The Golden Knights are set to close out their 6th back-to-back of the 2019-20 season and 31st in franchise history.
They actually fare pretty well as a whole when playing games on back to back nights.
Overall – 31-23-6 (.567)
1st End – 16-11-3 (.583)
2nd End – 15-12-3 (.550)
Historically, they’ve been swept (losing both) in 10 of the 30 back-to-backs, but they’ve only exited without getting at least one point in six of those 10. All six are when both games are being played on the road.
However, this isn’t meant to be an article about how Vegas plays in back-to-backs (that will probably come later as they have a bunch of them coming up.) Instead, it’s meant to take a look at goalie selection in regards to back-to-backs.
Yesterday, Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic posted an article challenging the norm of switching goalies on back-to-backs.
For the past six years, every team in the league has quickly adopted the same method to managing goalie starts on back-to-backs: splitting starts between their two goalies. That was based on data, data that created a rule each team learned to follow. Six years later, that same data has changed with the effect size being significantly smaller than initially thought. It might be time to break that rule. -Dom Luszczyszyn, The Athletic
I wondered if the Golden Knights were seeing the same effect.
The Golden Knights have actually been one of the most aggressive teams in using the same goalie for both games of a back-to-back. In 2017-18 the same goalie played both games in 5.1% of NHL games, 2018-19 saw the number decrease to 4.2%, while this season it’s a paltry 2.6%.
However, Vegas has used the same goalie in 11 of their 30 back-to-backs (37%). They’ve done it twice this season with Fleury playing against Calgary and Los Angeles early in the year and Subban playing against the New York Rangers and New Jersey last week.
Of course, both of those instances were forced upon the Golden Knights. Subban was injured for Fleury’s and Fleury was away with the passing of his father for Subban’s. Of the 11 times the Golden Knights have done it, I consider eight of the 11 to be “forced.”
That being said, the numbers indicate the Golden Knights should actually be using this strategy way more often, on purpose, every time they have the chance.
Of the 11 times, the Golden Knights have won both games in six. They’ve gotten at least two points in eight of the 11, and they’ve only been swept in regulation just one time!
Marc-Andre Fleury is an incredible 7-1-2 when playing in both games of a back-to-back. Malcolm Subban is a fantastic 6-1-1 as well. Max Lagace’s 0-3-1 pulls down the average. So, with either Subban or Fleury playing both games, Vegas is 13-2-3!
Same Goalie In Both: 13-2-3 (.801)
Switch Goalies: 18-21-3 (.464)
Clearly, the Golden Knights need to be using the same goalie in both games of back-to-backs every single time. But, let’s just try to be fair and say that’s not possible due to the need for rest. Look at these numbers.
Fleury when playing 1st game: 8-5-2 (.600)
Fleury when playing 2nd game: 10-1-1 (.875)
Subban when playing 1st game: 8-3-0 (.667)
Subban when playing 2nd game: 4-7-2 (.385)
The numbers are incredibly clear. If not using the same goalie in both (which is the best option), playing Subban in the 1st game and Fleury in the 2nd is the obvious next best option.
Yet, the Golden Knights have done that five times out of the 30 back-to-backs. In those five, they won both games in four and split the other. That’s 9-1-0 in the 10 games in which they’ve deployed their goalies that way.
To make this even more clear, I went back and compared each goalie’s save percentage in each situation against their season average save percentage for that year.
Fleury Playing 1st Game Only – 5 over, 5 under
Fleury Playing 2nd Game Only – 7 over, 0 under
Fleury Playing Both – 7 over, 3 under
Subban Playing 1st Game Only – 3 over, 4 under
Subban Playing 2nd Game Only – 1 over, 8 under
Subban Playing Both – 6 over, 2 under
In short, NEVER EVER EVER should Malcolm Subban play the 2nd game of a back-to-back. When Fleury plays the 2nd game only the Golden Knights have never lost and he’s never put up a save percentage worse than his season average. Meanwhile, when Subban plays the 1st game only, the Golden Knights are 5-2-0.
One last thing, because I can already hear people yapping at me saying “well obviously, but Subban or Fleury is always injured, so the numbers are skewed.” But, they’re not.
The Golden Knights have used Fleury in the 1st game and Subban in the 2nd game nine different times. They are 6-11-1 (.361) in those games. When doing exactly opposite, as mentioned above, Subban going 1st and then Fleury 2nd, Vegas is 9-1-0 (.900).
I understand rest and I understand the stress that comes with a goalie playing back to back nights, especially in two different cities, but these numbers are overwhelming.
The Golden Knights should use the same goalie in both games of every back-to-back. But if they can’t bring themselves to do that, it should be Subban in the 1st game, and Fleury in the 2nd every single time.
That includes tonight, where they should start Fleury again, but probably won’t.