On Wednesday, Team USA’s biggest personnel question was answered: It will be Los Angeles Kings No. 1 goalie Jonathan Quick, and not Buffalo Sabres stalwart Ryan Miller, in net when the United States takes on Slovakia in an important first game of the Olympics:
Given the importance of the game against the Slovaks, this is likely much more than a one-time decision. It tips Team USA's hand as to the identity of their starting goalie.
It may not be a critical mistake for the Americans, as Jonathan Quick has proved himself a capable netminder, but it is certainly a suboptimal choice. Over the two goalies' respective careers, it is Miller who has shown himself to be the superior goaltender, and that trend repeats itself in recent seasons.
The following chart shows each goalie's single-season save percentage since Jonathan Quick’s first full NHL campaign:
The fluctuating blue line shows Quick’s season-by-season save percentage, with the straight line indicating his linear trend; the red lines show Miller’s results in the same categories. Based on regular-season play there is only one possible conclusion: Miller is the superior goalie.
On the other hand, U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma isn’t limited to considering just regular-season data, and Quick has established himself as a clutch goaltender primarily in the postseason. Let us ignore for a moment that the NHL’s average save percentage rises in the playoffs (as nicely illustrated by this QuantHockey.com chart) and that Quick has played more playoff games on a better team and simply ask: What happens if we include Stanley Cup games in the equation?
Using a setup that disproportionately favours Quick, we see that his save percentage in all NHL games since his first full season (2008-09) rings in at .917. Miller’s save percentage including playoff games over the same span is an even .920, three full save percentage points better.
There are other factors that favour Miller too. Quick has never played a game for Team USA in international competition. In contrast, if Miller sees the ice in Sochi, it will be the fourth tournament he plays for the U.S.. He led the 2002 World Championships in save percentage (.950) and was named most valuable player at the 2010 Olympics, where his .946 save percentage was the single-biggest factor in the Americans reaching the gold medal game (and very nearly winning it).
For those who believe team effects have a massive influence on save percentage, the scales are weighted even more toward Miller. He has a .923 save percentage for a terrible Sabres squad, a team that has also seen backup Jhonas Enroth post a lousy .905 save percentage.
Quick has a 0.911 save percentage on a Kings team that is a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, and backups Martin Jones (.940 save percentage) and Ben Scrivens (.931 save percentage) have both looked like Vezina candidates behind the same defence.
To recap, the choices for Team USA were:
- An incumbent goaltender who was named tournament MVP in the 2010 Games, has an illustrious long-term record and has played spectacularly despite fighting a losing battle on a terrible NHL team OR
- A challenger who has never played a minute of ice time internationally for Team USA, has an inferior long-term record and has been rather mediocre over the last two seasons for an NHL team that will contend for the Stanley Cup.
The choice is clear: Ryan Miller should be the United States’ starter. Instead, the Americans will ice Jonathan Quick, giving the Slovaks and Team USA’s other opponents an edge they would not otherwise have.
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