2013 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Five

Hey, have you heard about Corey Crawford’s glove hand?

I hear it stinks. Repulsive. Benefits the Bruins shooters.

Come to think of it, Crawford himself is an atrocious goaltender. Probably the worst to play in a Stanley Cup Final since Roberto Luongo. Did you watch Game 4? Bruce Garrioch did. Obviously he showed off to Steve Yzerman and the Team Canada brass that he doesn’t have what it takes to play under pressure, and it all starts with that glove hand.

NBC got the memo, of course. Check out the graphic they put together during Game 5. Zdeno Chara’s goal in the fifth game of the series? Yet ANOTHER glove side goal. Can’t put anything past NBC, who flashed the graphic, and will presumably update it for Game 6. That’s NINE glove side goals allowed in this series. Can you believe it?

Actually…

Part of me wonders that the influx of media coming from non-hockey circles to cover the finals really stagnates any sort of good analysis that can escape media scrums with 50 reporters listening to the same clichéd quote. From a statistical perspective, the playoffs are pretty much a write-off. By the time a team has played enough games in a sample to accurately judge, them and their opponents are too banged up to properly evaluate.

A tremendous amount of analysis is made on four to seven hockey games that are not normal hockey games. So much had to go right for both Chicago and Boston to even get to where they are.

A lot of what has gone right for both the Blackhawks and the Bruins is that they have gotten spectacular goaltending. Yes, even Corey Crawford, a goaltender that the hockey world has deemed an unathletic mess with big pads and a good glove hand, has played an exceptional playoffs. Remember when Chicago wound up a sixth seed last season and got booted in the first round? They were backstopped by a different-looking goaltender than the one that pulled Chicago to within a single goal of a 0-3 series comeback against Vancouver.

In Crawford’s rookie season he posted a .924 even strength save rate, which was 16th among NHL starters. Not great, but definitely serviceable and a good way to replace the departed Antti Niemi. In the playoffs? He had a .936 even strength save percentage in a losing effort and posted a quality start in 5 of the series’ 7 games.

The next season, some sophomore slump-slash-regression to the mean kicked in and Crawford’s numbers took a hit. He had a .915 even strength save rate, 25th among NHL starters, and was worse in the playoffs allowing two real awful OT goals. The keeper that showed so much promise in 2011 turned out to be a dud, and, I guess lost the confidence of analysts nationwide.

But is Chicago the same team without Crawford this season? They were an excellent puck-possession team, but in 28 starts, Crawford managed a .934 even strength save rate which was 5th among starters behind just Sergei Bobrovsky, Tuukka Rask, Henrik Lundqvist and Jimmy Howard (my criteria for starters is more than half of the team’s starts, so 25 this year, and 42 in a normal season). In the playoffs, prior to Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals, he had rattled off 11 consecutive quality starts before needing to be bailed out by his team.

Luckily, he plays for a pretty good team, but there’s an argument to be made that the Blackhawks wouldn’t have made it this far without Crawford playing the way he is. No matter how good a team is, you still need a hot goaltender to take you through a couple of playoff rounds. Plenty of good teams have fallen on the goaltending sword in the postseason. This year claimed the Montreal Canadiens.

Now, if you refer back to the graphic linked above, the main thing to note is that, like most things that become a talked about storyline in hockey, it is completely devoid of context. I’m sure there’s a fantasy that exists wherein goaltenders are stationary objects flapping appendages at flying pucks, but the position is much more technical than that. Even if you tried to go through video counting out the number of shots a goaltender faced directed at a certain aspect of the net, you wouldn’t make it past the first five minutes before the number of “uncategorized” shots would overwhelm your notebook.

If Crawford has allowed nine goals over his glove hand, you still need to know how many shots have been taken where his glove would have been in a position to stop it. There was an excellent chance in Game 5 (I forget who took the shot) but Crawford made himself big and let a puck hit him in the left shoulder and fell to the ice where Crawford instantly covered it. Perhaps a “better” goaltender makes the save with his glove, but Crawford uses his size as an advantage. The only thing that matters is that the goaltender makes the save, and Crawford has made a lot of them over this season.

You can make it a drinking game, listening to a Hockey Night broadcast and taking a shot every single time that Glenn Healy further saturates an annoying point that wasn’t good in the first place. Goaltending isn’t about being good at specific fundamentals, it’s about being good at specific fundamentals that result in making a lot of saves. But maybe you can skip the fundamentals part. Goaltending is about making the most saves.

Crawford’s glove hand is a known weakness, yet the Bruins don’t seem to be targeting it. If they did, wouldn’t they score goals on a higher rate of shots? Crawford’s save percentage is .926 in the Stanley Cup Final, which would be good for 4th in the NHL if it were spaced over the course of a long regular season.

Lots of goaltenders are beaten glove side, just like lots of goaltenders are beaten blocker side. Generally speaking, goaltenders will be beaten in the open parts of the net where there is no equipment. If you judge goaltenders based on which one makes the most highlight-reel saves, you’re going to lose track of a lot of goaltenders that play well positionally and knock down pucks with their chest. I’m no expert on the position, but a save by either a glove or a blocker or a stick is just as valuable, no matter from where the shot is coming on the ice.

Next, we can get into whether Zdeno Chara has mutated into a terrible defenceman or not.

Stats via NHL.com