(WECK 1230) — He’s likable enough, this Patrick Lalime character, with his wool hat and his Clooneyesque five o’clock shadow. The 36-year-old goaltender who just last year posted wins over Chicago and Pittsburgh (WHAT?!? They lost to a backup goaltender?!?!) has only seen action when there isn’t room on the road bench for the second-string netminder.
But this morning I thought to myself, could he really be that bad? Is Lalime such a calamity between the pipes that they call up a rookie when Ryan Miller needs a rest?
The answer for the stat monger, quite simply, is, “No.”
STAT NO. 1: Limited sample size
As Sabres fans know all-too-well, Ryan Miller has played an awful lot. Only Cam Ward, Miikka Kiprusoff and Carey Price have seen more ice time than Buffalo’s backstop. Ilya Bryzgalov has also played nearly as much as Miller. How have their No. 2s fared?
Carolina: Justin Peters 11 GP, 7 GS, 3-4-1, 3.88 GAA, .880 save pct.
Calgary: Henrik Karlsson 13 GP, 9 GS, 4-3-4, 2.63 GAA, .900 save pct.
Montreal: Alex Auld 10 GP, 9 GS, 4-2-1, 2.56 GAA, .920 save pct.
Buffalo: Patrick Lalime 7 GP, 4 GS, 0-5-0, 2.96 GAA, .890 save pct.
Phoenix: Jason Labarbera, 16 GP, 14 GS, 6-6-3, 3.43 GAA, .900 save pct.
STAT NO. 2: Strength of opponent
This is going to end up reading like quite the judgment of Lindy Ruff, but it’s a little bizarre that Lalime’s four starts have come against high quality teams: Chicago, Dallas, Tampa and Montreal. Tampa and Chicago are Nos. 5 and 6 in the NHL in goals-per-game, while the Habs and the Stars goal totals have dropped significantly following hot starts to the season (Each led their respective divisions for a good deal of 2010-11).
Jhonas Enroth has performed well during his call-ups and his latest stop with the Sabres was a highlight of a performance versus Montreal. His goals against average of 2.70 and save percentage of .906 are superior to Lalime’s digits.
Truth is, Enroth is not only a better prospect but a better goaltender right now, but he’s also in the zone of playing often. He also had the fortune of playing regularly when he played, including back-to-back nights on Nov. 10 and 11. His opponents in starts? Boston (pulled), Toronto, New Jersey, the Rangers, Pittsburgh and Montreal. Only the Bruins are in the league’s Top Ten in goals-per-game, while only Pittsburgh is near Buffalo — equal — in that category, scoring 2.77 per contest.
STAT NO. 3: The wrong numbers
Here’s an opinion I find to be irrefutable: Lalime is the Sabres No. 3 goaltender. Honestly, his number should be compared to the third-best goaltender in any organization. I won’t defend Ruff for starting Miller in 30-plus consecutive games, but I will defend the idea of having your No. 2 goaltender constantly getting work over in Portland.
The Sabres organization clearly trusts Kevin Dineen, Eric Weinrich and company to prepare Enroth to be the club’s eventual No. 2. There’s also very little question Lalime knew what he was signing up for when he re-inked with Buffalo, given that Enroth was given the reigns when Miller was injured early in the campaign.
After all, Lalime was the only teammate mentioned in Miller’s Vezina speech and Miller is certainly someone you want to psychologically keep at ease. It’s not like the team simply freaked out with Lalime struggled in his first two starts. If that’s the case, Darcy Regier and perhaps even Ruff are inept regardless of ownership. I don’t believe that’s true.
CONCLUSION: You don’t have to love Patrick Lalime, but he’s fine for the current job if he accepted his responsibilities early. I’m assuming this represents a stab at forward-thinking by the Sabres brass to have Enroth playing regularly while actually the team’s No. 2, but that shouldn’t play into how you judge Lalime. Whether or not you like the organizational philosophy, Lalime is being unfairly judged on a horrible misplay that is being magnified by his small sample size.