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The Golden Knights Are Not Using The Right Goalie Combo On Back-To-Backs

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

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.

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6 Comments

  1. back to back

    Good info, but don’t expect Gallant and his staff to actually do the researched right thing. No, they will just shrug and say let’s keep doing the same poorly thought out, robotic thing over and over again. Losses be damned, don’ t rock the boat.

    Hell, it took them forever to finally admit to themselves that some fans had it right, that they had to change to a zone D because of the slowfooted dmen they have. Change is glacier-like with them.

  2. You have done a lot of work to arrive at your conclusion which is interesting and enlightening. That said however it doesn’t address the real issue at hand, the inconsistent play this team displays more often than not. If they play to their potential l am not sure it matters who’s in goal. I was surprised to hear and read they played well 40 minutes last night. Not sure what game they were watching. First period yes, period 2 no 3 questionable at best. The forth goal was a gift shooter and flurey had time to light up and have a smoke before he shot uninterrupted which made a huge difference and left vegas wondering. The problem with stats is history and really no bearing on present.

  3. Craigers

    I’ve been thinking about this too much since Subb’s last run…
    Maybe you have this stat, what I would like to see is: what is Malcolm’s record when Fleury is on the bench? I don’t have the numbers to back it up, however my assumption is that with Fleury “over his shoulder” Subban is significantly worse than when he is the only viable option on the roster.

  4. Brian

    Paging General Fanager……….

  5. THE hockey GOD

    Subban is the better goalie right now, #29 is a bit rusty after his extended leave. Stats be damNed.

  6. DOC Williams

    Just a thought: I think we have the goalie talent to make the playoffs & a run at the cup. BUT, that won’t matter as we don’t have the “D” unit to do it or even MAKE the playoffs. We must do SOMETHING to strengthen this group, period. Sure, maybe the “tweak” has helped some, but only to hide our lack of talent & speed, for a bit. If Knights want to salvage this season, we need at least two new faces at blueline. (trade & callup)

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