Hey, remember that game against the Calgary Flames on Monday?
Probably not. You probably blocked it from your memory, which is totally respectable. It was a bad game. In fact, it was the worst game the Vegas Golden Knights have played all season. They lost 7–2, and Calgary’s seven goals were scored in under 25 minutes. Not great!
A bad performance has multiple factors, but in a blowout loss, most people point to the goalie as the crux of the issue. Indeed, Malcolm Subban, the young second-string goalie for the Golden Knights, is an easy scapegoat in Monday night’s loss. Subban should’ve stopped at least three of those goals. Subban’s save percentage was .840. Subban’s just not that good. See how easy that was?
The reality isn’t so simple, though. Subban actually played really, really well.
We love statistics here at Knights On Ice, but Subban’s performance against the Flames looks, well, really awful on paper, and that’s not where one would truly see how he played. To get the full story, one has to really watch him.
Let’s start with the first goal of the game.
GOAL. Matthew Tkachuk opens the scoring with a laser past Malcolm Subban. pic.twitter.com/WGBa6dmcS3— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) November 20, 2018
On a Flames power play, a cross-ice pass turns into a beautiful wrist shot from Matthew Tkachuk. This is perhaps the best example of the mistakes that Calgary was able to capitalize on. The Golden Knights were nowhere near Tkachuk. All of Vegas’ penalty killers got caught down low, preoccupied with Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau.
Another defensive blunder allowed the Flames’ second goal.
GOAL. Johnny Gaudreau doubles the Calgary lead. Here's a good view of the full defensive breakdown that led to the goal. pic.twitter.com/Cp3QaQ1Z9j— Ryan Quigley (@RP_Quigs) November 20, 2018
The GIF says it all. The Golden Knights just completely faltered. Calgary evaded the opposing team not once, not twice, but three times! It was masterful passing up against masterfully slow defense. Subban didn’t stand a chance.
Nick Holden certainly didn’t blame his goalie. “We left Subban out to dry on almost every one of those goals,” he said. “Even with what we gave, he still had to make five or six unbelievable saves to not let any more in.”
And Holden’s right. Those saves were unbelievable.
The ground is where Subban shines. The example above, the two-man breakaway, is simply fantastic. No. 30 was quick to react when Garnet Hathaway passed the puck back to Derek Ryan and got his left pad down just in time to make the save.
Subban made saves like this, when the Flames had a clear breakaway, over and over. He did the same when the Golden Knights played the Nashville Predators in October. And when they played the Boston Bruins just two weeks ago.
Of course, three games does not a goalie make. If we want a larger sample size, consider last season. Subban had a .910 save percentage over 22 games. His overall record was impressive at 13-4-2.
When your first-string goalie is Marc-Andre Fleury, it can be difficult to put anyone else in the net and expect similar results. The Golden Knights themselves seem to agree — Fleury has played more minutes than any other goalie in the NHL this season thus far. He also played two games in a row this Thanksgiving weekend, earning shutouts in both. So, Vegas isn’t necessarily unjustified with the faith they’ve put into their starter.
So where does that leave Subban? Is he simply on the roster as Fleury’s relief when the team plays back-to-back games? Or are the Golden Knights going to give their young goalie the chance to prove himself?
Despite the lack of support from his defense, Subban’s performance this season says he’s up for the challenge. Now is not the time to underestimate the 24-year-old. He’s shown us what he can do in the past, and it’s time the Knights give him some more opportunities.