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Taking a look at Alain Vigneault’s goalie usage history

There’s a lot to like here, folks.

Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

One of the major complaints lodged by Flyers fans against former head coach Dave Hakstol was how he handled his goaltenders. From starting Steve Mason almost every single game down the stretch in 2015-16 as the team attempted to reach the playoffs, to starting Anthony Stolarz in nine consecutive games last season, Hakstol truly struggled with managing goalies. This was something we all were relieved to be rid of, especially when Carter Hart was called up to the NHL.

But now, with a new bench boss in Alain Vigneault, we have somewhat of an unknown relative to goalie usage. With a young star like Carter Hart who by all accounts appears to be the savior of the never-ending goalie carousel in Philadelphia, this topic becomes even more relevant. So, just how has Alain Vigneault managed his goaltenders over the years?

The Montreal Years

Sadly, goalie starts were apparently a statistic simply not tracked until the 2007-2008 season so all we have to go from this period is games played. Regardless, let’s look at how Vigneault managed his goalies with the Montreal Canadiens.

In Vigneault’s first season in Montreal he received the goaltending combination of Jocelyn Thibault and Andy Moog. Thibault entered the season having played in 61 games the prior year for head coach Mario Tremblay, with Pat Jablonski and then 20-year-old Jose Theodore getting the next most appearances at 17 and 16 respectively. In 1997-98, Thibault saw his starts decrease to just 47 while Moog saw 42. Moog was in Dallas in 1996-97 and played in 48 games, posting solid numbers with a .913 save percentage.

Thibault, if you don’t recall, was the goalie prospect set to take over for Patrick Roy in Montreal and had just come off his second season as a Hab. Vigneault began his NHL coaching career with a bang, opting to start Moog over Thibault on an opening night in which the Habs tied the Sens 2-2. Moog would start the next three games for Montreal as a matter of fact, and ironically enough Thibault only saw his first bit of action against the Flyers, as Moog was pulled for giving up five goals on 24 shots.

In the following season, Thibault was dealt to Chicago and Vigneault’s duo became the goalie acquired in said Chicago trade, Jeff Hackett, and a mix of Jose Theodore and Frederic Chabot. The 30-year-old Hackett was coming off a season in which he played 58 games for Chicago. With a young Theodore and a mediocre Chabot, Hackett would play in 53 games for the Habs with Theodore getting 18, and Chabot getting 10. Thibault would also get 10 before being traded for Hackett.

In Vigneault’s final full season as bench boss of the Habs, Hackett and Theodore would be the only two goalies to play for Montreal, and games played were dispersed well. Hackett, the still-solid veteran, played in 56 while Theodore played in 30.

The Vancouver Years

Now we finally get to look at games-started and get a real idea for how Vigneault managed his goalies. The first year of his tenure doesn’t feature games-started data, but the goalie tandem was Roberto Luongo and Danny Sabourin, so the 76 games Luongo played in seem justified.

Vigneault Canucks Goalie Usage

Year Goalies GS GP
Year Goalies GS GP
2007-2008 Roberto Luongo 73 73
Curtis Sanford 9 16
Drew MacIntyre 0 2
2008-2009 Luongo 53 54
Sanford 15 19
Jason LaBarbera 8 9
Cory Schneider 5 8
2009-2010 Luongo 67 68
Andrew Raycroft 14 21
Schneider 1 2
2010-2011 Luongo 60 60
Schneider 22 25
2011-2012 Luongo 54 55
Schneider 28 33
2012-2013 Schneider 30 30
Luongo 18 20

So, one thing is abundantly clear from this chart, and that is when Vigneault has a competent backup goalie he can trust and rely upon, he will use him. In an article for BSH published shortly after the Vigneault hiring, Steph Driver asked the lead man at Nucks Misconduct a few things about our new head coach. One of the questions from that article was about the goalie usage and the tendency to either ride the hot hand, or use the tandem system we’ve seen the past couple of seasons, Kent Basky said this:

AV is definitely a tandem coach. Luongo and Schneider won the Jennings on his watch, and he always seemed to be motivated to make sure his number one was getting enough rest. It’s been said he ran them as 1 and 1A, if that helps. I think most coaches will let a guy go if he’s on a good run, but you’re not gonna see a 65 games for one goalie type of situation from AV if there’s a competent backup.

This is clearly backed up by the data above. Early on when there wasn’t a reliable backup in the days of Curtis Sanford, Jason LaBarbera, and Andrew Raycroft, Vigneault rode Roberto Luongo as much as he could. He didn’t go wild and give him 70+ games a season (other than that first season in Vancouver), but Luongo averaged around 60+ starts. Once Schneider proved to be a capable option, Vigneault had no problem going to him if Luongo began to struggle.

Something that is also important to point out here is the general lack of pulling the goalie midway through a game once Schneider came into the fold. From 2007-08 to 2009-10, Vigneault did this a grand total of 27 times over three seasons. From 2010-11 to his final year with the Canucks in the lockout shortened 2012-2013 season, that number dropped to just 11 times.

The Flyers team that Vigneault will be coaching this season will feature a team of Carter Hart and Brian Elliott in net. With Hart being the presumed starter and Elliott the backup, it’s extremely important that Elliott establish himself early on as a capable goalie. If Elliott doesn’t earn Vigneault’s trust, we could see a situation where Hart plays a few more games than we’d like, and it hurts him come playoff time should the Flyers make it there.

Speaking of the playoffs, does Vigneault change is strategy come playoff hockey? Well, it’s complicated. In 2006-07 Luongo was only pulled twice in a remarkable playoff performance in which he posted a .941 save percentage. The next time Vancouver reached the postseason would be 2008-09, and in 10 playoff games Luongo started and finished all of them.

The following year, despite having a horrendous playoffs, Luongo only came out of one game for backup Andrew Raycroft, again speaking to the unwillingness of Vigneault to go to his backup when there’s a lack of trust. In 2010-11 when the Canucks went to their one and only Stanley Cup Final under Vigneault, there was clear trust in backup Cory Schneider.

We all remember Schneider having to come in for Luongo twice during the Final vs. Boston, but he actually made a start during these playoffs as well in game six of the Quarter-Finals series vs. Chicago. He would allow three goals on 20 shots before being pulled for Luongo. The following year was an interesting one for Vancouver come playoff time, which leads us to arguably the most questionable decision making from Vigneault regarding goalies in his years with Vancouver.

Schneider was flat out insane in the 2011-12 regular season. He posted a .937 save percentage in 28 games started and 33 overall played. While Luongo had a solid season with a .919 in 55 games played, there appeared to be a clear distinction as to who was having the better season. Luongo would start the playoffs vs. Los Angeles and give up eight goals in two games, leading Vigneault to turn to Schneider. All the 25-year-old backup would do is almost single-handedly keep Vancouver alive.

Schneider let in just four goals over the next three games, and despite losing to L.A in five games, Schneider had proven he could play on the big stage come playoff time. The following year, the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, Schneider would see the bulk of the starts. He started 30 games to Luongo’s 18 - and rightly so when looking at the statistics for that season. Schneider’s .927 save percentage was far better than Luongo’s .907 and the expectation was that Schneider was a lock to start their first round series vs. San Jose, until he didn’t.

Schneider was injured in his final start of the regular season, a 3-1 win vs. Chicago. This kept him out for the first two games of the series and when he returned in game three, he clearly wasn’t the same goalie. He’d allow five goals on 28 shots in game three, and four in game four resulting in a sweep at the hands of the Sharks.

Overall, there’s a good bit to like of his goalie usage in Vancouver. If Elliott proves himself to be a viable backup and Carter Hart comes out of the gates strong, we should see a very measured and balanced approach to the goalie situation, something we haven’t seen in quite some time.

The New York Years

Vigneault’s final ride before being hired this offseason was with the New York Rangers. Yet again he was placed in a solid goalie situation with one of the best goalies of his era, Henrik Lundqvist. He would also see a good mix of backups with the likes of Cam (Camuel) Talbot and Antti Raanta. So, how did he utilize these combinations?

Vigneualt Rangers Goalie Usage

Year Goalies GS GP
Year Goalies GS GP
2013-2014 Henrik Lundqvist 62 63
Cam Talbot 19 21
Martin Biron 1 2
2014-2015 Lundqvist 46 46
Talbot 34 36
Mackenzie Skapsi 2 2
2015-2016 Lundqvist 64 65
Antti Raanta 18 25
Magnus Hellberg 0 1
2016-2017 Lundqvist 55 57
Raanta 26 30
Hellberg 1 2
2017-2018 Lundqvist 61 63
Alexandar Georgiev 9 10
Ondrej Pavelec 12 19
Brandon Halverson 0 1

One of the more noticeable differences from the Canucks years to Rangers years is the heavier reliance on the starting goalie. Henrik Lundqvist, deservedly so, had Vigneault’s trust and although he trusted Cam Talbot and Antti Raanta, it wasn’t to the extent of Schneider in Vancouver. The closest we saw to that level of trust was Talbot’s second season before going to Edmonton, where he started 34 games and played in 36.

What a lot of this shows is that Vigneault is not afraid to ride his starter if he trusts him enough. Obviously, when you have a goalie the caliber of Henrik Lundqvist, he should start a good majority of your team’s games. The hope is that Carter Hart can be that guy, and if he can be along with Elliott starting either slow or inconsistently, we very well could see Hart get the bulk of the starts based off this data.

The variable in this of course is that Vigneault has never really had this kind of goalie situation before. The closest thing to it was his first year in Montreal where he had a young Jocelyn Thibault and Andy Moog. Other than that, he’s generally had established goaltenders as his starters.

As for his usage of goalies in the playoffs, there’s not a whole lot of drama. Lundqvist got almost every start and the only time we saw him pulled a good deal in the playoffs was the 2015-16 season where he posted an .867 save percentage and was pulled three times.

Conclusion

Overall, there’s a good deal to like here when it comes to Vigneault’s goalie usage. Again, it’s tough to be certain given the lack of experience with a young star goalie, but what shouldn’t happen is Carter Hart starting 15 games in a row. That is exactly what the franchise wanted to avoid when he was brought up from Lehigh Valley. If Elliott can simply stay healthy and serve in a solid backup goalie role where he can play 30-40 games and hover around a .910-.915 save percentage.

The most important thing however is that thankfully, it doesn’t appear as though worrying about goalie usage is something the fanbase won’t have to do this season. Only time will tell, but Vigneault’s tendencies throughout his career lead me to believe he will take good care of our best boy Carter.

All data courtesy of hockey-reference

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