This morning when the Oilers announced that Ilya Bryzgalov would be starting again tonight, following his shutout win last night, I was less than pleased. I'm sure that the plan had been to start Bryzgalov in the first of these back-to-back games, with Devan Dubnyk starting the second game. That seems like a logical plan as far as I'm concerned, but then the shutout happened and now the Oilers coaching staff has decided to double down on Bryzgalov's hot hand instead of sticking with the plan. Betting on a hot goalie is one of those hockey things that tends to sound a whole hell lot easier than it really is though.
After Richard Bachman's stellar performance in Los Angeles earlier this season, where he stopped 47 of 48 shots, Tyler Dellow wrote a great piece confirming what I thought, that one game has very little predictive for that goalies performance in his next game. And wouldn't you know it, Bachman didn't have a very good game his next time out stopping just 22 of the 26 shots he faced. Of course when I mentioned this on Twitter I was met with a number of comments that can be boiled down to Bryzgalov is better than Bachman so this is completely different.
I'll agree that Bryzgalov is a better goalie than Bachman. I don't think many people will argue that point. But I was a lot less sure about the second half of that statement, so I looked into how Bryzgalov has fared in back-to-back games. Here's what I found in one handy table.
|Game 1 SV%||#||Game 2 SV%|
|< 0.900||0.900 - 0.920||0.921 - .940||> 0.941|
|0.900 - 0.920||5||3||0||1||1|
|0.921 - .940||5||2||2||0||1|
Over the course of his career Bryzgalov has started on back-to-back nights a total of 39 times, and in 15 of those he posted a save percentage north of 0.940 in the first game. That's a very good night for a goalie. The problem is (and this is what exactly what Tyler showed as well) that the second game shows no evidence of his play in the first. In the games following those 0.940+ performances Bryzgalov has posted a save percentage below 0.900 more often than not. And if you look at all his back-to-back performances his save percentage is below 0.900 46% of the time in the second game. It could be that he's tired, it could be that the hot goalie is a myth, or it could be a little of both.
Of course we're working with a small sample size here, but with Tyler's work in the background I think the smart move would have been to stick with the plan and send Dubnyk out tonight as was likely the plan. Maybe Bryzgalov will post another shutout tonight, I can't say that it won't happen, but if he does, it won't be because he posted one last night.