It was another week of torture for many fantasy owners, as starting goalies struggled to hit the .900 save percentage mark by allowing more goals than usual. This is like some kind of eerie twilight zone, because it seems that no matter how hard some of these goalies work, their stats aren’t improving at all. It’s like rolling a huge rock up a mountain only to watch it roll down the other side and crumble into a million pebbles. So what exactly is wrong with all of these so called sure-handed starters? Well, that’s the problem. Round these parts, there’s no such thing as a sure thing. Heck, there’s no more meaning to the phrase “comfortable lead” either. And so the beat goes on, at least for another week.
Opening the regular season with a bad start, that’s understandable. Two weeks in and the rust still hasn’t been removed and it’s only natural to question your goalies and start looking at trade opportunities. But three weeks in and your stats are still inflated means it’s time to make some important decisions. Of all the different directions you can take, let me preclude any hasty moves by explaining how some of the inconsistent netminding around the league is NOT a direct result of their actual play. Yes, some are struggling from within (Marty Turco), but others are battling an exterior source from the coaching staff – something I call negative reinforcement. It’s a real parasite and it completely destroys positive performances.
My main example of this is Vesa Toskala in Toronto. Nothing short of being emotionally skinned, meat-hooked and thrown into a freezer, Toskala was benched in favor of Curtis Joseph after Ron Wilson chose to “…go with the percentages…” in a shootout against Anaheim last Tuesday. This was after Toskala had allowed two goals in the first 10 minutes of the game and then battled hard to shut the door the rest of the game. He stood there in the third period, not facing a single shot, before showing mental toughness by making three huge saves in overtime to preserve the 2-2 tie. To me, that type of performance is worthy of a reward, not a demotion. Instead, he was benched for the shootout and Toronto ended up losing.
"I was playing the percentages," coach Wilson said afterwards. "I'm not going to hesitate to do that until we get Tosk a little more practice – a different way of thinking on stopping the other team in shootouts. I had nothing to lose."
Nothing to lose? How about Toskala’s fragile state of mind? What kind of message does that send Toskala? It doesn’t matter how good Joseph’s stats are in shootouts, you NEVER bench a goalie that worked so hard to preserve a tie and then put in a stiff goalie that has been sitting on the bench. Especially with a team where every little moral victory counts, trusting one statistic will almost always backfire. Wilson failed to approach his decision without Toskala’s emotional mindset taking the forefront, and that’s a very destructive negative reinforcement to the entire team. Cujo’s quote after the game was even more telling…
"It's entertainment, right?" Joseph said. "I have had some success at shootouts but those were two good shots. I've got to like being in that position, at least you can come in and you've got a chance. Unfortunately, the