Making the decision to pull your goalkeeper. #2013WJC #Moneypuck.

27 Dec

As I was tweeting about the USA vs. Germany World Junior Championship games earlier, I incorrectly tweeted that John Gibson was the netminder for the complete game shutout today.  After going over the stat sheets, Phil Housley made the decision to put in Jon Gilles for the final period of play.  Gibson played well, saving 19 of 19 shots in 40 minutes of action.  However, how will missing the final 20 minutes of play affect Gibson in future games?

Being an NFL fan, when teams make the playoffs with regular season games remaining, teams often don’t play some of their starters in order to let the player rest or to prevent injury.  I can think of two instances, Manning with the Colts and Brady with the Patriots, where both were rested after strong regular seasons and they came up short in the playoffs.  Football is played once a week though, maybe twice, so a layoff could lead to three weeks or more without being on the field.  Here, we are talking about missing 1/3 of a game and then playing again the next day.  Maybe the turnaround will keep players fresh…maybe not….

I thought about this issue after watching the Olympic prequalification in Budapest this year.  Team Hungary and Team Holland massacred Team Lithuania and Team Croatia in their first two games.  Hungary pulled their starting keeper because of big leads in both of the games; the Netherlands pulled their keeper part way through the Croatia matchup.  The result: a 7-6 finale between the two teams where each netminder was torched by the other teams.

So, I realize that there isn’t a lot of statistical evidence that the reason for the higher scoring output was because of goalies being rested.  Scores of international games tend to be a little higher then we are used to in professional leagues.  This could be because of a lack of defense, more open play as we see during all-star games – there are many reasons why the keepers let in more goals than usual.

First though, let’s take a step back and look at why starting keepers are pulled.  In order of occurrence (guessing), I would say the following are the reasons:

  1. One team has a slight lead over the other and there is less than 2 minutes left.  Keeper pulled for the extra skater;
  2. Injury replacement;
  3. Bad play…hoping the change creates a spark or saves the keeper from further embarrassment/psychological issues (gun shy);
  4. Lead is so high, that starter is pulled to provide rest and/or prevent injury.

This list could be wrong, but I would say reason 4 is definitely the last reason a keeper is pulled.  I think this odd reason that could lead to some problems.  Keepers may not be as sharp the next game because they didn’t play an entire 60 minutes and probably weren’t tested much during the limited minutes they played.  Goalies tend to be pretty superstitious…being pulled for an uncommon reason could mess up their mojo.

Now let’s predict the future instead of playing “I told you so down the road”.  Only two goalies have been pulled so far in the tournament.  Latvia pulled their keeper against Switzerland today after falling behind 5 to 2 after two periods.  This was after a loss the previous day with the same keeper playing a full game.  Saturday’s starter and subsequent play against Sweden Saturday could be telling.  The guess should be that if the same keeper starts, he would play no worse or else pulling them didn’t do any good.  If the a different keeper starts, then the guess would be he is outplaying his counterpart.

The U.S. pulled their keeper after going up 6-0 over Germany.  Gibson’s first major test will be tomorrow.  Russia was well contested by Slovakia, pulling off an overtime victory with 10 seconds remaining.  Valsilevski saved 32 of 34 shots in nearly 65 minutes of play.  Gibson for the U.S. saved 19 shots in 40 minutes of play.  Shawn Reznik from TheHockeyWriters.com calls Valsilevski the tourney’s “Best Goalie“.  The U.S. has the groups only shutout in two days.

Tomorrow will be interesting …with a strong offensive and defensive outing by the U.S. and a understated showing by the Russians, if Gibson let’s in a few soft goals, it will make us wonder a bit about Housley’s decision to not let Gibson see the final 7 shots.

 

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