There are different theories on why goalies can be so good one year and so ordinary the next.
The biggest factor is confidence. You have to believe in yourself and your ability. You have to believe that the coach has confidence in what you can do and you have to believe your teammates are confident that you can win.
So, how do you get there and why can’t every team create that environment for a goaltender?
There are coaches who make the goaltending job much easier. Martin Brodeur was able to play 70 games a year because his coach stressed a system that let the goalie see the first shot — that was usually from a bad angle — and then never have to worry about a rebound or deflection.
Jacques Lemaire made every goalie that played for him look their best. Manny Fernandez looked really good playing for Jacques. How was he in Boston? Niklas Backstrom shared the Jennings Trophy and had a 1.97 goals against average playing for Lemaire. Dwayne Roloson had a 1.88 average, again when playing for Jacques.
Dave Tippett is the same kind of coach. He believes in his goalies and makes them believe in themselves. Marty Turco went from backup to star in Dallas and posted an incredible 1.72 GAA in Tippett’s first year in Dallas. Ilya Bryzgalov should thank him for his contract in Philly and Mike Smith has finally proven he can be a No. 1 because he has Tippett calling the shots.
This brings me to the team with the hottest goaltending tandem in the NHL: the St. Louis Blues. Ken Hitchcock is a goalie’s coach. Ed Belfour was always good but he needed that extra push to get to that next level. Hitchcock was the guy to do it for him.
The Columbus Blue Jackets have made the playoffs once. Hitchcock turned Steve Mason into the rookie of the year when he got 10 shutouts and was 13 games over .500. How was he when Hitch left?
Jaroslav Halak got off to a shaky start this year in St. Louis and Brian Elliott was carrying the load. Goaltending coach Cory Hirsch did a great job with Elliott getting his confidence back but when Hitchcock took over as the team’s coach, both goaltenders knew their jobs became a lot easier.
The Blues have been the model of defensive consistency and for the first time in history, two goalies on the same team have six shutouts each. Did both these guys get that much better in six months or has the coach made the difference?