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Czech Goaltending

I think the most interesting development from the first day of the Men's Olympic Hockey tournament has been the goaltending for the Czech Republic.  I assumed their number one goalie would be Ondrej Pavelec of the Winnipeg Jets.  He is the only NHL goaltender on their roster.  Granted he isn't having the greatest season.  He currently is posting a .901 saves percentage and a 2.97 GAA.  Their other goalies are KHLers in Jakub Kovar and Alexander Salak.  They are both posting solid numbers in the lesser league.  Kovar plays with Automobilist Yekaterinburg and has posted a .934 saves percentage and a 1.91 GAA.  Salak plays for SKA St Petersburg and has posted a .933 saves percentage and a 1.86 GAA.  As good as those numbers would be in the NHL, they are in the later part of the top ten in the KHL.

The big surprise came when it was announced that Pavelec would be the healthy scratch goaltender for their opening game against Sweden.

Jakub Kovar began the game in the Czech nets.  He was bad.  He was pulled early in the second period after he allowed three goals on only ten shots.  Alexander Salak finished the game.  He allowed one more goal but wasn't very well tested.  The Swedes "took their foot off the gas" after they had 3-0 lead and Kovar was pulled.  The Swedes held on to win 4-2 in a game that was not nearly as close as the score showed. 

It will be interesting to see how the Czechs handle their goaltending in the future.  Will Pavelec be used from here on?  It is clear that Kovar has lost his shot to be their top goalie.  Will Salak get a chance in their next game?

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I think many people may be overlooking the fact that the Czech team may have used this first game as an opportunity to simply get a look at the other goalies early on in the games. Pavelich is a known commodity as far as facing NHLers goes, so not surprised to see both goalies get a good look early. Also, if Pavelich goes out and has a bad game against a great Swedish offense, that could severely damage the confidence of the team.

Posted by StayClassy on 02/13/14 at 02:31 AM ET

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The stakes are pretty low in the group stage. There’s no real penalty for failure (since all teams advance anyway) and no real reward for success (since the qualification round is going to be against a doormat anyway, and higher seeds won’t necessarily mean easier routes to the final).

So I’m not surprised the Czechs might use the group stage partially as an opportunity to test out their roster and not worry so obsessively about trying to optimize their deployment for the best chance at a victory.

While I think it’s likely that Pavelec is the best Czech goaltender at the tournament, I don’t think it’s a slam-dunk that a .907 career NHL goaltender having a bad season is necessarily still better than a good KHL starter. With Pavelec they’re pretty sure they know what they have—a well below average NHL goalie. With the other two guys it’s not as clear.

That said, if I was the Czech coach and wanted to test a goalie other than Pavelec, I would have chosen Salak. He never really got a shot in the NHL but he has a successful track record in both the AHL and top European leagues (Finland, Sweden, and the KHL this year). By contrast, Kovar’s only professional experience before this year was in the Czech Extraliga, a league that seems to be in sharp decline and is likely significantly weaker than the best European leagues. I think Kovar’s success this season in the KHL is more likely than Salak’s to be a fluke.

Posted by Sven22 from Grand Rapids on 02/13/14 at 09:18 AM ET

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imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

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