“There is no position in sport as noble as goaltending.”
When Vladislav Tretiak said that, he knew very well that every win is the goal-scorer’s and every loss is the goaltender’s.
It's a mostly thankless job. It's a position that had been judged for years using goals-against average with no context to the goals. Even with today's advanced analytics, it's hard to accommodate fully for the context of shots. So what about the old-school eye test?
Sometimes when a goalie looks like they had no chance, it's because they made mistakes leading up to the shot that put them way out of position. Sometimes when a goalie lets in what looks like a soft goal, there are situations so subtle it's almost impossible to even pick up on TV. It’s certainly impossible to truly know what screens look like from the camera angles used.
But here's what I do know: It took 36 shots for the Pittsburgh Penguins to score on Jake Allen last night. In the past, I've been critical of Allen for not doing the small things right, but this year he seems so committed to every little thing.
Take a look at this move from the other night right before he got injured:
In honor of Allen's return:— Dylan Waugh (Habs-statician) (@HStatician) November 22, 2021
Allen extends looking for the pass to his left, but then gets his body back to the post and brings his left leg back to the goal line
His foot never left the post and he was able to recover. Great tracking and athleticism#GoHabsGo pic.twitter.com/vh2Pkny6HD
What I love about that little sequence, and granted it's not the craziest thing you'll see a goalie do, is his athleticism and play-reading. He reads the pass, then when it is deflected again behind the net, he swings his leg back in and toward the goal line. That's exceptionally difficult to do in terms of his ability to use his edges and his strength.
On top of that, he didn’t overreact to the pass and was able to recover back to the goal line, meaning that he was already anticipating that possibility. But most importantly, if he doesn't get that leg to the goal line, he's providing a backboard that someone behind the net could shoot at to score a goal.
Last night we saw that same attention to detail coupled with incredible athleticism. How about this save on Evan Rodrigues?
My god, what a glove save by Jake Allen pic.twitter.com/pOg82wtApK— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 28, 2021
The fact that he didn't just reach but is actually moving his body across and then only extends when he had to make the actual save displays remarkable poise to me. And watch his head move to track the puck. It’s like there’s an invisible string pulling his head perfectly with the puck.
On top of all of that the fact is that this save was not a result of a self-inflicted wound. This is not because he couldn't handle an easy rebound or was caught going in the wrong direction. This is what I call an honest save.
But don't take my word for any of this, let's look at some quick numbers. In all situations, Montreal had 4.5 expected goals against and Allen only let in three goals. He ended the night with a .940 save percentage.
In a season going as badly at this one is, it's nice to have something, no matter how small, to truly enjoy. And Allen's goaltending last night was an oasis.