Point/Counterpoint: Goaltending in the Playoffs

Thanks to NHL.com

Welcome to another edition of Point/Counterpoint. This week, European correspondent Filip and I deal with a common, often overplayed issue: Goaltending.

Point: Goalies are important in the Playoffs (Filip)

A) You can’t win without an elite goaltender. Yes, there are some
exceptions like Antti Niemi (or series like the just-completed Penguins-Flyers series) but nearly every team in the recent years (has) won with a good goalie and with a tight defense.

Tim Thomas, Chris  Osgood, Jean-Sebastien Giguere – those are/were elite goalies who proved their star worth by being a significant factor in their teams winning the Cup. And remember the pre-cap era with Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, Ed Belfour or Dominik Hasek. I know that today’s NHL is different but goalie is important for a deep playoff run. You have to rely on him; he’s the last line of defense.

The Flyers’ inconsistent goaltending brought them to an early exit several times in the past. One example: Martin Biron from the first round in 2009. Many Flyers fans loved him but his inability to stop the puck with a key save of the game cost Flyers series with the Pens.

Another perfect example is the Flyers’ infamous goalie carousel last Spring. Peter Laviolette was forced to rotate three goalies in one round. Neither of them truly succeeded but the Flyers still advanced because Buffalo was unable to stop the skilled Flyers forwards.

B)  A good goaltender is the half of your success. It’s a cliché but it’s a true statement, too.

You could go deep in the offensive zone when you know that you have a good goalie which is able to stop the possible counterattack. You could rely on him on a penalty kill. When
you made a mistake, he’s here to correct it and make a key save of the game. When you haven’t such a goalie, you’re in trouble.

A good goalie can’t afford to surrender weak goals  on a daily basis. With a good goalie behind your back you believe him in 100 percent — that’s what he wants and that’s what everyone else wants to know — to be sure that you can trust each other. It’s about psychology too, but the skill of the puck-stopper and his
prior experiences are very important to your success. That goes double in the playoffs.

Counterpoint: Goaltending does not have to be stellar in the playoffs to win. (Eden)

I might get a lot of flack for this, but you don’t have to have an elite goaltender to be a contender in the NHL playoffs. A great goaltender added to the mix certainly helps (any position played well does), but it’s not vital

Exhibit A: The entire 2010 playoffs.

Chicago won with a rookie goalie in Niemi. Was he pretty darn good? Sure. But not elite (how’s he doing now)? The Flyers made it to the Finals with two decent, but not super impressive goalies, Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher. We know where that ended up. Montreal also made impressive forward movement through those playoffs again with a young goaltender (Jaroslav Halak) who was good, but by no means, super.

Exhibit B: Pens/Flyers 2012 Playoffs Round 1.

Marc-Andre Fleury and Ilya Bryzgalov. Three games with high scores (8-5, 8-4, 10-3). Goals matter and a strong offense will prevail — at least when two of the highest-scoring clubs in the league have to face each other.

I can hear the “But, but, Lundquist and Thomas….” Both are a credit to their position, especially King Henrik this season. But if a team’s defensemen are taught to block shots and the team sustains pressure, the goalie needs not be brilliant. If the forwards and defensemen clear the porch, play hard, the goalie can make the few saves necessary. Putting so much on one player, one position is ridiculous.

A full and talented roster is, of course, ideal. But I believe there are other ways to a W. Impressive defensemen, a solid technical game plan and strong offense can smooth over the rough patches in a ‘decent’ goalie.