I was fortunate enough to be able to go to Banff instead of the office on Monday. I highly recommend such a choice if you are ever presented with the same opportunity. After a day of gondola riding, hiking, hot springs and otherwise enjoying the natures of Banff, if was time to look at the true treasures that Banff has to offer; chocolate shopping. On this opportunity we decided to look into a few other stores. In the basement of one mall, we found a sports memorabilia store. My trained eye quickly scanned the shelves for anything with that trademark oil drop. All that I saw at first were several Gretzky McFarlane figurines and various hockey cards. Of course that was just the first screening.
"That's a sight that Oilers fans wouldn't mind seeing again." I joked with the store clerk. He looked up with a twinge of annoyance written on his face, "I mean a lot of Oilers fans would like to see the Jets take Khabibulin back for the sake of nostalgia."
The man sat up and that look of annoyance changed to anger. "People always blame the goalie." The man said through his thick Russian accent. "A bad team in front of a good goalie makes a bad goalie. People always turn on the goaltender. The Vancouver Canucks do badly, they blame [Roberto] Luongo. The Calgary Flames lose, they blame [Miikka] Kiprusoff."
The anger in the man's voice had risen so much that I was not only looking for my exit, but I was prepared to run.
We finished our shopping and started back for the city, but I couldn't forget that basement encounter, and I couldn't help but wonder if the man was right, do we as fans place too much blame on goaltenders?
Common sense tells us that there are far more players in front of the net than in the net. The puck will have gone through up to 5 other players of the same team before it reaches the goal line, so ultimately how much blame can be and is always placed on the goalie, not as much as some people think. In some cases, it was truly their mistake and they deserve the blame.
When a goalie has a good game, or gets a shutout, who gets more credit; the players that scored the winning goals, or the goalie that wore all of that big equipment and has the biggest stick on the ice? That's right, the goalie gets the credit. Yet, for some reason, if he allows in a few more goals than the other goalie, he is not to shoulder any of the blame? I don't think so. It is part of the game, part of the job description to stop goals. Really that's his only job. He doesn't have to score or get assists. The goalie doesn't even have to take face-offs, so he can't escape getting some criticism.
When a team loses focus or faith in their goalie at any given time, if the goalie lets in the first soft goal, the team has "lost momentum" or is "deflated." Benching the goalie and replacing him with the backup can change the momentum of the team once again. If the team still loses despite the changing of the guard, you know that the team shoulders the blame for the loss as well as the netminders. It's not as though the goalie is suddenly about to be run out of town after a few bad games, but a defenseman might.
It has also been argued that a good team can win with a mediocre goalie. When this happens, the goalie gets just as much credit as the rest of the team for the wins, sometimes more. There has been goalie debate when it comes to the hockey hall of fame as well. Usually this happens when a goalie looks a little better behind a good team than he would behind a bad team. However, a good goalie behind a good team still looks good.
Ultimately, a goalie will receive blame for losses, but I really don't think that they receive more than they should when you average out all of the losses. I can and have forgiven Nikolai Khabibulin for his short comings the last two years, the team was just as bad if not worse. Except that one game... Maybe one day with time I can let this game escape my memory and forget the whole thing even happened.
The Oklahoma City Barons and the Edmonton Oilers have had different yet similar goaltending woes this past season. The Oilers suffered their second in a row last place finishes, while the Barons rose to the occasion and played in the AHL playoffs in their first year of existence. At the end of each season, where did blame fall? With the Barons, there is still discussion around new goaltending, but because the organization let both past goalies walk. Otherwise, everyone was happy with the Barons' first season. The Oilers, as mentioned and of course remembered finished last in the league. Personally I place more focus on defence than goaltending, although goaltending did not escape my stink eye.
It is alright to place blame on the goalie, you would be a strange sort of fan if you didn't, just like praise. There has to be a little of both however, and at what point is there too much criticism on a goalie. In Edmonton, I don't think that we reached that point.
I hope that my goalie friends reading this don't get too angry with me, I love and appreciate goalies. I believe in dolling out praise, but I don't think that goaltenders receive more criticism than they deserve, overall. If nothing else, this may have been the fuel for the fire for a "goalies get the short end of the stick" article?