Ramblings: Goalie Fatigue? (Mar 13)

steve laidlaw



Goaltender fatigue has become one of the big discussion points late in this season. Braden Holtby has had a miserable run, leading to Philipp Grubauer taking over the crease. Frederik Andersen’s heavy starting load has been a hot button issue in Toronto. Andrei Vasilevskiy has discussed how fatigue has affected his second half play:

"Tiredness is something that I probably never faced before," Vasilevskiy, 23, said. "I mean, 50-plus games. When you play in 20-plus games, it's like you think, 'Oh, I'm good, I can play 60-plus.' But now when I'm on 50-plus, I'm like, 'That's tough.'

"So that's why sometimes I'm probably not as sharp, like (I was) probably the first half of the season. That's why I have to adjust and be on the top of my game."

Vasilevskiy’s numbers have dropped from otherworldly in the first half (2.02 goals-against average, 0.935 save percentage), to mere average in the second half (3.01 GAA, 0.913 save percentage). You are forced to take him at his word that this is fatigue. Is it possible that regression is a factor as well? What about injuries throughout the lineup, or the overall decline in team play from the ludicrous level they established early?

When I looked at the impact of starting a high volume of games last year, I couldn’t find any real impact. Some goalies regressed. Others improved. The average effect was negligible:

Since the ’05 lockout there have been 63 different instances where a goaltender started 65 or more games. Of those instances, 29 goaltenders saw their save percentage drop in March and April, while 31 increased and three stayed the same.

On average, goaltenders saw their save percentage drop by .0006 in the months of March and April, a negligible amount. Based on the scatter above, it’s as likely that a goalie who makes 65+ starts will improve in the final weeks of the season as it is that he will decline. Sometimes, these spikes can be huge and sometimes they are negligible.

You can find anecdotal evidence for whatever narrative you want to write. Vasilevskiy has been affected by fatigue this season. It struck Holtby and Devan Dubnyk last season. But then there are all the goalies who saw no negative effects in their numbers. That’s not to say that fatigue isn’t real. We know pretty definitively that goalies have reduced performance in the second game of a back-to-back where they make both starts. It’s only logical that goalies could get run down over the course of a season.

A lot of the data above comes from the post-lockout years when Marty Brodeur and Miikka Kiprusoff would regularly start 70+ games. You don’t see as much of that any more. What those guys were capable of compared to the demands of the game now may be different. Parsing out who may be affected or when may be a case-by-case thing.

Is Holtby fatigued? Likely yes, however he hasn’t even started an egregious number of games relative to season’s past. He’s on pace for merely 58 starts. Moreover, he has been bad all year. His numbers have been particularly awful over the past two weeks (as any Holtby owner now licking his wounds can no doubt attest) but he has been below average since game one.

Is this the cumulative effect of three consecutive seasons of heavy starts plus subsequent playoff runs? Is this the result of an exodus of half of Washington’s starting defensemen over the summer? Is the position simply too difficult to play at a high level for extended periods?

I did not have Holtby ranked as a top-tier goalie this season because I have noticed a trend that goalies simply do not finish with top-five fantasy numbers for more than three years in a row. It just doesn’t happen. Likely because of a confluence of the above questions. The league’s salary cap makes it difficult to keep teams together for very long. Injuries or general wear and tear can creep in. Year-over-year fatigue may play a role as well.

I am curious what happens to goalies in the season after a workhorse year. Does performance go down? Does the number of starts go down?

From 2005-06 to 2015-16 a goalie started 65+ games in a season 64 separate times. How did they do in the following year? On average, they started 58 games (12 fewer than previous) and stopped a slight percentage more shots though not enough to deviate from the average save percentage of 0.915. We’re talking five extra saves per 10,000 shots, which wasn’t enough to move save percentage on its own.

Of the 44 goalies who saw their number of starts go down, 24 saw an increase in save percentage. In a sample size like this that’s hardly significant.

I did have to eliminate nine seasons from the data set due to the lockout shortened 2012-13 season. Nine goalies started 65+ games in 2011-12, they were all forced into lighter duty because of the 48-game schedule the following season and performed worse nearly across the board. The lack of training camp for this season and compressed schedule strikes me as a confounding variable worth eliminating.

There were 21 seasons in which a goalie started 65+ games two seasons in a row. What happened in the season following those two? Again, goalie starts dropped to an average of 59 games, and save percentage climbed slightly to 0.916, which is marginal at best.

This study is far from perfect. There are measures that may better assess a goalie’s impact like expected goals. However, this study uses the stats that fantasy owners employ, so you can directly see how this can affect your fantasy squad.

What I keep coming back to is that each case is different. It seems certain that there are few goalies who can sustain 65+ starts year after year like Kiprusoff and Brodeur once did. Most teams will not allow their goalies to get to that level in most seasons, let alone multiple seasons in a row. What happens to these goalies in seasons of high volume play and in subsequent seasons will depend on each individual goalie.

Andersen was a band-aid boy during his time in Anaheim. Now he’s on track to start 65+ in back-to-back years, boasting sturdy numbers. Holtby has now had miserable late-season runs in back-to-back seasons after a couple of years of workhorse play. On the flip side of the coin, Sergei Bobrovsky is notorious for elite play late in the season. We have evolved to notice patterns, but I can’t help but feel like there is no pattern here. Likely everyone is tired at this stage of the season. It’s impacting each goalie differently. When you start hearing reports about “fatigue” how do you suss out the signal from the noise? You can try to look at greater overall trends, but there isn’t some hard and fast rule. I guess what I am saying is: goalies remain voodoo. You’re welcome for that enlightenment!


Grubauer made his third straight start for the Capitals, winning his second in a row. He is a must have option if you are still alive. Grubauer’s second half has been bananas going 8-3-1 with 11 quality starts out of 12 since Christmas. Combine that with Holtby’s struggles and the Capitals’ willingness to ride Grubauer while Holtby sorts himself and you have a league-tilting goaltending option.

The Capitals play a home-and-home with the Islanders Thursday/Friday so we know Holtby will get back in the crease. We also know that Grubauer is getting at least one more start and likely a few more in Washington’s effort to keep Holtby fresh for playoffs.

Don’t make too many long-term judgements on Holtby as a result of this season. He could certainly rebound next season. It’s worth mentioning that legendary goalie coach Mitch Korn retired, which may have had an added influence on Holtby’s play. He could get on a better page with the new goalie coach and rediscover his game next season. The Capitals’ blue line could improve with another year of comfort for youngsters like Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey.



Ovechkin followed up that line with a superb two-goal performance, including his 600th NHL goal. LEGEND. I’m so glad we have Patrik Laine around to keep pushing Ovechkin.


Matt Duchene in the last 30 games: 14 goals, 29 points, 75 SOG. That’s awesome, a 38-goal, 79-point, 205-SOG pace. What’s crazy, is that he’s done it without the benefit of much from the power play. He has six power-play points in this stretch, a 16-PPP pace. You don’t get too many seasons with 70+ points without 20+ PPP. Of course, he won’t hit either of those benchmarks, but it is tempting to assume he might go for 70+ points next season. The big question: will Erik Karlsson be there? If that answer is no, it’s going to be tough for any Senator, even Mark Stone, to score 70+.

Speaking of Stone, he didn’t travel with the team to Florida, so he’ll miss tonight’s game against the Lightning. His leg injury is reportedly not related to the knee injury he suffered previously, which is good news if you are maintaining optimism about a return for Stone.

Stone’s injury hasn’t had the negative impact on JG Pageau that I assumed. Pageau has goals in back-to-back games. Obviously, Stone’s absence should hurt if he remains out, but it was more important to Pageau’s value that Derick Brassard got dealt. Since the trade deadline Pageau has averaged nearly 20 minutes per game, and over 3.0 SOG per game. He has four goals in seven games.


Brendan Gallagher’s second-half surge continues. He’s now up to 25 goals and 42 points and looking like a lock to hit 50 points for the first time in his career. I maintain that there is untapped potential here. One of these years he’s going to get 18+ minutes per game and absolutely blow up.


Notorious band-aid boy, James Neal, waited until just before the fantasy playoffs to finally strike. What brutal timing for fantasy owners. He has played one game in the past three weeks. The good news is that Vegas returns from their road trip on Wednesday, so maybe we’ll see him return then, though there is no official word that this is the case.

Also with an ill-timed injury: Reilly Smith. Not much to go on for Smith either.

With those two out we have seen Alex Tuch and Tomas Tatar jump into the top-six, but there has been a bit of a power-outage for the Golden Knights. Jonathan Marchessault has now gone five straight games without a point, sewering fantasy owners and their playoff hopes.


How many leagues are getting tilted by Ryan Spooner’s insane post-deadline burst? The forward is up to 13 points in eight games since getting trade to New York. There are some unsustainable things going on here and if the Rangers aren’t careful they’ll talk themselves into an expensive long-term deal for Spooner an RFA with arbitration rights.

In fact, the Rangers have a bunch of decisions ahead with Spooner, Vladislav Namestnikov, Kevin Hayes, Brady Skjei, John Gilmour and Rob O’Gara all heading towards arbitration eligibility. I’d guess Skjei gets a long-term deal in the stock $4-5 -million range for top-four defensemen. The rest may be stuck with one-year prove-it deals ahead of unrestricted free agency.

With Spooner, you’ve essentially got another Sam Gagner – a useful depth scorer who can put up numbers in an insulated role. Right now, we’re seeing what that type of player can do on a hot streak. It’s not a role you want to allocate major cap dollars towards. These players are eminently replaceable. Thomas Vanek commanded only a third-round pick at the trade deadline.

You don’t want to wind up like the Calgary Flames without any scoring depth, but they spent big money on Troy Brouwer to provide that, and then didn’t have the resources to take another shot when he failed. You won’t always have the young talent capable of filling the role, but it is also nice to keep a slot open for a young player to come up and contribute in an insulated role.


Ryan Getzlaf continues to be a dazzling playmaker:


That puck had eyes!


Check out my latest fantasy hockey stock market post.


I finally got my copy of Craig Custance’s Behind the Bench. What a great book. I’ve barely been able to put it down. I am gleaning a lot about leadership and coaching that I will use with my players and also my fire crew going forward.


I have only eight ramblings left until I go on summer hiatus. I intend on having each one with a larger feature item like today’s focus on goalie fatigue. If you’re looking for more minutiae you may not find as much of that in the coming weeks, but we’re at the point in the season where you’re just left hoping that your guys pull through. Are there any big picture subjects you’d like to see featured before I sign off for the season?

Thanks for reading, you can follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.


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