Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Goaltending. Seriously, what the hell?

Another year come and gone, same goalie questions. Neither of our goalies have legitimate starter numbers. Both are maddeningly inconsistent. We have our “goalie of the future” in the system. Meanwhile, our best paid goalie, usually a benchwarmer, puts up stellar numbers in the playoffs and all of a sudden the fanbase is rabid with cries of “Leclaire for life!” and “Worth every penny!”, while collectively shunning Elliott.

I’m a Leclaire fan, so this isn’t exactly fun for me to write, although it’s so ridiculously obvious to most that follow the Sens. Leclaire isn’t the answer. When he’s on, he puts up Hasek-esque numbers. When he’s off, think Lalime in the playoffs. Unfortunately, he’s off more than on. His numbers aren’t exactly confidence-inspiring either. 34 games, 12 wins, 16 losses, two of which were in OT or shootout. 0.887 save percentage, 3.20 GAA. Definitely not starter numbers, and although his 0.920 save percentage and 2.84 GAA in the playoffs is more encouraging, it’s just not enough to say he deserves the larger chunk of time in nets.

Take Elliott, now. Polar opposite of Leclaire. Lights out in the season, especially during that 11-game streak. Streaky down the stretch, invisible in the playoffs. His numbers in the season are decidedly better than Leclaire’s in the season: 55 games, 29 wins, 22 losses, 4 of which came in OT or SO, .909 save percentage, 2.57 GAA. Those numbers are somewhat similar to Leclaire’s playoff numbers, but Elliott’s playoff .853 save percentage and 4.14 GAA are a lot closer to Leclaire’s season numbers, which are the kind of numbers you just can’t win regularly with, especially not in the playoffs. Both goaltenders had win-loss records of 1-2, but those numbers are misleading. One of Leclaire’s losses should be attributed to Elliott, since the team really only woke up once Ells was pulled after allowing 4 goals on 19 shots.

What of our goalie of the future, Robin Lehner? Past goalies of the future range from disastrous (Mathieu Chouinard, a two-time Sens draft pick who only ever started one game in the NHL with the Ducks), to adequate (Jani Hurme was a solid, if unspectacular backup) to pretty good (Ray Emery…say what you want about his attitude, but he could stop a puck). The jury’s still out on past goalie of the future and current goalie of the present, Brian Elliott. Sens fans beating themselves up over our less than stellar goaltending point to Lehner as a bright spot. I’d love to believe that he’ll become the next incarnation of Patrick Roy and steal games left, right and center. But I’m a cynical person. I’ve heard of enough Matt Chouinards, Jim Careys, Justin Pogges, Al Montoyas and Rick DiPietros to know better. I think it’s more likely that Lehner turns into a serviceable goalie, like any number of goalies that have come through our system. I just don’t see him being the long-term answer.

As a general rule, the players who are paid the highest are also given more opportunity to succeed, so it’s a fair bet that Leclaire will initially be appointed starter next season. If he can stay healthy, great for him, and I look forward to a productive season from him. If not, Elliott can hold down the fort, but I wouldn’t expect a finish any better than the one we got this year. At this point, there’s really only three options for a bright future at goaltender, and only the last one has the possibility of happening this year: pick up another via trade or free agency; hope that Lehner is the secret lovechild of Brodeur and Roy; or pray to the almighty hockey Gods that Elliott and Leclaire put up decent numbers this year.

1 comment:

  1. Lehner is apparently more special than anything we've seen so I'm actually excited for him.

    As for Leclaire, I still think he can put up great numbers if he's given the opportunity Elliott got. Leclaire's problems are his injuries not talent. Elliott is overrated imo, if it was up to me I'd like to see Leclaire #1 and Lehner backing him up but it's safe to say Lehner needs some AHL time. Great read