So far, the crew here at BSB has covered the GM, Coach, defense and bottom six forwards in our mid-season grades series. Today, we touch on something of a sore subject: the goaltending. Even though Marty Biron played in several regular season games, he immediately retired and gave way to Cam Talbot. For this reason, I’m not going to grade Marty. However, he would get a solid A- for his broadcasting prowess.
Much digital ink has been spilled in this space concerning the play of our now $59.5 million goaltender. In contrast to the rest of his career, this season has been marred by inconsistency and erratic play. All the speculation about his contract situation/future only compounded the problem, and was worsened by the eventual windfall he did receive.
From a statistical standpoint, the first half of the season hasn’t been a complete disaster. Hank is currently sporting a 2.70 GAA and a .908 Save %. As most of our loyal readers can attest, I am not a big fan of either of these statistical measures as accurate indicators of goaltending ability, but until a truly reliable advanced metric is developed, it’s all we got.
From the eye test, it has been much worse. Hank has had a knack for making big saves at opportune moments for the Blueshirts over his career, and this season has seemed to be the exact opposite. While he hasn’t necessarily let in an abundance of “bad” goals, he has fallen victim to a few that he likely would have stopped in the past. Combine that with a few that couldn’t have come at worse times is a recipe for an angry fan base. Combine that with a newly inked $8.5 million cap hit, and the pitch forks come out.
It is my personal belief that the absolutely putrid play of the defense is the largest individual factor for Hank’s poor performance. Historically, Dan Girardi has been a lock-down, stay at home defenseman, MDZ has been less brutal than he has been this year, and Marc Staal has again missed significant time. Under John Tortorella, the defense blocked a ton of shots and didn’t allow for many odd-man rushes, as they concentrated on getting the puck deep and grinding. The departure from all this has left Hank hung out to dry far more often than he previously had been.
Not to say that a large chunk of responsibility shouldn’t be put on Hank’s well-dressed and well-paid shoulders. He has not played up to his usual standards, but my point is that I don’t think this is a decline related result. He needs to step it up in the second half, and if he is able to rebound to previous levels, we should see a lot more consistency in the team’s overall play.
Mid-season grade: C
Cam Talbot has been quite the story, hasn’t he? An undrafted kid paying his dues over several years in the minors, only to come up and take the NHL by storm, creating a “goalie controversy” with the best keeper on the planet. Talbot has shown a calm demeanor and cleaned up most of the movement noise that plagued him on his way up the ladder, settling in as a very reliable backup.
His statistical sample size has been insanely small to draw any sort of long-term projection, but the numbers are impressive: 1.72 GAA and .936 Save %. I don’t believe that these types of numbers are sustainable long-term, and as The Suit noted, the Rangers play a slightly different defensive scheme in front of him, so he hasn’t been left as exposed as Lundqvist has so far.
The goalie controversy thing to me is crazy. It’s simply something we haven’t seen over the past nine seasons. Alain Vigneault’s decision to give Talbot extended runs of play as Lundqvist struggled was the right move to make. We’ve just never really seen Hank struggle before. What has come out of his difficulties has been Talbot’s emergence as a genuine option in the event of injury or ineffectiveness. Going forward, he can be a real asset for ensuring Hank is well rested and in top form heading into the second season.
Mid-season grade: A