Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Consistency of Inconsistency...Among Commentators

The NBC Boys don’t seem to think much of the Caps chances for a Stanley Cup run with Jose Theodore as their goaltender (2:15 in for those of you not wanting to wait)…

Theodore is described as “playing small” by Pierre McGuire and as “definitely an inconsistent goaltender” by Mike Milbury. Well, gee. If we want to shine the light on goaltenders in the East, we might as well send seven teams to the first tee now and just let Marty Brodeur suit up to meet whichever team comes out of the west. Why?...

In Boston, Tim Thomas probably merits the Vezina Trophy (Steve Mason fans, notwithstanding). But since going undefeated over a six game stretch in late January and early February, he is 5-5-1 and is showing his own signs of inconsistency. In five wins, he has allowed only eight goals. In six losses (including an overtime loss to Washington), he has allowed 14… not bad, certainly, but in his last five games he has a GAA of 2.62 and a save percentage of .911. Those are pretty ordinary numbers. A sign of a slump coming on?

In Philadelphia, the Flyers seem to want to give the keys to the car to Martin Biron, but he keeps on dropping them. Biron has played better lately – 3-2-0, 1.60, .942 in his last six appearances (he got a no-decision in relief of Antero Niittymaki in a 5-1 loss to Calgary). But before this latest run, Biron might have been the very epitome of “streaky.” Going back through his season, he had these records…3-5-0, 10-2-3, 3-5-1. Think he has the consistency for four series wins in him?

Milbury points to Marc-Andre Fleury’s record since Dan Bylsma took over behind the Pittsburgh bench and pronounces him “absolutely” good enough for the Penguins. OK, maybe. But in his 9-1-1 run under Bylsma, Fleury’s numbers are 2.56 and .906. Those aren't numbers that jump off the page. He can count wins against Florida (twice), Tampa Bay, the Islanders as part of that run. Maybe we shouldn't be all that quick to pronounce Fleury (who has otherwise mediocre numbers this year) “absolutely” the guy to carry a team deep into the playoffs.

In Montreal, Carey Price is about as likely to allow four or more goals on any given evening as not. He’s done it seven times in 17 games since January 21st, during which time he has gone 4-11-2 (he had a no-decision on February 15th against Vancouver). His save percentage over that span is .882, perhaps making folks in Montreal wonder if he really is ready to be the number one goalie for now. Does that mean the Habs turn to Jaroslav Halak? A guy with all of two playoff games on his resume (no wins)?

The Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist might be the best Eastern Conference goalie not named "Marty" to carry his team deep into the playoffs. And in fact, he seems to be getting out of a slump of his own – he has won his last five decisions (including a 4-1 win over Philadelphia today) and has allowed only nine goals in doing so. His trouble is having to bear too large a burden with the underachieving Ranger skaters angling for room to ride on his shoulders. From January 28th through February 26th, it looked as if that burden might finally be getting to Lundqvist, as he had a record of 2-7-4, 2.74, .912. He’d be the goalie who, along with Brodeur, could drag a team along with him for a playoff ride, but the Rangers have the worst offense in the league (2.40 goals/game).

In Carolina, Cam Ward is another one of those goalies who has played better of late (9-5-1 in his last 15 decisions, 2.24, .921), but who has a season of mediocrity behind him. His overall GAA and save percentage have him tucked safely into the middle of the NHL pack (17th and 22nd, respectively). And, before his latest 15-game run, he had one winning streak of more than three games this year (the same number as Jose Theodore). Ward’s problem might be that the Hurricanes are riding him so hard. He has been the goalie of record in 35 of the last 36 Carolina games and has played in 18 in a row. Given Carolina’s precarious hold on the eighth spot in the East, he’s not likely to get a break soon…or perhaps have anything left for the playoffs.

We’re not making the argument that Jose Theodore is a lock to be a Conn Smythe Trophy winner in the playoffs, or that he is even a lock to get the Caps to the second round. He is in the midst of his own bout of inconsistency (5-4-1 in his last ten decisions, 2.95, .905), but there is an annoying consistency in the commentary of “experts” with respect to Theodore’s play. It is, for lack of a better description, “creating a fact.” As if by saying a thing long enough and often enough, whatever the real performance of the player in question, that the repetition will create the “fact” that a player is, in this case, “inconsistent.” Hockey pundits have been pounding the theme of "Theodore isn't consistent enough to win" since he was signed, and it has shown no sign of abating. But there isn't a lot of ink or air time devoted to the chinks in the armor of the other goaltenders in the East. Even Brodeur, with that 7-1-0, 1.95, .930 record since returning from injury, has earned some of those wins over also-rans -- Colorado, Toronto, Phoenix -- and he was pasted by the Islanders for six goals. There aren't any sure things here.

Theodore has wrestled with bouts of inconsistency this year, and even for those who point to his propensity for post-Christmas success, he has had win-loss success (18-8-3), but his numbers of 2.52 and .914 that accompany that record aren’t extraordinary. However, they could be, given the talent elsewhere on this roster, enough to get the Capitals deep into the playoffs. His chances appear as good as just about any other goaltender in the East…well, except maybe for that Brodeur guy.


Mark Bonatucci said...

There is no doubt that Brodeur is the class of the leagues goltenders right now and that Backstrom and Nabby are second. It's also clear that Tim Thomas' athlethicism is unmatched. Lundqvist has been as "inconsistent" as Theodore.

I say the pundits be damned - this year Theo will show them as will the Capitals. After this year's playoffs there will be others questioning Fleury as well several other goalies for no reason other than it makes good TV. These guys don't like Osgood right now either and we know he's good enough. They get paid to talk and that's all they, talk, talk...

LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

"Commentators" is too a polite a description for the likes of Pierre McGuire and Mike Milbury.

One is a color-blind dufus who can't distinguish Red from Orange (McGuire) and Mike Milbury is a miserable failure who drove the Islanders into the ground as their GM and is trying to redeem himself as a chattering head on TV.

The Peerless said...

I'd have called them "40-watt" and "The Idiot Milbury" (my pet names for them, one for his incandescent cranium of low wattage, the other for his seemingly unbroken string of ineptitude as a GM), but decorum prevented me from using such nicknames.

Anonymous said...

Except for the fact that Fleury's run last year in the playoffs should have silenced the doubters. He single handedly kept the Penguins in the series against DET, and had they somehow won the Cup, he would have had my vote for the Conn Smythe.

Now of course Jose once had that same look. But Theodore, for whatever reason, has never been able to get anywhere near his 01-02 form (he was damn good in the playofs that year too). Once its gone, its gone.