Prior to the Olympic men’s hockey tournament, most analysts pointed out that all of the major contenders had strong goaltenders on their team. This suggested that goaltending would not be a major factor at the Olympics. For the most part, this turned out to be correct, although as always in short tournaments the masked men sometimes played the role of the hero and sometimes the role of the goat.
During the Olympics, the team that took more shots on goal won 23 out of 28 games (two games had an even shot total). Of the five exceptions, two of them were fairly even in terms of play (Russia vs. Slovakia, a game that went to a shootout, and Czech Republic vs. Slovakia, where the shot total was even before the Czechs sat on their 2-1 lead for the entire third period). That leaves three games that were decided primarily by a difference in goaltending: Germany-Belarus, Canada-United States v1.0, and Sweden-Slovakia. We can count the U.S.-Finland semifinal as well, a game where the shots ended up even but where the United States jumped out to a 6-0 first period lead in large part because of weak Finnish goaltending.
That’s not to say that goalies made no difference in any of the other games. It just so happened that some of the best goaltending came in losing efforts. Jonas Hiller of Switzerland, for example, was outstanding against both Canada and the United States, but his team narrowly lost both times.
Some of the most memorable goalie performances came in the surprisingly exciting qualification playoff round, where a trio of unheralded goalies almost led their teams to major upsets. Pal Grotnes of Norway stopped 36 of 40 shots, and if not for Ole Kristian Tollefsen’s major penalty and Slovakia’s deadly power play the Norwegians probably would have beaten the eventual 4th place finishers. Andrei Mezin made 40 saves on 43 shots as Belarus forced Switzerland into a shootout before finally capitulating. Perhaps most surprising of all was the play of Edgars Masalskis, a journeyman goalie who has bounced around Europe in the last few seasons before landing at Dynamo Riga of the KHL. Coming into the Czech game, Masalskis had a GAA of 6.00 and a save percentage of .850 in the Olympics, yet he stopped 47 out of 50 shots as Latvia erased a 2-0 lead and pushed the game into overtime before David Krejci ended it.
Masalskis is a reminder of the variability of goaltending performance. Even poor goalies can have some days when they are world-beaters against elite opposition. The flip side of that is that elite goalies can have off-days. The poster boy for that was probably Russia’s Evgeni Nabokov, a netminder who is having an excellent season in the NHL. In Vancouver, Nabokov struggled through the first few games, before things went completely downhill in his team’s quarterfinal blowout loss to Canada. Miikka Kiprusoff also had a nightmarish game in the semifinal, while Martin Brodeur lost his starting job and Henrik Lundqvist was beaten 4 times on 13 shots in an upset loss to Slovakia.
For the most part, however, the goaltending was very good. In all games between any two of the eight teams that made the quarterfinals (Canada, USA, Finland, Slovakia, Sweden, Russia, Czech Republic, and Switzerland), the average save percentage was .918. That mark is significantly higher than the NHL average save percentage of .912. Even facing off against the best shooters in the world the top goaltenders for the most part showed off their quality.
Roberto Luongo was the eventual gold medal winning goalie, having relieved Martin Brodeur after the preliminary round. Luongo was not dominant in any of his starts, but he gave Canada the solid goaltending they needed. Luongo’s highlight of the tournament was his glove save on Vancouver teammate Pavol Demitra in the dying seconds of Canada’s semifinal game against Slovakia.
Other goalies who stood out were Tomas Vokoun of the Czech Republic, Jonas Hiller of Switzerland and Jaro Halak of Slovakia. However, nobody could touch the USA’s Ryan Miller. Miller led all goalies with a .946 save percentage and played a vital role in the United States’ surprising run all the way to overtime of the gold medal final. Miller would probably like another crack at Sidney Crosby’s game-winning goal, as he got caught looking for the pokecheck, but was still deservedly named the MVP and best goalie of the tournament.
Goalie Team GAA Save % Shots per 60 Minutes
Ryan Miller USA 1.35 .946 24.8
Ilya Bryzgalov RUS 1.78 .942 30.9
Tomas Vokoun CZE 1.78 .936 27.7
Henrik Lundqvist SWE 1.34 .927 18.4
Roberto Luongo CAN 1.76 .927 24.0
Jonas Hiller SUI 2.47 .918 30.2
Andrei Mezin BLR 3.23 .914 37.4
Jaroslav Halak SVK 2.41 .911 27.0
Vitali Koval BLR 4.00 .906 42.5
Miikka Kiprusoff FIN 2.64 .894 25.0
Edgars Masalskis LAT 5.15 .877 41.7
Pal Grotnes NOR 5.04 .873 39.6
Evgeni Nabokov RUS 4.16 .853 28.3
Thomas Greiss GER 5.03 .815 27.2
*The rest of the results to the chart above can be found here.
Philip Myrland is an author of Puck Prospectus and runs the statistical hockey website Brodeur Is A Fraud. You can contact him at BrodeurIsAFraud@Inbox.com.
Philip Myrland is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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