Why NHL Goalies Are Dominating The Olympics
Thursday night’s instant classic between Switzerland and Canada was a perfect example. Jonas Hiller faced 18 shots in the third period alone and stopped them all, including the glove save of the tournament on Ryan Getzlaf, which earned his team a much-needed and unexpected point in the standings. To millions of hockey fans this was a shock, as nobody expected him to put up much of a fight.
Despite being out-played by Hiller, the venerable Martin Brodeur laughed last. He shut down Martin Pluss and Switzerland in the shootout and helped Team Canada escape with a 3-2 overtime victory. So no matter which way the story is told, both Hiller and Brodeur will be considered heroes for their respective country. It was a memorable, adrenaline-pumping goaltending battle that will go down in history as one of the most exciting preliminary games in the last three or four Winter Olympics.
You can take the NHL goaltending dominance one step further by looking at the stats through Friday night. Every NHL goalie has a GAA at 2.0 or below, except for Hiller, who obviously has still been one of the strongest so far. Every NHL goalie also currently holds a save percentage of 90% or above. Only Jonas Gustavsson has a slightly lower save percentage at 89.5% (17-19) and even Thomas Greiss, who is considered to be on a Tier-II Germany team, has a 92.0 save percentage.
So what’s the source of NHL goalies being so successful in this Olympic tournament so far? Why is it so much more noticeable than in the 2006 Olympics in Torino? It’s not due to a lack of offensive talent or power play opportunities, that’s for sure. Although there’s no simple or specific answer to this question, partly because we are still just three days into action, there’s a certain area of the ice you should really keep an eye on if you’re a real fan of the goaltending.
The Importance of Goal Crease
That space would be the goalie’s domain – the blue crease. Ah yes, the non-truncated full semi-circle crease is back, just like the good ol’ days before the lockout. The NHL now uses what is called a truncated crease, but the IIHF uses a full semi-circle. On the surface, this change may seem strictly aesthetic or visual. But it has actually been playing a big role in the ability for the NHL goaltenders to execute their game with more ease. Allow me to break it down for you real quick.
This season in the NHL, there has been more traffic in front of a goalie, bodies crashing into the net and just about anything else imaginable when it comes to crowding a goaltender than ever before. Not only does this make it more difficult for a goalie to track the puck, it’s harder for them to execute their butterfly, slide or push laterally, corral loose pucks and control rebounds. The NHL’s truncated crease also allows skaters to stand directly to the left or right of a goaltender with their stick blades in shooting lanes, which increases the chance of shots from the high slot or just inside the blue line to be re-directed past a goalie.
But in this Olympics, that dynamic has swung severely back in the goaltender’s favor. A full semi-circle not only adds and increases more surface area for the goaltender to execute their game without hindrance, but with a full semi-circle crease, players cannot stand in that truncated area to try and re-direct pucks or screen the goaltender.
And there you have it; more blue surface area equals more time and space for NHL goaltenders to execute their game and the result has come to fruition in their statistics and performances. It may not be the only reason why NHL goalies are dominating, but it certainly helps. During the next Olympics game you watch, keep an eye on this dynamic and you’ll surely notice the difference compared to that of an NHL game!
This article was contributed to NHL Digest by Justin Goldman, a goalie scout for McKeen’s and the founder of The Goalie Guild. You can find plenty of insight and analysis on goaltending in the Olympics by checking out his Olympic Goaltending Notebook and scouting reports!