Entering the 2013-14 season, Team USA’s goalies represented the strongest point on a strong team, and the Americans had the top-end ability and depth to compete with anybody else in an Olympic tournament.
It would be a stretch to say now that all is lost. There is no doubt, however, that the goalies set to represent the red, white and blue in Sochi look considerably less formidable than they did only a few months ago.
The team’s presumptive starter this summer, Jonathan Quick, is still in the conversation for the top job in Sochi, but he’s vulnerable on a few fronts.
Firstly, Quick has not played a game of hockey since early November when he suffered a groin injury against the Buffalo Sabres. He is expected back early this month, but Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times reports that he may start off with an AHL conditioning assignment before returning to the majors.
Second, and more critically, Quick hasn’t really looked like the goalie who turned in a brilliant, Conn Smythe-winning performance in the 2012 playoffs in quite a while. In 71 games and just under 2000 shots since, he has a decidedly middling 0.912 save percentage. Looking just at his regular season work over the last two years, that save percentage falls to 0.903.
The man who many felt would be the key to Team USA’s medal hopes has been both hurt and unimpressive.
Fortunately for the United States, it still has Ryan Miller. Miller, who had some ups and downs last season, and who was seen as some as the odd man out for the 2014 team today, looks like the best goalie on the roster.
Miller started for Team USA in 2010, leading the Olympics with a 0.946 save percentage and winning both the award for best goaltender and most valuable player in the tournament. But it is his work this season on an awful Buffalo Sabres team that has him on the team.
He has a 0.927 save percentage for worst team in the NHL. Six times this season he’s lost games where he had at least 35 saves and a save percentage north of 0.920, and three times he’s posted a 0.950 save percentage or better in a game and still posted a loss. He’s been given almost no support but it hasn’t stopped him from putting on a clinic in the Sabres’ net.
Winning third-string duties is Detroit Red Wings starter Jimmy Howard. While it’s likely that Howard won’t play, he’s still an interesting choice. Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop (20-5-3, 0.935 save percentage) is the hottest goalie going into the roster announcement. New Jersey goalie Cory Schneider has better numbers this season (5-8-5, 0.914 save percentage) and on his career (60-34-13, 0.926 save percentage).
Instead, the American management team opted for Howard, a goalie in the middle of a poor season (6-9-7, 0.906 save percentage) and with respectable, but not irresistible career numbers (137-76-33, 0.917 save percentage).
Whatever the failings of Quick, Miller and Howard as a group, though, one thing the trio possesses is experience in pressure situations. Quick has been a playoff MVP and has 50 games of playoff experience. Miller has been through an Olympics once before and has 47 NHL playoff games on his resume. Howard has played 42 postseason games in the best league in the world. All three have posted strong numbers in those postseason runs.
Regardless of whether Miller or Quick emerges as the team’s starter, and regardless of whether Howard is called on or not, Team USA will have a pressure-tested goalie with a distinguished career between the pipes. Doubtless, that was the idea.