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In The Playoffs, Back-To-Back Doesn’t Have To Mean Two Goalies

I want to preface this article by saying the point of it is not to challenge the decision being made by the Golden Knights coaching staff in regards to which goalie will start Game 4. Because, as I’ll show, there really isn’t a right or a wrong way to do it. Instead, the goal is to debunk an idea that seems to have turned into a hard and fast rule for the Golden Knights, and thus VGK fans as well.

In the playoffs, you do not have to switch goalies when playing back-to-back games.

Again, that doesn’t mean you can’t, or shouldn’t, it just means you don’t absolutely have to, especially when playing in a bubble with no travel and against the same team both games.

This postseason 13 series have experienced a back-to-back situation. Of the 26 teams involved in those games, 19 of them chose to use the same goalie in both ends of the back-to-back. Goalie performance, as well as team performance, do not appear to be correlated to this decision.

With such a small sample size and the teams playing each other, wins and losses cancel out as a whole. So, instead, I decided to use total goals against as well as save percentage in an attempt to determine if a goaltender was better or worse in the second game of the back-to-back.

Hellebuyck – Worse
Talbot – Better
Markstrom – Worse
Stalock – Worse
Kuemper – Better
Saros – Worse
Andersen – Better
Bobrovsky – Better
Varlamov – Worse
Talbot – Better
Allen – Better
Markstrom – Worse
Kuemper – Better
Rask – Worse
Hart – Worse
Price – Worse
Crawford – Better
Halak – Worse
Vasilevskiy – Better

10 were worse, nine were better. Compare that to the teams that switched goalies.

Korpisalo to Merlizkins – Better
Lundqvist to Shesterkin – Better
Mrazek to Reimer – Better
Bishop to Khudobin – Better
Grubauer to Francouz – Worse
Mrazek to Reimer – Better
Fleury to Lehner – Worse

Five better, two worse.

Looks good right? But, when we dig a little deeper, the numbers end up identical, just arriving at the same place in different ways.

Game 1Game 2Total
Same Goalie.913.916.914
Switching Goalies.904.924.914
Playoff Average.912.919.914

Switching goalies makes a team worse in Game 1 but much better in Game 2. While keeping the same goalie makes them slightly better in Game 2 than Game 1. However, the overall total is exactly the same.

Most back-to-backs are splits. Four teams won both games so far though. Three used the same goalie while one switched. The same goes for the losers of both games, three used the same while one switched.

In the end, thus far in these playoffs, switching has worked for some teams, sticking with the same goalie has worked for others. It really doesn’t seem to make much of a difference, instead, the play of the team in front of the goalie is much more important.

So, where does that leave us with the Golden Knights?

It appears they are set to go with Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 4 after Robin Lehner posted his second shutout of the series in Game 3.

The first time around, the Golden Knights got a great performance, and a win, out of Fleury in the front end of the back-to-back and a less than stellar performance, and a loss, in the back end from Lehner.

This time, Lehner was awesome in the front end. We’ll find out tonight how Fleury is in the back.






  1. Herby Widmer

    It is not only about the 1st and 2nd game of a back to back. More important is how the goalie performances are in the games after a back to back and there Lehner has been fantastic.

    We have two no. 1 goalies and both love the competition. A healthy competition in net is good for both of them and the team.

    To me it is clear that Fleury starts today and than Lehner will start game 5. That is the only thing that makes any sense. Not taking advantage of the fact that we have two starters in the team would be pretty stupid.

  2. Miri

    Interesting presentation, but would appreciate some follow-up stats from Ken if you aren’t “statted out.” When the back-up goaltender played in either of the back-to-back games, is it possible to show a trend between the length of time since the back-up last saw game action and how well or poorly that goaltender did when finally put in a game? If you want to, you might also add an extra stat with the inclusion of the non-back-to-back games in which a back-up made an appearance in a game. Whether or not you add this extra info, enjoyed the article.

    • Trust me, I plan on keeping my eyes on it but there just isn’t enough data to draw any conclusions at this point. It was kind of even a stretch to draw these conclusions, trying to go into rest and how teams have played afterwards is too soon.

  3. DOC aPositiveFan

    It matters not WHO freakin starts, my god! IF the boys play as they should, we will win the game. I support whoever is in goal. even if I would disagree with it. It’s not my decision or any of yours. You people just keep beating this to death. WHY? Are you not fans of the TEAM? If so act like it. GO KNIGHTS GO !!!

  4. Well DOC that is one of the more profound comments you have made. If the team show up with a winning attitude and plays accordingly it doesn’t matter who’s in goal.

  5. Pete Turner

    Knowing most of the players on the VGK team, they have a great sense of fairness and they will play hard for both guys but they’ll probably play harder for MAF. Why? Because they are mostly Canadians and they were raised to have better values then most Americans. It is why VGK didn’t run up the score in game 1 where they could have easily scored another 2-3 goals. It’s the same reason why they didn’t pocket the empty netter last night because that’s not who they are. I don’t think they prefer one goalie to another but because they strongly feel a sense of fairness, they will prefer to have MAF at net.

    And your stats are impressive Ken, but that old adage about there’s lies, damn lies and statistics is pretty obvious in this one. Firstly, who cares about Gm1. That table of yours only bolster against your argument because at this point the ONLY number that matters is the number in the Gm2 column. Averaging it out is kinda “wtf?” and only serves to bolster your argument but not your common sense.

    I looked at all your list of goalies and the ones that are marked “better” are the teams that have to play their starters back to back ONLY because they don’t really have a viable backup. Corey Crawford started back to back because much as we love him, we all know how “capable” Subban is. Varmalov, Markstrom, Price, Vasilevskiy etc.. were back to back goalies because…. I don’t even know who the backup goalie is. I didn’t even know who Demco was until Markstrom got pulled. Did you think the VAN coaches ever had a choice other than play Markstrom?
    Also, we’ve already have a history of switching goalies in a back to back during round 1 against the Hawks and the results were positive. So why in the world do want to screw with that winning formula.

    Finally Ken, you’re not a big guy so you don’t understand. I’m 6’2 and close to 280lbs and trust me when I tell you that the time it takes for me to recover from something like a Stanley cup game both mentally and physically is gonna take a whole lot longer than a person of average height and proportionate weight all things being equal. It’s not that us big guys are weaker or have low stamina, it’s just that there’s more of “us” to heal and something about low metabolism that made us big in the first place.

    Give MAF and peace a chance. Go Knights Go!

    p.s. Is it me or in this current state of racial tension in the US do I find it funny that the VGK guys get away with calling Zach whitey. Shows you how innocent these Canadians are that they don’t realize that Whitey is the slang for the n word for white folks. And Whitecloud isn’t even white. LOL!

    • DOC aPositiveFan

      Well Mr Pete …. Didn’t really have much to say on your wordy comment, but THIS: Do you really think the team would play “harder” for MAF than Lehner? In the heat of play and a PLAYOFF, the players aren’t thinking about who’s in goal. They aren’t going to turn up or down their effort depending who’s there. Canadian or not, makes no sense. … Sir! 😉

      • Pete Turner

        I’m just saying that there’s something stirring up when you decide to go against the grain and play Panda back to back. It tells me that there is infighting amongst the players and that the coach is taking that offensive tweet personally. All of which I refuse to believe and I don’t think any of the players or coaching staff hold anything against MAF and that tweet. If that tweet didn’t happen at all, conventional wisdom at this point is to start MAF. If not, then it’s an indication there is something going on in the team and like it or not, we are done for. I hope for the sake of the team, we do the right thing even if it means losing this one game.

        Go knights go.

      • Pete Turner

        Doc, In Greg Wyshynski’s post game report, he highlighted:
        “DeBoer was confident that the Knights would play hard in the final frame, not only to earn a win but to earn a win for Fleury.”

        “Guys have to want to play for you. I knew with Flower in there tonight that the guys would play hard for him. You could tell going into the third that they were going to make a push, that they didn’t like the spot that they put him in during the second period with some of the stuff we did,” DeBoer said. “He’s such an important part of our group, and the effort these guys gave in a back-to-back situation — three games in four nights — in the third period, it showed what they think of him.”

        So to answer your question, yes it does make sense that players will play hard for the goalie who is important to them. Take it from the coach himself.
        (Dramatic License)
        I can almost imagine Flower asking the team if they love him and before they can say yes, he bats the puck over the glass and says to them, “Prove it”.

    • The Noodle King

      Hey Tim, his nickname has been adjusted to “White Claw”. Please update your data base.

  6. Tim

    I don’t agree with what Fleury and his agent did but I’m glad he got the start. He played a decent game considering he’s been off for 15 days. Maybe let him start game #5 and then next series start Lehner. The only thing if he does play more that his agent doesn’t take credit that putting that picture up made a difference.

    • Pete Turner

      Stick a fork in it, This series is over. Game 5 is a home game. LOL like that matters but it does. I just realized last night that the folks mixing the fake fan audio in the stadium would purposely make the home team’s fan much louder than the visiting team, which although sounds ridiculous at first, makes a lot of sense. Of course when it comes to home ice fans, no one beats the VGK fans at T-mobile in terms of volume and enthusiasm and I hope these AV guys do it right including the fans banging on the glass when Reavo nails Quinny again. And if we don’t win Game5, we know who’s fault it is. No, not the goalies and not the players. I’m looking at you Carnell Johnson.

      p.s. Game 4 is by far the most entertaining game in this series. Lead changes, come backs and it ain’t a MAF game without that last minute puck hitting the post moment. I love it.

    • Come on Tim who cares about his agent I would not be surprised if he’s gone or if not should be. All the picture did was cause unnecessary distraction which wasn’t necessary and I would bet MAF and mgt had plenty of discussion concerning his role in the play-offs. Put yourself in MAF shoes and ask yourself a very simple question – would I do something that stupid and jeopardize 14 million dollars? You don’t have to be the smartest knife in the drawer to answer that. This whole thing got blown out of proportion. I have said before and will say again there is more to this entire situation than any of us know or are entitled to know. I wish it had not happened but its time to move on they have bigger fishes to fry than worry about and distraction that takes them away from the task at hand. GO KNIGHTS GO – the hill is getting steeper but nothing they can’t handle with the right mental attitude. Let’s make a point of building up positive vibes on this website versus adding to the history drama.

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