Malcolm Subban (USA Today Sports)
Hypotheticals, they can be fun. They can also be scary. More often than not, I go with the former. It’s fun to wonder what could happen if so on and so forth were to happen. Throughout the course of the season, many unexpected things can and will occur. Trades, free agent signings, and most often injuries can derail the most impeccably strategized season. Recently, the Vegas Golden Knights fell victim to the injury bug, when a lower-body injury hit starter Marc-Andre Fleury. He is being considered day-to-day which suggests that he will be back, but the possibility of a Fleury-less team got me thinking. Could the Golden Knights make a deep playoff run with Malcolm Subban as the number one netminder?
Based on skillset alone, Subban has the tools to be a great goaltender. He has the athleticism you simply can’t teach. He is quick from post-to-post and often makes good reads while under duress. Each start, he makes a handful of saves he has a less-than-fifty percent chance of making. Subban’s shootout record shows how good he is, when it comes down to quickness and instincts. Since joining the Golden Knights, Subban has been perfect in shootouts, over 16 attempts. In the 2017-18 season alone, Subban went a perfect 13 for 13, during shootouts.
“I just try to be patient and not try to read the shooter, but don’t assume and don’t guess and just try to be patient and wait. Kind of trust in my abilities that if they get around, I’ll get there and make the save.”
-Malcolm Subban on shootouts
Subban's Shootout Victory vs Florida (USA Today Sports)
Aside from his shootout ability, the 25-year-old back-up has been learning from one of the best goalies of all time, in Fleury. Fleury finds himself near the top on the all-time leaderboards in games played (17th), wins (8th), shut outs (21st), save percentage (34th), and even assists (33rd). A young, athletic goalie learning from one of the best to ever play the game, is invaluable to both the Golden Knights and Subban himself. As a pending restricted free agent, Subban now has the chance to essentially play for his next contract, in Fleury’s brief absence.
In his first test since the injury, Subban was faced with a back-to-back set of games; a home game against Connor McDavid and the Oilers, then a road matchup with the rival Sharks, in San Jose. Subban received enormous goal support from the team in front of him, on his way to a 6-3 win over the Oil and a 7-3 drowning of the Sharks. Despite the final scores, both games were closer than they’d appear and Subban was one of the reasons they were still in both games. Sunday’s game was nationally televised and billed as “Star Sunday” by NBC Sports, with McDavid on the slate. Per usual, the young phenom picked up a few points, but Subban was the under-the-radar star. He made multiple big saves on the likes of Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and McDavid. On one play in particular, Subban was hung out to dry by a huge turnover, but he calmly stopped the Draisaitl breakaway attempt.
Against the Sharks, Subban started out a bit shakier. He gave up two goals in the first period, one in the first :30 of the game. Joe Thornton’s goal, to tie the game at two, was particularly egregious, as the seemingly harmless shot beat Subban low, glove side. Maybe he didn’t expect a shot out of Thornton, a guy with 1,058 career assists. Maybe the goal was due to his imperfect positioning. Either way, that goal perfectly displays the knock on Subban. He is not as polished as most NHL starting goaltenders, rightfully so, as this is just his second full season at the NHL level.
Which brings us to the question at hand, could the Golden Knights make a deep playoff run with Subban as the number one? In order to answer that question, a few main factors must be broken down.
1. Who could the Golden Knights potentially match-up against?
2. How does he compare to other playoff goalies?
3. Do the Golden Knights have a good enough team to support a back-up goaltender?
Who could the Golden Knights potentially match-up against?
Due to the new playoff format, the Golden Knights will face a division rival, if they remain in Pacific Division’s number three seed. This means they will either play the Calgary Flames or the Sharks in the first round of the playoffs. Both teams are very similar in construction. Both the Sharks and the Flames have great top-end talent and depth up front. In Calgary, they ice Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk, and Elias Lindholm. San Jose sends out Joe Pavelski, Evander Kane, Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, and Thornton. What makes these two teams so special, is that they have equally promising defense corps.
Holding down the blueline for the Flames is their captain Mark Giordano, a two-time all-star and quite possibly this year’s biggest snub. The Flames also have T.J Brodie, Travis Hamonic, and the 21-year-old Noah Hanifin. San Jose’s d-men are a bit flashier, led by Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, paired with the responsible, defensive-minded Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brenden Dillon. Keeping with the similarity, both teams have question marks in goal. Martin Jones is one of the most inconsistent starters in the league. The Sharks’ starter has games where he looks unbeatable and others he looks out of place, including the previous game against the Golden Knights. For the Flames, David Rittich has stepped up admirably while incumbent starter Mike Smith struggled. Now Smith is beginning to regain form and the tandem has put up solid numbers, but it would be hard to be overly confident in that duo, heading into the Flames’ first playoff since a 2017 sweep at the hands of the currently-rebuilding Anaheim Ducks.
Subban Has Been Snake-bitten by the Flames (USA Today Sports)
Subban is 2-0-1 against the Sharks and 0-2-0 against the Flames in his tenure with the Golden Knights. Aside from a relief appearance last season, his numbers against the Flames are brutal. Over his two losses of record, Subban stopped 54 of 66 shots for a subpar .818 save percentage. Against the Sharks, in his two starts, Subban stopped 78 out of 83 shots, for a much better .940 save percentage. It seems that the Flames have his number, for whatever reason, but the back-up has done a nice job against the Golden Knights’ rivals from California.
How does Subban compare to other playoff goalies?
Teams currently in the playoffs and their current starting goaltenders:
– David Rittich (26-7-5, 2.63 GAA, .911 SV%)
– Martin Jones (34-15-5, 2.91 GAA, .898 SV%)
– Malcolm Subban (6-7-0, 3.11 GAA, .901 SV%)
– Connor Hellebuyck (30-20-2, 2.97 GAA, .910 SV%)
– Pekka Rinne/Juuse Saros (Fairly even tandem) (Rinne: 26-18-3, 2.46 GAA, .915 SV%)
– Jake Allen (18-17-7, 2.85 GAA, .904 SV%)
– Ben Bishop (25-14-2, 2.05 GAA, .932 SV%)
– Darcy Kuemper (24-17-6, 2.48 GAA, .920 SV%)
Subban’s numbers are closest to those of Martin Jones, the shakiest of the goaltenders listed. While Subban’s numbers seem bad, he naturally doesn’t have the benefit of playing as many games as the starters. Therefore, one bad game can have a huge impact on the stats. Subban’s 7-2 loss in Calgary earlier this season is an example of that. Additionally, most teams get away from their normal game, when the starter isn’t in net. That was a large factor in the Flames’ 7-2 rout of Subban. There were so many defensive breakdowns, it was hard to keep track of them all. Skill for skill, Subban can play at a comparable level to his opposing netminders, on a night-by-night basis. His consistency in a playoff series is hard to gauge, as he hasn’t had that type of opportunity at this point in his career. Despite the potential shortcomings, his ability to battle and keep the Golden Knights in games, is one major positive that Subban has going for him.
Are the Golden Knights a good enough team to support a back-up goaltender?
In their inaugural season, the Golden Knights established a reputation as a high-scoring, fast skating team. Their relentless pressure and forward depth led to the “Misfits” finishing second in the Western Conference with 272 goals for, for a respectable average of 3.3 goals per game. Prior to the trade deadline, the Golden Knights were not looking like that high-octane, offensive juggernaut of the previous season. Upon acquiring Mark Stone at the deadline, the Golden Knights have gone 9-1-0, scoring 42 goals while allowing a mere 22 goals in that stretch. Stone’s arrival woke up the Golden Knights, who were stuck in a rut in the 17 games prior (5-11-1 record). With Stone playing alongside Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty, Alex Tuch has been able to slide down a line, giving Cody Eakin some talent on his line. Simply put, the addition of Stone made Vegas way stronger and they locked him down with a long contract extension. If San Jose can get by with Jones’ inconsistency, the new-look Golden Knights can certainly carry a back-up goaltender through the playoffs, if necessary.
Malcolm Subban (USA Today Sports)
Although Fleury should be back before the playoffs start, the Golden Knights could win a round or two with Subban in net. His play never stands out as a goalie that can’t hang in the NHL. Add in the fact that he is playing for his new deal and the Golden Knights could have a determined man in net, if need be. Overall, the team has been extremely strong lately, to a point where they can give Subban the goal support needed in the event of a potential rough patch for the young back-up. If this question came up a month ago, there’s no chance Vegas beats a Sharks or Flames team, backed by Subban. Right here, right now, the Golden Knights may be good enough to defend their Western Conference Championship, with or without Fleury in goal.
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