There are two schools of thought with respect to Devan Dubnyk at the moment. The first is pretty simple: Something Is Horribly Wrong. This school of thought has variants – some think Dubnyk has never been a good goalie (for our purposes, “good” means “good” in the sense of being a league average starter), some think he’s a good goalie who is broken at the moment but can be repaired, some think he was a a good goalie who was destroyed by the change in the equipment rules this year. The other school of thought is that this is just the sort of thing that all goalies go through from time to time and that it tends to resolve itself as mysteriously as it appeared – there’s probably not a lot of difference between adherents to this line of thought and adherents of the Something Is Horribly Wrong That Can Be Repaired line of thought, but the former tend to be a lot calmer while the latter are shouting a fair bit.
If you’ve read very much that I’ve written about goalies over the years, you won’t be surprised to learn that I fall into the second school. I’ve talked about what I perceive as being the holes in the argument that Dubnyk’s not a good goalie before – he played for a poor team and put together three above average seasons in save percentage between 2010-11 and 2012-13. His save percentage for that period is towards the top of the mushy middle of all starting goaltenders. Dubnyk had a pretty solid pre-season too – if he was having some issue adjusting to the new equipment, wouldn’t it have shown up then? Yes, he’s facing a mix of AHL/NHL shooters but he really didn’t see to have to much in the way of difficulties in the pre-season.
Do stretches like this happen for a lot of goalies? I wanted to test this out but it’s somewhat tricky to do. I ended up gathering goalies who met the following criteria: a) had faced at least 3000 shots since 2005 at the time of their struggles, b) saw at least 90 shots in a four game stretch and c) had a save percentage at least 80 points worse than their average since 2005 to that point during those four games.
I then gathered four pieces of information about those players:
a) what they did during the bad four game stretch;
b) what they did in the next four games they appeared in;
c) what they had done in the NHL from 2005 through their bad four games; and
d) what their season looked like without the bad four games.
All of that information is in this table (larger form here):
The first thing that jumps out at me is the average age of the guys who have a stretch at least 80 points below their established norm. It’s an awfully old crew, with 21/27 of them being 30 or older. A lot of these guys were old goalies who just couldn’t play anymore who were getting by on their name.
The average save percentage of these fellows over the bad four games is a hyper-abysmal 0.819. Dubnyk laughs at these fellows – his save percentage is at a relatively lofty .829 so far. But then look at what happens in the next four games – these guys who had been getting shelled are suddenly just fine.
As you can see if you slide your eyes over to the next column, which is their save percentage up to and including the bad stretch, they’re actually better than they have been historically. Now, I suspect that this is a randomness thing and I doubt that a horrible stretch actually predicts a better than average stretch but you can’t really say that a horrible stretch predicts another horrible stretch.
The last column is the most interesting. In that column, I’ve calculated the save percentage for each goalie in the season with the bad four game stretch. It’s basically essentially the same as their collective save percentage leading up to that horrible four game stretch. Are there some guys who were substantially worse? Yes, although many of them were a) old goalies and b) at the end of their careers. Everyone 30 or younger ended up with numbers for the season that ended up in the same ballpark as their career numbers.
There’s a tendency, when a goalie is struggling, to assume that he must be doing something wrong. The Goalie Guild has made a career of proclaiming this (and then, if necessary, deleting the instances where he was wrong). I watched the tying goal against Toronto again (and again and again and again) and the commentary was kind of funny. Craig Simpson mentioned that Dubnyk was deep in his net. Of course he was – the Leafs had a guy in the slot and if Dubnyk had challenged Lupul aggressively, Lupul would have thrown the puck over to him and if he’d scored, the line would have been “Dubnyk’s being too aggressive because he’s struggling.” When a puck goes in, there’s usually a way to blame the goalie.
If you go back and look, actually look, at the goalies who’ve suffered a stretch like Dubnyk, it sure looks like it’s just one of those things that happens sometimes. Technical fixes, mental strain, whatever it is, it just seems to fix itself for these goalies as a group. If that’s the case, then it doesn’t make a lot of sense to be that worried about Dubnyk. Lord knows I wanted a hot start for these Oilers and I desperately wanted them beat the Maple Leafs badly but looking at the actual data, I can’t find any reason to think, based on four games, that we should expect Dubnyk to be anything but a .913 goalie the rest of the way (and I’d bet on him beating that). Hopefully there’s no panic trade or signing and in a few weeks, this is all a footnote.Email Tyler Dellow at firstname.lastname@example.org