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.

Comments (10)

  1. I’d be interested to see who the above netminders played in the playoffs as compared to their regular season numbers. Small sample size, of course, but should provide even more insight.

  2. Richard:

    I thought about running that too, but there’s a couple of problems:

    a) scoring generally dips in the playoffs
    b) competition imbalance is much higher – if a goalie gets stuck playing a powerhouse, he can be great and still see his numbers torched, or if he ends up playing the 8th seed on a powerhouse he can be lousy and still put up nice numbers

  3. Still even with those facts when you look at Brodeur and Kippersouff during the playoffs. You have to wonder if there is really something to this. There were a couple of times last season that Kipper looked very drained especially when he got frustrated and pulled. I certainly think that most typical goaltenders can’t work the 70 plus games they do.

    You can make up your own minds about this. And no matter what numbers you throw at them they’ll still say there is something to playing so many games during the season. When you look at the six canadian teams you’ll have four relying a lot on there back up and two that won’t be. The Senators, Leafs, Habs, and Oilers back ups will probably all get 20+ games this year for different reasons. Compared to the probably 3-6 games that Mclinney and Scheinder/Raycroft will get.

    I also think you need a reliable guy that can still win on a nightly basis. Should the disasterous happen and the starter goes down. It’s scary to think what would happen to the Flames if Kipper went down. As Mclinney has won only one game in his entire career and it meant nothing. The Canucks have already shown there not near as good with Luongo struggling fairly well when he was injured this past season. So even then giving your starter a lighter workload can still be a good thing cause then. His chances of getting injured are less likely. And you know your back up can come in and play if something does happen.

  4. Devon:

    When Brodeur went to the finals in back-to-back years, he played 72 games both times in the regular season. Nobody was complaining about fatigue then.

    As for Kiprusoff, I don’t think the Flames would be in nearly as much trouble as most people think. After looking like a franchise ‘tender for a few years he’s fallen off in a big way; he’s had .906 and .903 SV% in the last two years and has looked like crap.

    Probably the most overrated goaltender in the NHL if he doesn’t regain his form of three or four years ago.

  5. Hi JW. Interesting study despite the sample size. As a young guy I played Jr. goal. At that time we, (and the NHL and others) all had only one goalie. The NHL played 50,later 60, then 72 games. For many years only one guy played. Having relief seems to be a positive thing especially after a certain (arbitrary) number of games. I’m guessing any #1 goalie wants ,or has, to play whatever number suits him, and then would relish a few breaks even if only to relieve the Mental stress. I found your story well-researched with a proper conclusion.

  6. Jayare:


    Obviously these guys can’t play all 82 games, but 65-70 certainly seems to be within reach of the best goalies in the league.

    I sort of went into this with the mental picture of Dwayne Roloson last season – MacTavish rode him down the stretch, so much so that Roloson wasn’t expected to show up for practice, and he seemed to get better the more he played.

  7. Okay Brodeur was a horrible example I’ll admit that. And I’ll definetly agree with Kipprusoff, being overated by flames fans. I think he played what like maybe 50 some games including the playoffs during there run to the cup finals? Plus the guy is getting much older. While some people are trying to pass off with that new defense he’ll look much better. I don’t buy it. I don’t think shots on goal were or has been the problem. I think many people have overated him due to one fantastic since then. He’s been an average middle of the pack goalie or one of the worst starter stats wise in the league.

  8. Very interesting stuff, thanks for sharing… the only thing that I wonder about in your analysis is that the March & April data could be skewed since that’s a time where teams are either tanking or really clamping down defensively. It’s probably a wash in the end but something that makes us go… hmmmm.

    Keep it coming.

  9. [...] in three of four years and a sharp drop off in one of four years.  This fits well with the overall NHL trend, which sees goaltenders who play heavy minutes get modestly better on average late in the [...]

  10. [...] at the start of last season , looking at all goaltenders to play 65+ games post-lockout.  The full post is here, but what I found was remarkable: there was no drop-off in performance late in the season (in fact, [...]

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