It has been difficult to evaluate the Canucks goaltenders this season. Up until this month, Roberto Luongo had a rather mediocre save percentage, but had held opponents to two or fewer goals in 12 of his last 15 starts. Eddie Lack? Same story, keeping pace with Luongo’s save percentage and allowing more than two goals in just one start, the first of his career.
There was nothing difficult about evaluating Lack on Monday night, however. He was fantastic, making 31 saves against the Carolina Hurricanes for the first shutout of his career, in what was also the first home start of his career.
Lack’s shutout had some Canucks fans joking on Twitter about a new goaltending controversy in Vancouver. Please. We have no interest in being involved in the birth of another one of those debacles.
But seriously, Lack should get the start in the Canucks next game.
Of course, any serious talk of a goaltending controversy isn’t just premature, but patently ridiculous. There’s a distinct difference between what’s expected from a first round pick and an undrafted free agent and Lack is just 6 starts into his NHL career. While I sincerely doubt anyone seriously wants to anoint Lack the new number one goaltender, I wanted to head off that nonsense at the pass while still suggesting that Lack get the first consecutive starts of his NHL career.
After three games in four nights, the Canucks have a three-day break before back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday. With that much time to rest, the argument could be made that Luongo should get both starts. After all, he is the number one goaltender and has started more than four times as many games as Lack this season.
All the evidence suggests, however, that it’s a truly terrible idea for a goaltender to start two games in two nights. Goalies playing on consecutive nights statistically have a save percentage 10-20 points lower on the second night. Taking data from 2011-2013, Eric Tulsky at Broad Street Hockey found that goaltenders averaged a .912 save percentage in the first game of back-to-backs, but fell to a .901 save percentage in the second game.
Tulsky also found that rested goalies averaged a .912 save percentage on the second night of back-to-backs, meaning the difference isn’t due to playing behind a tired team but is an issue particular to the goaltenders. Add in the greater risk of strain and injury when playing on back-t0-back nights and you have pretty clear evidence that goaltenders should split those starts.
The question, then, is which game should each goaltender start. The backup goaltender generally gets the second night of back-to-backs, for whatever reason, but it makes far more sense for Lack to get the first night this time around.
There are couple reasons why : it’s nice to reward a goaltender who just got a shutout with the next start, for instance. Also, the Friday game is against the Edmonton Oilers, who are last in the Western Conference so, theoretically, should be the easier start.
More important than the Canucks’ Friday opponent, however, is their Saturday opponent: the Boston Bruins.
Luongo hasn’t had an opportunity to face the Bruins since the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, with Cory Schneider getting the start in his hometown of Boston back in 2012. To miss another chance at a re-match to a backup goaltender just wouldn’t be right, even if it is the second night of back-to-back games.
Instead, give Lack the consecutive starts and send a well-rested Luongo out to face the Bruins on Saturday.