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Sunday, February 20, 2005

Three goals on fourteen shots. Three goals. On fourteen shots. Second period: two goals on four shots.

Do you believe in statistics? It's a simple question. Either you're the kind of person who believes that discrete game events are meaningful or you aren't. Do you believe that "momentum" is a meaningful concept? Do you think that hundreds of events can be significantly different from hundreds of other similar events? If you are, stop reading now.

This year, Al Montoya's save percentage of .891 ranks 71st of 75 goaltenders who have played at least a third of their team's minutes. Last year his .917 ranked 22nd. To put this in better perspective, last year if you took a shot at Montoya you had an 8.3 percent chance of scoring. This year you would have a 10.9 percent chance of scoring. That's a 31 percent increase!

Is Michigan a worse defensive team? Are the quality of shots he faces significantly better? Last year two skaters departed, C Dwight Helminen and D Andy Burnes. Michigan returned six defensemen who saw significant playing time last year. Burnes, while a steady performer, was no All-American. There were no additions to the defensive corps but players, especially young ones, generally improve from year to year. How about shots against? Shots against are usually an indicator of defensive quality. Last year, Montoya faced 960 shots over the course of 40 games, or 24 a game. This year he's faced 694 shots in 32 games, or 21.7 a game. He's facing fewer shots!

Montoya is playing behind essentially the same team, except it's a year older. He's playing in a down CCHA. He's facing fewer shots. He's letting in more of them, often in absolutely ridiculous fashion--witness his duck-waddle out of the goal against Notre Dame on Friday.

It's too late now to make the goalie job subject to real competition, but Montoya has failed, failed, failed this year. The only thing that has bailed him out is TJ Hensick and the nation's top scoring offense. I hate to criticize Berenson, but I think that his handling of the situation--staunch backing of Montoya and blame on the defense--has exacerbated the situation. Montoya is clearly lacking focus, perhaps because of the bright lights of NYC, but his job has not been threatened. He's sleepwalking through the season, and we're relying on him to wake up at the right time.

He's 71st in save percentage. He has been absolutely substandard. To dispute this is to abandon common sense and your own lying eyes. If you're a Michigan fan, you've seen the gaping five hole, the inappropriate wandering out of the crease, the unneccessary chippiness that was cute when Montoya was a freshman but is no longer, the positioning that is unquestionably sloppy and wrong. You may have seen his fantastic saves in-between, sure. But you know and I know that Montoya's had almost 700 opportunities to prove himself this year. The only thing he's proven?

Al Montoya is one of the worst goalies in the country. Period.

He can perform at an extremely high level. He has the kind of ceiling that made him a top-ten NHL draft pick. He's shown that he excels in pressure packed situations, and believe me, he's going to be going into one. But let's put away the tired charade that Montoya has played well and that his defense is to blame. He has been awful. If he does not improve Michigan will flame out in this year's NCAA tournament.


Chris said...

I think you're being a little rough. Montoya has not played spectacular all season, but he's gotten the job done.

I think Michigan is much weaker defensively this year. Losing Burnes hurt a lot, and Helminen did win defensive forward of the year in the CCHA. The combination of Cook/Dest/Martens is a pretty scary one.

Also, I think most goalies will tell you that facing fewer shots can be tougher. People used to rip on Josh Blackburn always giving up a goal on the first shot of the game, but when that shot comes 7 or 8 minutes into a game, it's a tough save to make. Most goalies would rather constantly face shots than stand around for a couple minutes.

The other thing with Montoya is that the statistics don't tell the whole story. It has seemed to me that Montoya has given up a bunch of goals when the game was already in hand. If he gives up a couple goals when Michigan already has a 4 or 5 goal lead, what does it matter?

Again, I'll agree he hasn't been spectacular, but he's been getting wins, and you can never complain too much about that.

Anonymous said...

Your comments on Montoya are harsh but accurate. He has not really played sound hockey as far as positioning and simple, basic fundamentals.

The defense has been good and the offense, as you mention, is the best in country. The one thing holding back Michigan right now is goaltending.

Hopefully Red Berenson and Montoya will get it taken care of, the sooner the better. If not, Michigan will make a quick exit from the NCAA tourney.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if he's on drugs. Only explanation I can think of.