Price / Halak - The Stats - December 2009


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While watching the movie "The International", I came across the following quote by the New York DA, trying to explain the layers of bullshit that make the truth almost impossible to uncover.

"There's what people want to hear, there's what people want to believe, there's everything else, THEN there's the truth!

When I heard the quote, I couldn't help but think of the nonsense surrounding the ongoing Price / Halak debate. It was onsense that boiled to the surface once again on the strength of 243 great minutes by Jaroslav Halak in mid- December. This debate continues to be driven by individual ego, bias and agenda and based very little on substance.

It is very easy to understand how it happens. An individual makes a declaration that Price is better at a pub or on a message board and watches intently hoping to have their opinion proven right in order to trot out their prediction to prove their wealth of knowledge (EGO). Said individual now watches each game looking for flaws in Halak's game to justify their statement (BIAS) then pushes forth those flaws in order to make his or her point (AGENDA). At this point the opinion has become skewed and the quest for the truth has dissipated. He or she ignores what they do not want to hear or believe and search out  those with an agreeable perspective.

The result? Sides are formed and you have Team Price and Team Halak.

Ego, agenda and bias constantly lead to intelligent individuals making nonsensical statements. When Team Price brings up lack of goal support, Team Halak's response is "the team plays tighter in front of Price and does not take chances because they are worried he will let in a bad goal". Team Price's counter argument? "The Canadiens play a looser game in front of Halak because they know they will need 3-4 goals to win the game". Neither of these statements is based in reality and are the rationales seem to have been created in order to push forth and back up individual agendas.

Everybody has a personal preference that skews their perspective, but it is a shame that the internet has devolved into a giant pissing match of "I told you, I was right, therefore I win and hence you are dumb" arguments. At the end of the day does it really matter if you are right? Does anybody keep score? The loudest opinion is not the most insightful and succinct. All that matters to me is that I provoke thought and provide you a window into my mind to see what I am thinking. It is then up to you to figure out whether you want to continue to peer through that window or not.

Bill Simmons is diametrically opposed to almost every pro sports team I support. He is a Bruins (Habs), Red Sox (Yankees), Celtics (Raptors) and Patriots (Jets) fan. I read him because I appreciate his perspective and look past his admitted bias. In his 700 page "Book of Basketball" his thesis revolved around "the secret", a secret he discovered while watching the 1986 Boston Celtics perform. The team was an integral element in the foundation of his love of the game. Should I then be surprised that he spent the first 650 pages praising the "the secret" of the 1986 Celtics and the players who embraced this secret, then finally come to the conclusion that the greatest team of all-time was the 1986 Celtics? Of course not, but he sure made a damn good case and I admired his opinion because he poured over every book written about the legends of the game, watched endless video and did not rely solely on statistics to come up with his opinions alone. At the end of the day, I read 700 pages and didn't care whether he was right or wrong, he succeeded in moving the gears of my mind.

When individuals try to discredit my perspective as having a Price bias, ultimately they are correct. Like Simmons and the Celtics, I got my goaltending Ph. D watching Patrick Roy. I watched him take a position that was being played in a nonsensical manner and improve it to unparalleled levels. From his evolution of using equipment not only to protect himself, but stop the puck, to his work in exploiting percentages to his advantage, Roy began the lineage that lead to today's goaltender. Because of this, my idea of the ultimate goaltender resembles Carey Price more than Jaroslav Halak. Does that cripple my credibility? That is up to you to decide. I am not skewing numbers, nor am I basing my opinion on numbers alone. The point of these articles is to provide the reader with nuggets of information hidden beneath the surface for the reader to either buy into what I'm selling, or pass on it. It is of little significance to me whether or not you come to the same conclusion as I.

I cannot provide you with the truth because I cannot break through your personal bias, agenda or ego. Your truth is always going to remain what you want to hear and believe. It will exist in your influences and your preferences. These articles are the truth that I believe, ultimately it is up to you to peer through the window or pass it by.

All told, these balanced and fair number comparisons and scenarios make their own case.

Price / Halak December 2009

December was an interesting month in this ongoing debate. Just when everybody thought Price had solidified the starting job in November, Halak rebounded and added fuel to the fire with a dominant December showing.

During a 243 minute span, Halak faced 186 shots while surrendering only 6 goals for an obscene .967 SV%. WIth one of the best young goaltending tandems in the NHL, a large number of Canadiens fans however, chose not to appreciate their contribution in saving a lost season, but rather chose to simplify the teams struggles in their eyes by turning their frustration towards the last line of defense.

With the images of Halak's dominant stretch fresh in everyone's mind, it seemed as though he had finally distanced himself from Price. As Price struggled while allowing a couple of brutal softies that cost the Canadiens a pair of games, the perception began to emerge that Halak had outplayed Price in the month of December.

However, a look at their stats over those 17 games does not back up that perception.

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On the whole, the overall mental imagery of Halak's strong performances bypasses the 3 games in which he gave up 14 goals on 100 shots.

Not contrarily, the visual impact of Price reaching over his head and deflecting two pucks into his own net is too powerful to offset the memory of the 4 games in which he gave up only 5 goals.

The biggest difference maker in the perception of the month, was that Halak's four great games took place in succession. Watching Halak's sustained greatness over that streak tends to work as a sort of blinder for some other individual game performances for the rest of his month The strong streak also masks the fact that in four of his five December starts, Halak registered mediocre save percentages of .838, .852, .889 and .889.

Price's month was full of bad goals (5 by my count), three of which were crucial mistakes in losses against Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Minnesota. These mistakes overshadowed five strong but unconsecutive starts with save percentages of .971, .926, .927, .933 and .974.

Taken all togeher, these easily overlooked factors lead to their save percentages being essentially one goal apart.

Looking strictly at their win totals can also lead to incomplete conclusions. Last month I introduced Win Threshold in order to emphasize that wins are essentially a byproduct of goal support and that they are in fact a team-based statistic.

Halak produced 4 of his 6 wins against Toronto, Carolina, Florida and the New York Islanders (who own a combined 51-70-29 won / loss record) with his most impressive win coming against the Atlanta Thrashers. During the month, the winning percentage of the teams he faced was a combined .520. Price faced only one team below the .500 level, the Maple Leafs. Seven of his eight opponents were at .500 or better. Halak's win threshold during December was .914 as the Canadiens provided him with 31 goals in his 9 starts. Price's win threshold in December was .930 as the offense produced 17 goals in 8 starts.

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Halak enjoyed plenty of goal support in December. A goals against average of 3.18 and a save percentage of .914 would have produced a .500 record. His play was exemplary against the Senators, Islanders, Thrashers and Hurricanes, but in those 4 games he had 16 goals in support. As Robert pointed out, the return of Markov helped to rejuvenate the powerplay and Halak was a definite beneficiary.

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Price's December was a stark contrast to Halak. In order to salvage a .500 record, Price would have had to produce league-leading numbers, as his goal support was almost non-existent. Shockingly, he almost did. The Canadiens produced only 17 goals in 8 games and 5 times registered less than 2 goals

Through all this research, I have begun to ignore a goaltender's won / loss record when I assess a goaltenders play. Halak's record during his career in games in which the Canadiens scored 2 goals or less is 3-23. His record in which they register 3 goals or more is 38-2-2. Looking at current stars Ryan Miller, Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur (the league leader with 27 wins) further illustrates this point.

Ryan Miller's record in games where the Sabres register 2 goals or less in 2010? 4-10.
Roberto Luongo's record in games where the Canucks register 2 goals or less in 2010? 2-10
Martin Broduer's record in games where the Devils register 2 goals or less in 2010? 5-9-1

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After viewing the threshold and goal support numbers, it becomes pretty clear that wins are a team based statistic and should not be used to solidify any argument in regards to the effectiveness or value of a goaltender.

Looking at Halak's December opponents, I wondered if his statistics had been influenced by the strength of his schedule? Have his statistics been earned under the same conditions as Price?

Over the last 3+ seasons, Halak has faced 25 teams with sub .500 records in his 70 career starts. Parity reigns supreme in the new NHL as only 5 of 30 teams finished below .500 In the last 2 seasons. Halak has faced a sub .500 team four of every 10 starts when less than 20% of the league has a losing record. Contrast that to Price who has faced 21 teams below .500 in 116 starts.

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(Note: all records referenced were through January 4th, 2009, by the time this is posted borderline teams like the Isles, Panthers and Lightning might move above or below the .500 level altering the figures slightly, but when Halak faced them, they were on the south side of .500).

The results paint a striking portrait. Halak has certainly benefited from an easier workload. It is shocking to see how dominant Halak has been against the bottom 5 in the league and how mediocre Price has been. Is this a function of poor focus on Price's part? Should this be viewed as a negative against Price? Or do you assess that it is better to excel against the teams that you will face more often? Personally, I want the goaltender that produces against the majority of the league because only 16% of the league is below .500. This is a telling statistic in terms of assessing the future and the reason that the emotion and euphoria of Halak's 243 minutes cannot be overstated in regards to his overall body of work.

You do not trade the 5th overall pick who has compiled a resume at age 22 that only 3-4 players in modern history can equal at the same age, especially when the bulk of your secondary option's success has occurred against the bottom five teams in the league. Unfortunately, Halak has placed a gun to Gainey's head in regards to a decision, He can no longer wait to see who is better. He has to base his decision on their whole body of work and choose. So that means their junior careers (Price), their AHL careers (Price) and their NHL careers (statistically even) are the basis for his judgement. Add in that he has groomed Price and laid the brickwork of his foundation and Gainey would not be doing his due diligence if he chose Halak over Price. It would be a pure gamble based on guesswork and hope.

Gainey is perhaps counting on one of his peers overstating a month or two of work and overpaying for Halak's services. At this point, his overall body of work does not warrant a top six forward, but the combination of his potential and his recent play might shake one loose. Halak has played great, but I also don't think it is a coincidence that since Gainey went to the media about the shopping Halak on Dec 10th that Halak has started 5 of his 8 games against teams below .500 while Price has faced zero in his seven starts.

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Halak's numbers since November 1st have been fantastic. The biggest difference that I have noticed between Halak and Price over the last two months is the gaps between spectacular and concentration lapses. They are less pronounced with Halak. Outside of his rebound control, his play has been remarkably efficient. His positioning has been strong and remains one of the reasons that his saves seem less spectacular. His focus has allowed him to remain efficient and as an undersized goaltender this is critical. The video below shows Halak at his best.

It is as though he has a rope attached from his pants to the center bar of the net allowing him to square up the shooter at all times.

The result?

Pucks acting like magnets to the CH logo on his chest.

In almost every instance he has maintained the proper depth in his crease and his gap control on breakaways has removed the option of the deke, forcing the shooters into low percentage shots that he easily contains. Approaching 25, he is beginning to figure out the pace and tendencies of the league and mature as an NHL goaltender, there is no doubt that he has become a number one NHL goaltender, the question is can he become a dominant franchise changing goaltender?

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Price's numbers represent to me why statistical analysis alone is unreliable. I have watched every game, viewed every goal and charted shot position and watched him play great hockey in October and produce terrible stats. In October he simplified his game and returned to the economical beast he was when he entered the league. He used his size to his advantage, moved away from strictly butterfly towards a hybrid style that allowed him to remain non-committal (allowing him to wait out the shooter), he avoided concentration lapses and with that allowed less poor goals.

In November he took his game to the next level with sprinkles of athleticism to his game while maintaining an economy of movement. Price looked like he had many figured things out. Then the concentration lapses began to creep back into his play. With these lapses came bad / questionable goals in December (8 of the18 by my count) and although he provided plenty of highlight reel saves, to me these represented a slight regression as he was relying on instinct and athleticism to bail himself out.

If you watch the highlight reel below, almost all of his spectacular saves are born of questionable positioning. Over pursuing the play and scrambling back, average gap control on breakaways that force him to rely on his length and quickness to make the save. The positive being that he has the ability to make these remarkable recoveries. The negative aspect being some of them are unnecessary. His stats present somewhat of a paradox, they suggest a goaltender that is getting better every game even though his consistency and positioning have regressed. This is the tease of his youth, watching all the tools flash their brilliance individually, coming tantalizingly close to coalescing into the dominant goaltender we all expect, then back to the tantalizing flashes.

GOALS AGAINST

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This is the one area where Halak blows away Price in December. Strength of opposition and goal support have no bearing on the softies that Price has allowed. They were concentration lapses of the highest degree, long shots that he misjudged and point shots that he failed to track properly, plays that he should complete regardless of the situation. It also cannot go without mention that the perception continues to be reality in regards to his weakness high glove side, half of the poor goals he allowed were high glove side and two were back breakers.

Most of Halak's transgressions were from failure to control his rebounds or born of Huet disease (drop in the butterfly, don't battle to track the puck and assume you have your percentages covered and the puck will hit you). All goals that can be argued as faultless, but goals that most likely were reassessed in the following day's practice.

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Bad or suspect goals indicated in bold.

1. Long shot, big rebound cashed in by Clarke MacArthur as he beats Halak high stick side. 15 ft.
2. Backhand, Halak struggles with rebound, Jason Pominville beats Halak low stick side. 10 ft.

3. Pominville out of the corner, cross crease for Roy who taps it in beating Halak low stick side. 13 ft.
4. Vanek shot, Halak struggles with the rebound as Tim Kennedy beats him high glove side. 9 ft.
5. Slapshot from the blueline seems to beat a screened Halak low stick side. 56 ft.
6. 2 on 1. Thomas Vanek feeds Mike Grier for a cross crease tap-in that beats Halak low glove side. 8 ft.
7. Michalek shot from the slot picked up by Mike Fisher as he lifts it over Halak high stick side. 6 ft.
8. Andrej Sekera slap shot from the point beats Halak low stick side. 58 ft.
9. 2 on 1, shorthanded. Tim Connolly sends Patrick Kaleta in alone as he beats Halak 5-hole. 6 ft.
10. Scramble in front as Tim Kennedy finds the puck and beats Halak low stick side. 11 ft.
11. 5 on 3 PP. Drew Stafford cross crease for MacArthur for a  tap-in beating Halak low glove side. 5 ft.
12. Ron Hainsey shot from a bad angle deflects in off Ilya Kovalchuk beating Halak low glove side. 3 ft.
13. Point shot by Kubina handcuffs Halak and Nik Antropov slides the puck into an empty net. 6 ft.
14. 5 on 4 PP. Point shot stopped , rebound slid home by Antropov beating Halak low stick side. 7 ft.
15. 5 on 4 PP. Point shot stopped, Brandon Sutter on the rebound beats Halak low glove side. 10 ft.
16. Ian White point shot knuckles by Halak beating him low stick side. 59 ft.
17. Scramble, Jason Blake makes an attempt as the puck hits him and beats Halak low glove side. 5 ft.
18. Chris Campoli point shot stopped, rebound to Peter Regin beats him high glove side. 18 ft.
19. 5 on 4 PP. Point shot by Ryan Shannon that beats Halak high glove side. Possible screen. 55 ft.
20. Fisher out of the corner, stopped, rebound batted in by Chris Neil, beating Halak over his head. 4 ft.
21. Keith Ballard end to end gets in alone on Halak and beats him high stick side. Odorous. 8 ft.
22. Nathan Horton clear cut breakaway beats Halak high stick side. 6 ft.
23. 3 on 2. Horton feeds Michael Frolik in the slot as he beats Halak low glove side. 15 ft.
24. Radek Dvorak beats Halak high stick side through a screen from a poor angle. 10 ft.

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Bad or suspect goals indicated in bold.

1. Price makes initial save, Colton Orr hops on the rebound and beats Price low stick side. 7 ft.
2. Jeff Finger slapshot from the point beats Price low stick side. Very odorous. 45 ft.
3. Matt Stajan on a breakaway beats Price high glove side. 23 ft.
4. Matt Hunwick point shot deflected in the slot by Vladimir Sobotka beating Price high stick side. 24 ft.
5. Daniel Briere fights off a check and chips the puck over Price, beating him high glove side. 16 ft.
6. Bill Guerin from the corner finds a pinching Gonchar who beats a transitioning Price 5-hole. 13 ft.
7. Sergei Gonchar shot from the point tipped in by Matt Cooke beating Price high stick side. 7 ft.
8. Pascal Dupuis slapshot deflected, misplayed by Price beating him high glove side. 38 ft.
9. Wrist shot from the point by Christoph Schubert beats Price cleanly high glove side. 56 ft.
10. Scramble as Colby Armstrong slides the puck into an empty net beating a scrambling Price. 18 ft.
11. Nik Antropov from the bottom of the circle beats Price high stick side through a screen. 12 ft.
12. 4 on 3 PP. Ilya Kovalchuk off the wing beats Price from the face-off dot high glove side. 27 ft.
13. Iikka Pikkarainen shot handcuffs Price and the puck bounces off the post, his pad and in. 38 ft.
14. Patrik Elias sneaks in behind the D and puts home his own rebound beating Price low glove side. 9 ft.
15. Robbie Earl off the wing beats Price 5-hole. Odorous. 21 ft.
16. 5 on 4 PP. Corner feed from Martin Havlat to Mikko Koivu deflected beats Price low stick side. 12 ft.
17. Shot wide, Price slow to get across the crease as Cal Clutterbuck beats him low glove side. 5 ft.
18. Kurtis Foster slapshot from the point beats Price high glove side. 57 ft.

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Halak has been fantastic on mid range shots, allowing only two goals all season between 21'-39'. HIs save percentage in each zone has also risen from an early season low of .712 to his current mark of .842. The Canadiens improved penalty kill continues to benefit both goalies as Halak carried an obscene .962 SV% while shorthanded in December, when added to his elite level .935 even strength percentage the results lead to a monster month in which he was honoured with the Molson Cup and the NHL 1st star of the week during the last week of December. I can picture Bob Gainey sitting at his desk, feet up, hands clasped, smoking a stogie as he places Paul Holmgren on hold.

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Bombardment would be the proper verb to describe what Halak faced in December. WIth the Canadiens consistently surrendering 40+ shots per game, Halak was relied upon to remain flawless in order to keep the Canadiens season alive. When adding in attempts at the goal (missed shots + blocks), Halak's nightly menu consisted of over a shot attempt per minute (67). It is not a recipe for long term success and when coupled with the stronger teams on the schedule and little goal support, it lead to unsatisfactory results. The shot quality is decreasing as the season progresses, and with Halak's superb work beyond 20 feet, if the Canadiens can continue to improve and limit shots to the perimeter, both goaltenders will continue to provide big numbers.

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While Price's numbers continue to improve seemingly across the board, two numbers are concerning. His even strength save percentage continues to drop from the elite levels he produced in October, it is the only statistic that is consistent with my perceived drop in his level of play. His overall numbers were masked early by an inept penalty kill and his decline is now being masked by the dominance of the same unit. Price was also unbeatable early in the season from beyond 40 feet, but that number is also beginning to slip. Am I greatly concerned with these trends? Not really, it comes with the gamble of rolling the dice with a young goaltender and judging by his history we are in for another peak and decline over the next 3 months.

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After hanging Price out to dry over the first 2 months, the Canadiens have begun to show signs of limiting scoring opportunities. His shot attempts have finally dipped below a shot per minute and he was rarely hung out to dry like he routinely was during the first two months of the season. Let's just call it the Andrei Markov factor. When Jacques Martin makes the required tweaks to his "give up 40 shots per night and rely on the goaltender" system, the Canadiens should be in good position for a strong second half surge.

The December verdict: I will preface this by mentioning that this whole discussion should be a non-starter, both goalies have been a godsend in 2010 and the Canadiens would be in the Taylor Hall sweepstakes without them, but the controversies never seems to go away. I made mention of Larocque / Dryden and Hayward / Roy in my pre-season article, but their is really no excuse for this debate in today's environment. 20-30 years ago the casual fan did not have access to player game logs, shot logs, previous years standings, strength of opposition, the SI vault or highlights at your fingertips to develop an educated opinion. Their opinion was based on what they saw with their own eyes, what the weekly Hockey News statistics told them and the hyperbole they were spoon fed by local media. That was and remains understandable, but watching what the fanbase is doing to these kids is not. This whole debate is raging over individual egos and has nothing to do with what is happening on the ice or in the locker room. Mentioning either of their names in blame for a loss is uninspired, unimaginative and just plain lazy.

The simple answer to the question is that both goaltenders have been great in 2009-10. I deemed them equal in October, Price ran with the ball in November and Halak outplayed Price in December. A boxing scorecard would read 10-10, 10-9, 9-10 for a three round score of 29-29. When factoring in win threshold/goal support, quality of competition and future potential, my opinion from October remains unchanged. Neither goaltender is significantly outplaying the other and the things I see from Price foretell a higher ceiling.

Little did I know that when I prefaced the season by asking god to bless the irrational nature of Hab fans that they would in turn provide me with an excuse to blather on for 4000+ words about a goaltending controversy based entirely on hyperbole.

So in honour of unearned obscene hit counts, God Bless us all.....again!

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