It’s a popular theory, particularly in places where once franchise-calibre goaltenders have had a rough year or two. I’ve never really subscribed to that theory myself, but I don’t have any special reason other than gut instinct for my feelings on the matter. With that in mind, I thought I’d devise a test.
Since the lockout, on 31 occasions goaltenders have played more than 65 games in a single season. Thanks to the magic of Yahoo!’s split stats, we can compare their monthly averages, which I’ll do here. The first row is this group of goaltender’s performance for the entire season, while the last row is their performance over March and April.
- Season: 71GP – 37W – 25L – 7OTL, 2.57 GAA, .911 SV%
- March/April: 16GP – 9W – 5L – 2OTL, 2.56 GAA, .912 SV%
Unsurprisingly, there’s virtually no change. This group of goaltenders over the final stretch of the season saw slight increases in winning %, goals against average and save percentage, but those increases were almost negligible.
In other words: heavily worked goaltenders generally make saves at exactly the same rate to close out a season as they did at the beginning of the season; fatigue seems to be a non-issue, on average. Obviously there are going to be exceptions – particularly, I would suggest, when players are dealing with injuries and aren’t at 100%. It’s also possible that there are goaltenders out there who perform either better or worse under a heavy workload; each goalie’s a unique player, after all, and I doubt there’s a “one size fits all” coaching strategy for them. But the goaltenders who perform worse seem to be in almost perfect balance with the goaltenders who perform better, and I’d suggest that most teams gain very little by resting their starter – in fact, they probably lose out, since their backup goaltender is almost certainly not the same calibre player as their starter.