While the Olympics are in full swing, with people’s nationalistic fever high, the inaugural World Cup of Hockey is glimmering in the distance. With the fall event approaching, Team USA coach John Tortorella faces a difficult decision. Who will start in goal?
Team USA Goalie Conflict
Tortorella possesses three highly capable netminders on his roster, Jonathan Quick, Ben Bishop, and Cory Schneider. These goalies are among the best in the NHL, and arguably give the United States the best goaltending depth of all of the teams in the tournament.
Quick is a winner. He led the Los Angeles Kings to two Stanley Cup championships in three years, a feat likely impossible without him. He posted an astronomical .946 save percentage and 1.41 goals against average (GAA) in the 2011-12 playoffs, when he led the Kings to their first cup. Tortorella definitely remembers how dominant Quick was throughout those playoffs, with his New York Rangers making a run to the Eastern Conference Finals that same year.
The Connecticut native has nine shutouts and a .921 save percentage over his entire playoff career of 81 games. That is nearly a full season’s worth of playoff games for Quick, and far more than both of his competitors.
A member of the previous two United States Olympic teams, Quick understands what it is like playing on the international stage too. At the 2014 Olympics, he recorded a .923 save percentage and 2.17 GAA, but the team did not receive a medal.
Quick is clearly the biggest name of the three candidates, and he would likely draw the most eyeballs. Playing in so many significant games on a team nationally showcased throughout the year makes him the sexy choice.
Not so Fast?, Quick
What have you done for me lately? Sure, Quick remains one of the most dependable goalies in the NHL, but his play since his Vezina campaign in 2011-12 has not been spectacular. He has not overcome the .920 save percentage threshold since that season, and his play has not matched that of Bishop and Schneider.
Experience can help in high-pressure situations like the ones the starting goalie will face in the World Cup of Hockey this fall. But often with goalies, the coach has to select the player at the top of their game at that specific time. The Pittsburgh Penguins surged to the cup on the back of 21 year old goaltender Matt Murray, even though he only had played in 13 games prior to the playoffs.
Marc-Andre Fleury did get some playing time throughout the Penguins’ run, but the journey belonged to Murray. Fleury brought the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Final in back-to-back seasons from 2008-2009. He won the cup in 2009 and has been a mainstay in the net for Pittsburgh in recent years. Yet Penguins coach, Mike Sullivan, who also happens to be on Tortorella’s staff, decided to stick with Murray. It paid off for the Penguins, so Team USA may ignore the reputation of Quick.
Bring On Bishop
Based on the numbers, Bishop is the best option. Teams feel his presence with his net filling 6’7, 216 pound build, as he has been one of the most dominant goaltenders in the NHL in the past few years. His consistency has allowed the Tampa Bay Lightning to make deep playoff runs each of the last two seasons. He failed to capture the cup, but has shutdown opponents with a .927 save percentage and 2.09 GAA in 36 playoff appearances. His playoff success shows that he can excel when the spotlight is brightest.
Bishop led the league with a 2.06 GAA last season, and had the best save percentage of the three United States goalies at .926.
Bishop may be a strong playoff goalie on record, but he has yet to win anything. Sports can be loveless when it comes to this because the reality is that nobody remembers who was the runner up. There is a difference between knowing what it takes to be successful and what it takes to win.
At only 29 years old, he has plenty of time to win a cup, and he will have a sufficient window of opportunity. The Lightning have only begun to sprout and are built to last. They have a surplus of young forwards, and re-signed superstar center Steven Stamkos, giving them a strong foundation to succeed. But heading into September’s tournament, Bishop is still waiting.
He also has the luxury of playing behind one of the league’s top contenders in Tampa Bay. With a high-powered offense working down the ice, Bishop can remain relaxed in goal.
The Case for Cory
The redhead from Marblehead, Massachusetts is certainly used to trying to win a job. For most of his career, Schneider has had an established goaltender in front of him. He shared time in goal with Roberto Luongo with the Vancouver Canucks, and the legendary Martin Brodeur with the New Jersey Devils. This left him stapled to the bench often early in his career.
While secondary to a couple of all time great players, he still managed to steal many starts. Receiving such a large portion of action shows the talent that Schneider possesses. Playing well with only an indefinite amount of minutes could translate to World Cup play. He will not be flustered, even with Bishop and Quick breathing down his neck.
Since inheriting the Devils’ starting spot from Brodeur, Schneider has been outstanding. His .924 save percentage and 2.15 GAA ranks as elite in comparison to the rest of the league, but what truly separates him from the others is how valuable he was for the Devils. With his play, he turned a team destined for a top 5 draft pick into a team with sights on the playoffs until early March.
The Devils’ rebuild could be much shorter than usual because they have such a rock in goal. Schneider keeps the team in most games, and understands that each goal he allows could be devastating to the offensively challenged Devils.
While Schneider has not won much in the NHL, he led Boston College to two Hockey East championships, and a National Championship game. He has only had a small taste of the NHL playoffs with 10 appearances.
Keep him on the Schneid?
Like Bishop, Schneider has not won a Stanley Cup, and has played in even fewer playoff games. Although he established himself as a goaltender the Devils can rely on last season, he only has two full seasons under his belt.
The Devils’ goalie tends to have dreadful outings on rare occasions as well. While he usually is excellent for the Devils, he inexplicably has terrible games where he seems rather lost. With games so meaningful in the World Cup, Team USA cannot afford Schneider to perform poorly.
Schneider may be the definitive starter in future world events, but since he has only recently emerged as an elite United States goalie, he may not get his chance yet.
How will Tortorella Choose?
With this strong array of goalies for Team USA, Tortorella will have to decide based on what he and his staff sees when the team first unites. He may evaluate the goaltenders’ performances in the initial stages of the tournament before he finalizes the starter that the team will go all in for.