Last night was a great game to watch, except for one minor detail - the Capitals came away from the visit to Sunny Buffalo with NO points. For the first time this season the Caps executed to their game plan, played a full sixty minutes, and basically outplayed the Sabres, except for one man in blue - goaltender Ryan Miller. That's right look at the stat sheet last night and try and figure out why/how the Capitals lost last night - in hockey parlance "Miller stole two points." Ryan Miller is clearly in the drivers seat for the Vezina Trophy this season and last night he showed the Capitals and we Caps fans why. Miller was fantastic. To be sure the Sabres team that played in front of them rebounded well from their prior game, a loss; but it was Ryan Miller who in the end made sure, on at least five occasions pucks off the sticks of Capitals players stayed out of the Buffalo goal.
However, just as an ugly win is nothing less than two points in the standings, a no point night is a no point night. Also to be sure the coaching staff will dissect the tape and find things the Caps need to improve on, and the way this team has been playing they will continue to improve. So there's not much worth saying about the game. However it is worth mentioning that several Caps played very good games last night though nobody was able to get on the board. I also think it's worth mentioning/asking - am I the only one whose nerves Craig Laughlin gets on when he gets hung up on a point, especially when it just doesn't seem correct? "Locker" repeatedly talked about the Caps lacking spark and energy last night however, they outplayed the Sabres every period, even the second period when the Sabres out shot the Caps by two shots, the Caps had more and better scoring chances. Also why talk about a win the Caps had last season against the Sabres you didn't think they deserved - did anybody remember the details about the game so they could either agree or disagree with Laughlin? I sure don't it wasn't a playoff game or a notable on in my memory.
All that said the one thing that last night's game(s) as well as Monday night's games did for me was highlight just how important solid goaltending is in the NHL during this compressed regular season schedule. Most NHL teams have 15 or more games in the month of December, every team has at least 13 games and Montreal and Ottawa have whopping 17 games in the 31 days of December. The Caps have just 13 days but they include a West Coast trip. My point here is that every team in the NHL will be playing at least some games on back to back nights or as part of hectic road trips. During those sorts of games it would sure seem likely a goaltender will be called upon to make some clutch saves and play in some tight games where one gal is the difference. Add to that thought that in games that go to "extra innings" - overtime or the shoot out - the goaltender is clearly the most important cog in the gears to victory. So far 62 games have been played in the NHL during the month of December; goaltending has been a key factor, if not the primary factor in 58% of those games. Fourteen (14) games or 22.5% have ended in overtime or shootouts; while eleven (11) other games or 17.74% have ended in regulation but have been decided by a single goal. Additionally it seems that a growing number of games are shutouts. Over the past three nights eight (8) games have been shutouts, overall eleven (11) games or 17.74% have been shutouts. To further highlight the importance of goaltending in the eight shutouts so far this week, none of the loosing teams were playing game 2 of a back to back nights effort.
So it seems odd to me that only eight goaltenders in the NHL currently make $6M or more in current salary - they are: Luongo, Vancouver $7.5M; Kiprusoff, Calgary $7M; Lundqvist, NY Rangers $6.875M; Miller, Buffalo $6.25M; Giguere, Anaheim, $6M; Nabokov, San Jose, $6M; and Tim Thomas, Boston, $6M. Further only goaltenders who are the highest paid members of their team are Luongo who bests each of the Sedin twins by $1.4M; Kiprusoff who is tied to be the highest paid guy on his team with Iginla; Nicklas Backstom of the Wild who is the highest paid member of the team by $700K; Tomas Vokoun of the Florida Panthers who with a salary this season of $5.7M is the highest paid member of his team by over $1M; and Rick DiPietro of the NY Islanders who with salary of $4.5M leads his team by $400K. So of thrity NHL teams eight have goaltenders who they pay in the top echelon of league salaries (over 10+% of the salary cap) and two others have goaltenders who they feel are worthy of the highest salary on their teams. To be sure few if any NHL starting goaltenders are hitting the soup kitchens other then possibly to preform charity work any time soon. However I wonder with goaltending so important why aren't more teams being forced to cough up higher salaries for their starting/#1 goaltenders than just 30% of the league?