Thursday, December 1, 2011

Bears Goaltending Woes

The Bears have 3 games in 3 nights in 3 cities this weekend.  They start off the weekend tomorrow night in Syracuse, return home for a Saturday tilt against Portland, before finishing the weekend in Bridgeport at 3:00pm.

While injuries, recalls, and departures have surely had an affect on the Bears this season the biggest storyline has been the goaltending.  Back in the summer I figured that goaltending would be a question mark for the Bears this season...come playoff time, NOT the regular season.

But here we are, a quarter of the way through the season and the goalies have the current numbers:

Braden Holtby -
5-5-1 | 2.71 gaa | .889 save %

Dany Sabourin -
4-4-1 | 3.21 gaa | .897 save %

Just to clarify how odd those numbers are...consider their career numbers (entering this season):

Holtby -
42-18-4 | 2.30 gaa | .918 save %

Sabourin -
78-57-6 | 2.53 gaa | .915 save %

Even last years numbers could be looked at:

Holtby -
17-10-2 | 2.29 gaa | .920 save %

Sabourin -
14-9-0 | 2.45 gaa | .908 save %

So what seems to be troubling the goaltenders this season? 

Last week I had the notion that maybe splitting time evenly between the two was causing some problems.  The general opinion about goaltenders is the more work they get, the better they are.  Since Coach French has decided to alternate games with the goalies this year, neither can truly get in a rhythm and stand out.

So I looked at last years stats...comparing the times when each goalie was the undisputed #1 and a stretch where they alternated just about every game.  (I count any 3 game stretch as undisputed #1 territory).

As the #1 goalie:

Holtby -
7-3-1 | 2.95 gaa | .904 save %

Sabourin -
7-4-0 | 2.57 gaa | .914 save %

Solid win-loss record but average to below average measurables. 

Now, splitting the opportunities (happened from the end of November through January...some times the guys got 2-3 straight but both were healthy and mostly split games evenly):

Holtby -
6-5-1 | 1.80 gaa | .937 save %

Sabourin -
7-3-0 | 2.30 gaa | .912 save %

Pretty similar win-loss record, but a significant improvement in the measurables.

So, apparently that theory is toast.  These goalies play better when they are alternating then when they are given the #1 role to themselves. 

So, any other theories?

How about this one since it seems to come up from time to time.  Holtby is pissed about being in Hershey after he played so well for the Caps last season. 

Possibly, but I am not convinced.  Last season he had 3 or 4 separate callups that resulted in playing time.  2 of them were extended (3 or more games played) and one of those came in November 2010.  He played fine after that...1.80 gaa and .937 save percentage in the 2 months after he returned.

The talk intensified after his callups in March when he went 6-0-0 with a 1.03 gaa and a .962 save percentage for the Caps.  But even after that he was solid after his return from that in April, until the playoffs of course.

No, the defining mark for Braden seems to be February 1, 2011.  Remember that he injured himself shortly before the All-Star break at the end of January and missed some time after it...

From the start of the 2010-11 season until 2/1/11 -
12-5-2 | 1.76 gaa | .938 save %

From 2/1/11 until now (including playoffs) -
12-14-1 | 3.03 gaa | .888 save %

Now that doesn't speak to everything as he was pretty good for the Capitals in March of last year as I mentioned above.

So, is it possible that Braden is still suffering some effects of the injury that held him out then?  I would say it is possible.  He didn't play in the All-Star event and only played 3 games from 2/1/11 - 3/7/11.  And that just happens to be his worst extended stretch of recent memory...he won 2 of the games but offered up a paltry 3.57 gaa and a .876 save percentage.

Sure, he rebounded with the Caps for a short while but he came crashing back to earth for the Bears after that.

It has been about 10 months since the injury so I won't put too much faith in that theory but it isn't out of the question.

But that doesn't help explain Sabourin's rough start...oh wait...yes it does.  Remember that around the same time (mid-January) Sabourin had his ligaments torn up thanks to pest Louis Robitaille taking him out in a game.  He had reconstructive surgery and missed the rest of the season and a good chunk of his off-season as well.

And remember that many athletes who have serious knee injuries can take a year or two to completely recover physically and MENTALLY from that type of injury.  Playing goalie is already hard on the there any possibility that it is affecting his game right now...I think so.

So, both goalies suffered injuries last January (I don't think Holtby's was never confirmed but I believe it was a knee as well) and both have played questionable since then.  Hmmm.....

But what about one more theory...that the Hershey defense hasn't quite been up to par lately.

I think the numbers do kind of support that.  And I can assure you that watching some of the games this season supports that.

This season is a bit more easy to understand.  Recently all Bears teams have had a somewhat slow, positionally sound, veteran presence on the blueline.  For years it was Dean Arsene, then it was Bryan Helmer and Greg Amadio.  Last season it was Lawrence Nycholat and Brian Fahey. 

Except you know what happened around the end of January of 2011?  Nycholat went out with an injury and only played one more game (in the playoffs) the rest of the season.

More than likely the ailment currently hindering the Bears goaltenders is a compilation of the above items and possibly others.  I don't think the questionable defense can be overstated and the injuries from last season seem to fit the timeline of good/bad play.  But in the end only one thing is certain...something is wrong and it needs fixed.

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