a·cu·men [ak-yuh-muhn] noun: keen insight; shrewdness

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Thursday, 16 August 2012

08/16/12 Khabibulin vs. the Defense

Conventional wisdom has it that the Oilers' defense is terrible, and still not good enough for the team to make the playoffs. That's at least partially true. But how much of the defensive weakness of the team can be laid at Nikolai Khabibulin's door? Could more starts from Dubnyk be as good as adding a quality defenseman?

Khabibulin struggled mightily after Christmas, winning just one of his seventeen starts. From the game against Vancouver on December 26th to the end of the season, Khabibulin faced 478 shots and stopped 421 of them (0.880 save percentage).

Ryan Whitney and Tom Gilbert lost significant chunks of time in that span. Whitney was on the shelf for 14 games, while Gilbert was sidelined for 13. Theo Peckham also lost 12 games from February 2nd to the 29th, but his impact on the lineup is much less pivotal. Whitney missed eight of Khabibulin's starts after Christmas, while both Whitney and Gilbert were out for six of them. In those games Khabibulin had a record of 0-5-1.

Devan Dubnyk started nine games while both Whitney and Gilbert were out of the lineup. His record was 5-3-1.

With Whitney and Gilbert out of the lineup, Khabibulin faced an average of 26.5 shots per start, while Dubnyk was up against an average of 34.5 shots per start. Dubnyk allowed 2.88 goals per game under those conditions, while Khabibulin allowed 2.83.

There's something to be said for the sample size here. It's unlikely that Dubnyk or any goalie could carry on winning 5 out of 9 games when facing around 35 shots per game, but this data shows that Dubnyk performed better than Khabibulin when the defense was at its weakest.

Dubnyk had a record of 16-12-3 after Christmas, and stopped 891 of 970 total shots (0.918 save percentage). Dubnyk averaged around 29.3 shots against per appearance (including relief efforts), while Khabibulin averaged 26.5. Any way you slice it, Dubnyk was clearly better after Christmas, despite the fact that both goalies were playing behind the same defense and Khabibulin got the benefit of a little luck in the shot department.

If we go by the post-Christmas numbers, their save percentages of 0.880 and 0.918 represent a massive shift in the amount of goals allowed, despite the fact that both goalies had the same defense. The Oilers' defense stands to be better in 2012-13 (on the strength of Cam Barker being gone alone), especially if Whitney can return to 90% of his form, if Petry takes a step forward, and if Justin Schultz hits the ground running. Although there's still clearly work to be done on the back end, the Oilers should be better defensively just because Khabibulin won't be in goal as much.

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