots would likely be of a very low quality, which is the reason why they aren't currently taken.

At 11:01 a.m., September 18, 2007, Blogger saskhab said...

A couple of other points about shot quality...

The standardized rink size, IMHO, is one of the biggest changes to the sport from when I was a kid to now. Back in 1990, Cam Neely could beat Patrick Roy, the best goalie in the world, with a slapshot from outside the blueline in Boston Garden. Sure, it was a goal that Roy should've had, but the rink dimensions definitely made it seem like a worse shot to score a goal on than if that were applied to a standardized rink. In today's same rink everywhere NHL, that shot is closer to the top of the faceoff circle than the offside faceoff dot. It's also closer to the center of the ice than the boards.

Goaltending has gotten better, but to me the standardized rink has made the game more coachable and in essence, less fun for the fans. Funny bounces off the end boards happen less often to Marty Turco than they did to Mike Liut. Teams can't build their identity to suit their home rink advantage anymore... I think that plays a factor as well.

I'm all for praising the advances made in goaltending, the position of my youth. But there are other advances that have made the position a bit less reliant on scrambling or quick thinking. Of course, you could argue that the increased speed of today's game makes up for those disadvantages other goalies faced, and I wouldn't have a problem with that argument.

The standardized rink, the standardized goalie (butterfly), the standardized NHL.

At 12:24 p.m., September 18, 2007, Anonymous Keith said...

chemmy - goalie masks could well have played a big role in this change, and I believe it may have been a driving force behind the change in goalie styles.

I believe that a large part of the change is the difference between the stand-up goalie, and the butterfly goalie. Look back to the 80s, where even the best goalies in the NHL - Vernon, Fuhr, Roy, etc relied on reflexes to stop pucks. So many goals were scored because the goalie couldn't react in time, so often, he just stood there like a statue as the puck easily slid on by.

With a good goalie mask, the fear of getting hit in the face is almost non-existent these days. As a result, these goalies began to abandon the styles they were taught, and started to get lower in the net, taking away these easy goals.

Goaltending these days is about positioning. If you want to score, you gotta put the puck in the perfect spot. Combine a goalie with good positioning, and good reflexes, and you start seeing 1.69 GAAs.

I mention the complete change in defensive ability from almost in passing, but it also has to be noted that defencemen can skate in the modern era. In the 1980s on most teams, after your top pair, your defence was just out there to take up space.

As a quick aside, I really despise the diluted talent theory of why scoring is down, which you mentioned in the lead, James. It amazes me how many people believe this, yet point to the 1970s/80s as a time when talent was not diluted. In 1973 or 1974, there were 32 major league hockey teams in North America. More than exists today. For much of the late WHA period, the number of teams was in the mid to high 20s. If this theory were accurate, then the early 70s should have been the lowest scoring period in hockey history.

And that is without touching the opening of the European market in 1989-91

At 2:00 p.m., September 18, 2007, Blogger Darrell said...

I think the improvement of the goalies is the driving force behind lower scoring. If you watch a highlight clip of any forward in the 80s, their is always a large number of player skates down the wing, blasts a shot, and scores. When that happens today, it is considered a VERY weak goal (even if it is a laser off the post and crossbar).

And I think a large part of the improvement is the mask, which allows goalies to cover the entire lower part of the net. The amount of room over a goalies shoulder when they are in the butterfly for a shot from 20 feet out is negligible at best (especially with cheaters like Garth Snow or Giguere bulking up or raising their shoulder pads when they go down).

This is why I have no problem is the crossbar was raised. It was originally placed at 4 feet to protect the goalies head, a protection that is no longer needed. Open up 3-4 inches over the shoulder, and goals would increase substantially, and "positional" goaltenders would get toasted. I don't think the width of the goal should be increased, only the height.

At 2:10 p.m., September 18, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Or make it illegal for goalies to cover the puck on the ice with their hands. Catch it, deflect it, block it, stack the pads and bury it, sure. But make it illegal to flop around like a seal, drop your stick, and smother the puck with your gloves.

At 2:48 p.m., September 18, 2007, Blogger Loxy said...

Or make it illegal for goalies to cover the puck on the ice with their hands. Catch it, deflect it, block it, stack the pads and bury it, sure. But make it illegal to flop around like a seal, drop your stick, and smother the puck with your gloves.

Can't say I agree with this at all. A lot of pucks get caught under goalies and not letting them cover the puck would encourage players to crash the net - and not in a goalie friendly way.

Raise the crossbar. We're not trying to protect goalie heads anymore.

At 3:02 p.m., September 18, 2007, Anonymous Frank said...

Great piece James. However, I have to disagree that the drop in goal scoring is attributable to better goaltending or better defensive play.

A lot of work has been done on this subject by others that have come to the conclusion that the current scoring level is the NORM, and that the increase in goal scoring from the late 70s to 1990 was an ABBERATION caused by a dilution of talent as a result of expansion.

To support this point lets take an even longer term look at goal scoring in the NHL. Below are data for NHL seasons and total goals per game and (total goals per team per game) from 1927 to 1950:

1927 - 4.00 (2.00)
1928 - 3.80 (1.90)
1929 - 2.92 (1.46)
1930 - 5.91 (2.96)
1931 - 4.79 (2.40)
1932 - 4.98 (2.49)
1933 - 4.55 (2.28)
1934 - 4.82 (2.41)
1935 - 5.03 (2.52)
1936 - 4.33 (2.17)
1937 - 4.93 (2.47)
1938 - 5.06 (2.53)
1939 - 5.07 (2.54)
1940 - 4.99 (2.50)
1941 - 5.36 (2.68)
1942 - 6.23 (3.12)
1943 - 7.35 (3.68)
1944 - 8.17 (4.09)
1945 - 7.35 (3.68)
1946 - 6.32 (3.16)
1947 - 5.86 (2.93)
1948 - 5.43 (2.72)
1949 - 5.47 (2.74)
1950 - 5.42 (2.71)

From these data one can see that goal scoring from 1927 to 1942 was in a range of 2.0 to 2.7 goals per team per game - which is below even today's level. Should we therefore conclude that goaltenders and goaltending equipment back then was superior to today's? Obviously not.

However, there is an interesting development in these data. You will notice that from 1942 to 1944 goals rose dramatically to 4.09. This is even higher than than the 4.02 recorded at the 1981 peak.

Then goals dramatically dropped back down to the norm of 2.72 in 1948. So what explained this - World War II and conscription.

This resulted in many of the best players in the NHL leaving for the battlefields of Europe. When they left - leaving behind older less talented players - scoring went way up. When they returned and displaced the less talented older players scoring went back dowm to the norm of 2.7.

In effect this was the first period of talent dilution in the NHL, when the talent pool was contracted.

The second period of talent dilution in the NHL was the late 70s to 1990, when the talent pool was kept the same but the number of teams was expanded.

One other thing to point out is that during both periods of talent dilution, teams were disproportionately affected, resulting in lopsided matchups and high scoring games.

Now one could argue that expansion continued to occur in the NHL in the 1990s while scoring dropped, bringing the dilution theory into question.

However, beginning in the 1990s we saw a huge influx of talented players from Russia, eastern Europe and the US which more than offset the effects of expansion.

Therefore, if you take a long term view, today's scoring levels are the NORM - the 1942 to 1948 and the late 70s to 1990s were simply abberations brought about by talent dilution.

So what does this mean for the future. Well in the absence of further North American or European expansion - together with even more talented players being developed in Europe and the US - the average talent level in the NHL wil continue to increase (bigger, faster, stronger) leading to even lower scoring games, perhaps as low as 2.0 goals per game per team. The salary cap will also produce greater parity reducing the number of high scoring lopsided games.

The only thing that will increase scoring is to change the rules.

At 3:13 p.m., September 18, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Grerat article on what all us goalies already know: we've gotten better. Thank you for at least proving it empirically (even though we've known about this for YEARS, all with forwards, defensemen and stupid front-office people thinking it was all about the equipment)....damn you James Mirtle for putting it out in the open!!!

But all this can all be traced back to two people : Francois Allaire and Patrick Roy.

It was Allaire's study of goaltending and tweaking of the "butterfly style" of play which is the blueprint of all modern goaltenders today. Patrick Roy was of course personified Allaire's principles and used them to enourmous success. Due to Roy's success, EVERY GOALIE at EVERY LEVEL since has incorporated the butterfly style in thier mechanics. Notice James from your own data, that goals against in the NHL really started thier downward spiral after 1985; the year in which Roy entered the NHL.

What you have now done is proven how much Roy and Allaire have changed the game of modern hockey...and how that has never really being acknowledged by Bettman and company.

And here's the thing...not much can be done to stop it. What are you gonna do; prevent goalies from dropping to thier knees (like they did in the beginning)?? What a horrible game that would be. Oh, and the "make the goalies smaller" idea by trimming equipment size...waste of time...goalies are now even more mobile than ever.

One idea which I've always believed in and which would go along with your theory of increasing scoring; invert the goalpost.

The fact is goalies use the post as a tool. It's thier "best friend" as shots against the post usually come back out and don't bounce in. But, by inverting the goal post so they angle inward, pucks against post would beat the goalie clean.

On top of which (A) it would be easier to retrofit (b) would not require any rule changes (c) would not change the recordbooks since any goals scored would still be against a standard 4x6 feet (d) have forwards shoot more since now they see a definate advantage in shooting at the net, and even if you don't score simply on point blank shots (e) the new post force goalies to come out more instead of staying back in the crease, thus creating scoring opportunitites with good puck movement, especially on the powerplay.

So there you have it; change the post and you increase shooting (at least by "one shot" per game, causing the goalies to change and thus potentially increase scoring.

But we'll never see this in the NHL...it just makes too much sense. Nobody ever listens to the goalies anyway.

At 3:21 p.m., September 18, 2007, Blogger McLea said...

My not so radical solution would be to double the size of crease and implement a rule that says the goalie can't leave it. If you reduce a goaltender's ability to cut off the shooting angle you'll expose more of the net and you'll see more goals scored.

In addition, the goalie would be forced to make an actual save (ie. react to flight of the puck) rather than simply coming eight feet out of the net and have the puck hit him.

At 3:28 p.m., September 18, 2007, Blogger Chemmy said...

Coming eight feet out of the net means you're going to get beaten badly when the puck carrier continues to skate in or passes.

At 3:44 p.m., September 18, 2007, Anonymous Baroque said...

So there you have it; change the post and you increase shooting (at least by "one shot" per game, causing the goalies to change and thus potentially increase scoring.

I thought I heard that some people were actually looking at changing the shape of the post to angle pucks into the net. you didn't hear much about it because it was lumped in with the enlarged nets and nets with bowed posts that they were also experimenting with at the time.

I don't have any major problems with changing the net size, whether just making the opening higher (a great idea) or even making it wider to force goaltenders (in theory, anyway) to move side-to-side more. So many things have changed to affect the records, anyway. I mean, baseball has the dead-ball era, the lower-mound era, and the steroid era. Fans are plenty capable of modifying records or stats in their heads to compare players and teams from different time periods. It would give the math wonks another stat to calculate, too. :)

My not so radical solution would be to double the size of crease and implement a rule that says the goalie can't leave it. If you reduce a goaltender's ability to cut off the shooting angle you'll expose more of the net and you'll see more goals scored.

NOOO!!! You will deprive us all of the heart-stressing excitement of screaming at the TV as the goaltender goes wandering around like a lost puppy! :D

(Seriously, I like that idea, too.)

At 3:46 p.m., September 18, 2007, Blogger McLea said...

Coming eight feet out of the net means you're going to get beaten badly when the puck carrier continues to skate in or passes.

I'm going to assume you don't watch a lot of hockey. Reducing their ability to cut down angles would be an indirect way of making the goalies "smaller".

Watch Luongo or Kipprusoff play. 90% of their game is cutting down shooting angles. The next time you watch a game, count how many times the goaltender makes a save while outside the crease. You might be suprised.

For a more specific example, on two on ones for the Canucks, it's obvious that the responsibility of the defenceman is to first take away the pass, and second to cut off the puck carriers angle to the front of the net. This approach forces the puck carrier to shoot at a tight angle and allows Luongo to safely come out of the crease and take away the entire net. In fact, you could probably argue that the Canucks' entire defensive zone system is designed to allow Luongo to come out of the net as much as possible. This is accomplished by eliminating east-west passing lanes and preventing the opposition from attaining control of the puck in between the circles. The result is low probability shots from the point and corners that allow Luongo to freely come out of the net to cut down shooting angles.

At 3:52 p.m., September 18, 2007, Blogger McLea said...

Heck, Kipruosff is one of the best goalies in the league and I'm not even convinced he's capable of moving side to side (which largely explains why he is so brutal in shoot outs). So how does he get away with it? Because the Flames don't allow ver many east-west passes deep in the zone. When they do, Kiprusoff is way out of position and guys are shooting into empty nets. But 95% of the time these passes don't get through, so Kipper is free to come out of the net and challenge shooters.

At 4:40 p.m., September 18, 2007, Blogger Vanja said...

Heck, Kipruosff is one of the best goalies in the league and I'm not even convinced he's capable of moving side to side (which largely explains why he is so brutal in shoot outs). So how does he get away with it? Because the Flames don't allow ver many east-west passes deep in the zone. When they do, Kiprusoff is way out of position and guys are shooting into empty nets. But 95% of the time these passes don't get through, so Kipper is free to come out of the net and challenge shooters.

Ummmm... ok

First of all, Kiprusoff and Luongo are arguably two of the best 'tenders in the league today, and Lunogo plays a buttefly, and Kipper a pro-fly style. In both styles you have to have god-like lateral (side-to-side) movement, so I don't buy your argument.

Lateral movement is one of the most important things in goaltending today, and is taught to every goalie when they start in the position. It is practised daily.

So, whether you're convinced that they can move side to side, or not, doesn't really have any impact on the reality, which is that they can.

The whole Kiprusoff/shootout argument is bunk too... He sucked at shootouts for the first half of last year, but improved in the second half. However, during the entire year other teams only scored a handful of breakaway goals on him in game situations. Explain that.

At 5:50 p.m., September 18, 2007, Anonymous Keith said...

No kidding. Kipper is actually one of the best lateral moving goaltenders in the league. His shootout problems were technical. He was staying too deep in his net when the shooter came in, so he was giving up far too much of the goal. That started to change towards the end of last year.

At 6:51 p.m., September 18, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

4 x 4 hockey, all game. Opens up the lanes and the slot. Plus, crappy players would lose their jobs.

At 9:20 p.m., September 18, 2007, Anonymous Daniel Tolensky said...

Really interesting read James.. great research!

At 5:08 a.m., September 19, 2007, Anonymous Marcus, Sweden said...

My not so radical solution would be to double the size of crease and implement a rule that says the goalie can't leave it. If you reduce a goaltender's ability to cut off the shooting angle you'll expose more of the net and you'll see more goals scored.

Aty a first glance, this looks like an exellent idea. One small problem though; if the goalies aren't allowed to leave the crease they won't be able to get off the ice when the officials are signing for an upcoming penalty, to change for a forward.

And how would a team be penalized if the goalie decides to leave the crease? A 2 minute minor. Even that seems a little harsh.

Good idea, though I don't think it would work.

At 9:05 a.m., September 19, 2007, Blogger Chemmy said...

I'm going to assume you don't watch a lot of hockey. Reducing their ability to cut down angles would be an indirect way of making the goalies "smaller".

I may not watch as much hockey as some people around here, I only caught 82 Leafs games last year plus maybe 30 or so other games, but I played goal at a fairly high level my whole life.

Coming out of the net to cut down the angle works as long as you don't have to move laterally. If I come out eight feet from the net to play a shot from the left side, a pass to the right leaves the entire net empty from the perspective of a shooter on the right.

That's the tradeoff. That's the check and balance. Sure I can cut the angles down so that you have no chance of scoring from one angle, but that's why you can pass. You could also skate in and get around me if I'm out that far, since in theory a skater going forwards should be faster than a goalie backwards.

I'm going to assume you don't play much hockey and just watch it on the television.

At 10:22 a.m., September 19, 2007, Blogger mike said...

Great piece of analysis, James. Really well done, and open-minded and fair.

With that said, I vote for the mask/helmet issue as a big reason for better goalie play. Goalies are fearless and well-protected, so much so that even a guy like Glenn Hall might play now without his customary pregame bout of vomiting. Coaching has improved too.

The expansion issue does get blown up a little bit too much. Seeing games from the 1970s on tape does not make that era look good compared to the speed of today's games, and workout regimens keep even marginal players in much better physical condition than in years past.

At 11:29 a.m., September 19, 2007, Blogger Chemmy said...

mike: That's an interesting point noone picked up on. You talked about training keeping marginal players fit, but going back to the masks thing, most goalies didn't practice terribly much before masks since it didn't make sense for them to take a puck to the face in practice.

Now goalies get tons and tons of shots, I'd love to see a comparison of how many more pucks the average NHL goalie sees in practice now vs. 1955.

At 1:35 p.m., September 19, 2007, Blogger Stan the Caddy said...

Great discussion here. I think I'm inclined to agree with the mask theory. Goalies are just really good nowadays. It's unfortunate most of them play a boring style (lacking almost any reactionary abilities) but let me tell you, I have watched some FANTASTIC 1-0 hockey games.

If only the NHL brass were smart enough to seek out the cause of low scoring rather than deciding to call 20 penalties a game to try and fix the problem. "Hey, what are we going to do with this big pile of trash? I know, lets put even more, stinkier trash on top... And lets put a new Reebok Jersey over it." When will they learn that PowerPlays are BORING.

The fact is, I don't get excited by numbers. I don't jump out of my seat when the score is 8-2. I like fast, competitive, hard-hitting hockey, if the score is 1-0 or 5-4, why should I care, if I was on the edge of my seat the whole time?


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