If you’ve been paying attention to Olympic hockey this week, you’re probably aware of team Slovakia’s goaltending issue with Jaroslav Halak. In his first stint against the U.S., he let in 5 goals before being replaced by backup Peter Budaj. The nightmare continued in the next game versus Slovenia, letting in 3 goals on 31 shots.
The thing that people aren’t noticing is the abundance of games in international competition that end up like this. Sure, it can bring down a team in the standings, but let’s not forget how close the Slovaks came to beating the Russians before losing in a shootout. They didn’t allow a goal towards one of the most heavily favored teams in the tournament for a good 65 minutes.
First, we can take a look at the USA game. Letting in 5 goals doesn’t help their cause, but there’s something to take into account: In the past 5 years, 38% of all preliminary top division IIHF matches have had the winning team score 5 goals or more. So if we can assume that every team was average, we can say that any team would be fine with losing one of their games by 5 goals or more, since there are 3 preliminary games.
With the Slovenia game, we can look at goals against. In the past 6 years of top division IIHF games, the team that was ranked lowest in the tournament at the beginning had a mean goals for (GF) of 3.07 and a standard deviation of 1.55. So for an average goalie facing the lowest ranked team, we’d expect 3 goals allowed. And even in a best-case-scenario, where he lets in only 1 StdDev less than the mean, (3.07 – 1.55 = 1.52) he would still let in 2 goals if we’re rounding. Even that kind of performance wouldn’t have been enough to backup a Slovak offense that only scored once.
From this article, we can set aside our grudges of starting Halak, because he didn’t do any worse than what an average goalie would’ve done.