Over a short span, goaltending can be a cruel or wonderful thing. Average to below average goaltenders can put up truly remarkable performances (just ask the NHL's best-ever goaltender over a five game stretch, Brian Boucher) while remarkable goaltenders can put up average to well below average numbers over a couple of weeks of playing time.
As a rule, the peaks and valleys of goaltending performance don't matter a whole lot. Ryan Miller, for example, isn't going to lose his starting job in January if he puts together five bad games; it might be noticed, but against the context of the work of several months and a strong career, it won't change anybody's opinion on the order of things.
There are exceptions to that basic rule of peaks and valleys not mattering much. Minor league callups need to impress immediately, as do goaltenders that the team is taking a chance on. To cite one of several examples, Martin Brochu got his first NHL job out of training camp with Vancouver in 2001-02; he went 0-3 with an .856 SV% to start the season and it drove a stake through what had been a pretty decent minor league career. The playoffs are another great exampleMarty Turco was a playoff flop for a few years, and then more recently a playoff hero, based on some pretty short stretches of opportunity.
The other case where a few games get put under the microscope is when they happen out of the gate. If a goalie has question marks entering the seasonage, injury, uncertain past performance, or a strong backup goaltenderthose games can matter a lot. With that in mind, Hockey Prospectus is proud to present the Less Than Magnificent Sevena septet of goaltenders off to very sluggish starts in 2011-12.
Player: Alex Auld
Team: Ottawa Senators
Stats Line: 3 GP, 0-3-0, .830 SV%
Alex Auld, slated to be the backup in Ottawa, has been pressed into service based on the struggles of starter Craig Andersonmore on him in a moment. Unfortunately, he really hasn't been up to the jobbut given that he's played just five periods over those three games and faced less than 50 shots, it's almost certainly a sample size issue. Auld is still relatively young (he'll turn 31 this year) and has been a serviceable backup over more than 200 NHL games.
Player: Jaroslav Halak
Team: St. Louis Blues
Stats Line: 5 GP, 1-4-0, .835 SV%
It's been a rough start for Jaroslav Halak, who has yet to face 25 shots in a game and has yet to have a solid outing this season. Halak hasn't exactly lived up to expectations in St. Louishis .910 SV% last year was okay, but nothing morebut his job should be secure. Backup Brian Elliott has performed very well in his two starts, but doesn't have the kind of career necessary to unseat Halak for long.
Player: Dwayne Roloson
Team: Tampa Bay Lightning
Stats Line: 4 GP, 1-2-1, .858 SV%
Dwayne Roloson could be in some trouble. Tampa Bay is blessed with rational decision makers in Guy Boucher and Steve Yzerman, but all the other indicators are there: the Lightning are expected to be a playoff team, Roloson is old, and there are legitimate concerns about whether or not he's done, and backup Mathieu Garon has played well, has a decent track record, and has stolen Roloson's job previously. Given Roloson's performance in recent years, it would be truly shocking if he really was this bad, but the Lightning may not have the luxury of letting him play his way out.
Player: Craig Anderson
Team: Ottawa Senators
Stats Line: 6 GP, 2-2-0, .876 SV%
Craig Anderson was acquired from Colorado last season and after a nice run to close out the year was promptly signed to a long-term, big money deal. Despite his poor performance so far, he'll be allowed to play his way out: the Senators have a ton invested in him, nobody expected the club to contend this year, backup Alex Auld is one of the few goalies with worse numbers early on, and his career numbers are good.
Player: Roberto Luongo
Team: Vancouver Canucks
Stats Line: 5 GP, 2-2-1, .877 SV%
Roberto Luongo's in a bit of a tough spot. A superb goaltender for the majority of his careerit isn't a stretch to call him one of the very best in the gamehe has one big problem: his reputation as a guy who can't win when it matters the most. That reputation means that he has his share of detractors, even among the Vancouver fanbase, and he's also backstopped by one of the most promising young goaltenders in the league in Cory Schneider. With all of that said, Vancouver will do the sane thing and let one of their most important players get out of his rut.
Player: Steve Mason
Team: Columbus Blue Jackets
Stats Line: 7 GP, 0-6-1, .881 SV%
Steve Mason should be thanking his lucky stars for the spate of injuries afflicting the Blue Jackets; it's the only reason he's still starting games. After impressing as a rookie (more on that here), Mason has suffered through some bad years and entered 2011-12 on thin ice. His early struggles likely would have been the final nail in the coffin when it came to the starting gigparticularly given the pressure on the Blue Jackets to make the playoffsbut injuries have robbed Columbus of both their second- and third-string goaltenders. Even so, given the situation, a trade to shore up the position is not out of the question.
Player: Ondrej Pavelec
Team: Winnipeg Jets
Stats Line: 5 GP, 1-3-1, .881 SV%
24-year-old Ondrej Pavelec has been just one of many struggling Jets. A strong career to date, a backup coming off a bad season (and who, for that matter, hasn't been any better), and a lack of expectations for the Jets should make Pavelec one of the safer players on this list.
Jonathan Willis is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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