American Olympic Goalies A Cause For Concern

Paul Bereswill

USA Hockey announced their roster for the upcoming Olympics. The goaltending group is an area of concern.

Six different goalies were under some level of consideration for the American Olympic roster. The three going to Sochi are Jonathan Quick, Ryan Miller, and Jimmy Howard. Ben Bishop, Cory Schneider, and Tim Thomas were the other three under consideration. Did the selection committee make the right decisions?

I guess the answer is that it depends on the criteria. Did the committee pick the goalies who are having the best seasons? No. Did they pick the most established goalies for the roster? Yes, they did.

Quick is a year removed from backstopping the Los Angeles Kings to the Stanley Cup. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy that year as the playoff MVP. He was also nominated for the Vezina Trophy as the best goalie in the league. For his career he has a .914 save percentage, but the last two years it's floating around the low .900's. He definitely has a track record, but lately the Kings have carried him.

Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres was the starting goalie in the 2010 Olympics. Considering the team he plays behind his season has been remarkable. Miller is among the league leaders in save percentage. His selection seemed like a long shot when the season began, but the way he has played behind the largely awful Sabres team put him back on the map.

The selection of Jimmy Howard is the one that has caused the most eyebrows to raise, and with good reason. Among goalies with 20 appearances Howard's .913 save percentage is 19th in the NHL. Some Olympic squads have to settle for that, but there are four Americans with higher save percentages. Howard is likely to be the third goalie so his impact will be minimal, but his candidacy for the roster was fairly weak.

Quick and Howard are the two questionable choices. On top of the performance issues, both have also missed time with injuries. Quick was out from November 5th through January 4th with a groin injury. Howard missed time from December 10th to December 30th with a knee injury. On January 12th Howard suffered a minor hip flexor injury.

If these were the unquestionable best options for the roster the injuries could be overlooked, but there are two notable candidates who were left off of this roster. Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Cory Schneider of the New Jersey Devils both have strong cases for going to Sochi.

Schneider though never had much of a chance of making the team despite a career .926 save percentage in 119 NHL games played over six years. In Scott Burnside's review of the selection process he shows that from the beginning Schneider was on the outside looking in:

That leaves Miller, the MVP of the '10 Olympics and catalyst to the American success, and Cory Schneider as the two netminders needing to somehow influence the selection group and change The Board. Because as this day ends, they are the two men on the outside looking in.

Schneider has been steady this year, but an injury and the goaltending situation in New Jersey has had him splitting time with the inferior aging Martin Brodeur. The lack of exposure didn't help his chances of making an impression on the USA Hockey selection team.

Then there's Ben Bishop. Bishop leads the league in save percentage of goalies with at least 20 appearances at .935. Record doesn't always say much about how a goalie has performed, but it's hard not to be impressed with his 22-5-3 mark. His limited track record undoubtedly put him behind the eight ball. Several months into the process, Burnside notes the first time Bishop was discussed:

For the first time at these meetings, Tampa's Ben Bishop's name comes up in any meaningful way.

He's been very good, "fabulous record. And we're not really giving him much love at all," Poile notes.

That's about it though. Prior to this season Bishop had 45 games played at the NHL level. He would have had little to no support coming into the season. His 20 some odd games prior to the announcement of the roster is too small of a sample size to be 100% sure he's the guy.

Tim Thomas was considered after taking last season off, but his performance hasn't been good enough to push him up the list. He's in the average area with Howard.

Team USA is going to be hoping that Quick gets hot or that Miller is able to maintain his level of play through the Olympics. What was once considered a great strength for the Olympic club has been somewhat shaky. It would have been nice to see the selection committee hedge their bets a bit by taking Schneider over Howard, but they really believe in him.

For the US to win gold one of Howard, Miller, or Quick is going to need to stand on his head for two weeks. Miller seems the most likely bet to do that, and in less than a month the nation will see what he has left in the tank.


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