Shocking Surprise! Ryan Miller Struggles When He’s Overplayed!

When the Canucks pick up two points this season, Ryan Miller is the
story more often than not, much like he was last night in a 3-0 shutout victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets, in which he was the first star. With a goals per game of 2.30, better than only
Arizona and Colorado, the Canucks often need to rely on goaltending to squeak out a
victory. That was certainly the case after Christmas and through much of
January, when Miller was the league’s hottest goaltender and lo and behold, the
Canucks manufactured a six game winning streak.

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But then, as Willie Desjardins continued to ride his number one
netminder, Miller’s numbers began to erode. Damn near everyone, from fans to
analysts to the Canucks staff themselves, has pointed out that Ryan Miller
plays better when rested – and I have the numbers to prove it.

So why are they still running him down?

Last season, Ryan Miller was clearly the Canucks number one
goaltender, and he was played like one for much of the season. Right up until
it was clear that their season no longer mattered. From that point on, Willie
split Miller and Jacob Markstrom’s starts, alternating them back and forth
until season end. The result? Reliable goaltending.

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So we said, going in to this season, why not do it again? This is a
club that was desperate to show that it has rounded the corner and is now on
the upswing. With the roster they’d assembled, they were going to need all the
help they could get, and that included great goaltending.

So an even rotation seemed like a win for everyone. Ryan Miller
stays fresher. Jacob Markstrom, the goalie the Canucks just doled out an $11 million contract to, continues to develop. And the Canucks get a better chance
to win games on a regular basis. Win-win-win.

But then Jim Benning came out and said this:

That seemed like an awfully bold move considering all of the points
I just made.

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As the season has worn on, Ryan Miller has had his hot and cold
streaks, as has Markstrom. While Miller was getting a lot more credit for
getting the Canucks near a Wild Card spot (back when they were near a Wild Card
spot), the two goalies’ numbers are pretty similar. It’s just that Miller is
getting more playing time, especially of late.

As of last night, Ryan Miller has made 13 of 19 starts for the Canucks, more than doubling Markstrom, who has made just six starts over a six week period – not exactly the grooming for the starter’s job that we expected to happen.

As with many areas of many sports, coaches have a tendency to ride
the hot hand when it comes to goaltending. Willie Desjardins has certainly done
that with Ryan Miller during their respective tenures with the Canucks –
despite the fact that there has been ample evidence that Miller eventually
falters when he plays too much.

Speaking of evidence, I’ve compiled some that demonstrates this very

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The Evidence

My hypothesis: that Ryan Miller get worse under heavier workloads.
The test for this is simple: I compiled every game Ryan Miller has played as a
Canuck (via, then labeled each game according to how many
appearances Miller had made in the previous 5, 10, 15, and 20 days. I then
calculated the average save percentages (a variety of different ways) at each
level of prior start frequency, and then let my graphs get to work.

Here are Miller’s save percentages, as well as Corsi-save
percentages and Fenwick save-percentages (all at 5-on-5, so varying frequency
of special teams play doesn’t muddy the data) over the frequencies of
appearances in the 10 days prior to a start:

Miller CSv,FSv,Sv Prior10

As you can see, the downward trend is very pronounced. While one
appearance (in 10 days prior to a start) is better than zero (likely a function
of regaining timing after being out of game action), there is a very steady
decrease after that. This graph also contains the league averages (from 2014-15
to present) in each category, denoted by dotted lines.

It should already be clear that Miller performs better under a
lighter workload, hovering above league average only at the one and two
appearances mark, but I’ll provide more evidence anyways, just to drive the
point home.

The next graph show three other types of save percentages, on low-,
medium-, and high-danger shots against, plotted against the same frequencies of
appearances, again with league averages denoted by dotted lines:

Miller LD,MD,HD Prior10

This graph gives us a slightly different perspective, breaking up
the difficulty in shots against, but the picture that it paints is even more
interesting. Note that his low-danger save percentage (green) stays roughly
stable, while his medium-danger save percentage (blue) shows a slight decrease
as workload increases. However, it’s the high-danger save percentage (yellow)
that really tells the tale: after a huge increase between zero and one
appearances, it takes nearly a 15% between one and four appearances. That is,
quite frankly, a staggering drop.

Danger Proportions

illustrate how this affects Miller’s numbers on the whole, we’ll look at the
proportion of the shot-danger levels that 
he faces. It should be fairly intuitive that goalies face fewer high-danger shots than any other type, while the other two types appear in roughly equal quantity. Let’s look at the breakdown Miller has faced in two and half seasons
in Vancouver:

Miller Proportion of Shots

The fact
that Miller’s low-danger save percentage stays stable, combined with the fact
that low-danger is the most frequent type of shot faced, is certainly a boon
for his save percentage. However, the devastating drop in high-danger save
percentage more than outweighs the stability of the low-danger save percentage,
leading to a precipitous drop in overall save-percentages.

As a
result, despite facing about twice as many low-danger shots as high-danger
shots, Miller has allowed over four times as many high-danger goals as low-danger goals.

Miller Proportion of Shots and Goals Doughnut

Splitting Starts

really seems like it should have been dealt with long ago, but instead it has
gone on to the point where it has likely cost the Canucks several points in
the standings – some that would help them achieve their stated goal of making
the playoffs – as Miller as started roughly half of his games in the past two
and half seasons under workloads in which he struggles. That needs to stop.

Frequencies in Prior 10 and 20

solution: the Canucks should just do what they did last season and alternate
Miller and Markstrom for the remainder of the season. It affords the Canucks
the multiple benefits that were talked about at the beginning of this article:
Ryan Miller plays better with rest, Jacob Markstrom gets development time, and
the Canucks get better all round goaltending.

At this point, the two netminders’ numbers are pretty similar:

Goalie GP Sv% 5-on-5 Sv%
Jacob Markstrom 23 0.913 0.921
Ryan Miller 33 0.918 0.927

Yes, there is a half a percent difference in save percentage. Over the course of an 82-game season, given the Canucks shots-on-net against per game of 31.1, that half a percent equals about 12.75 goals, or 0.16 goals per game.

Now imagine two scenarios – one where Ryan Miller makes 48 starts and Jacob Markstrom makes 34 starts, and another where the goalies split the starts evenly, playing 41 games apiece. In this scenario, the Canucks face an average of 31.1 shots-on-net against per game regardless of which goalie is playing, and they maintain their current respective save percentages. Here’s what we get:

Two Scenarios

As you can see, that half a percent difference in save percentage between Miller and Markstrom accounts for ONE goal when going from scenario one to scenario two. And that is before taking into account the differences in save percentages due to workload. It’s quite likely that Miller’s save percentage would be better with more rest. It’s also quite likely that Markstrom’s numbers would improve, as a 27-year old goalie who is currently playing about once a week.

taken the liberty of charting the workload for the remainder of the 2016-17
schedule for Miller, assuming alternating starts, and assuming Markstrom plays
Saturday morning and Miller takes Sunday’s against Buffalo, his former team.

Workload for Remainder of Season

Notice how he rides a nice, easy workload for the remainder of the season, one
with which he can stay rested and, as a result, play better. This would be an ideal scenario, and one that would be incredibly easy to follow. As of now, it doesn’t seem like the Canucks are planning too far ahead.

Let’s just hope they’ve learned something from their past mistakes and don’t head down this road:


This is incredibly simple, but because it’s been stated so many times and hasn’t been put into practice yet, I’m going to use really big font to get my point across.


you’ve seen the numbers, so there are no more reasons to continue with this
travesty. Let Miller get his rest – the team will be better for it.

  • Steamer

    Any goalie in their mid-30’s will more than likely struggle if over-worked. Problem is coaching, or rather, the coach’s lack of confidence in the #2 ( Markstrom ). Over-working the #1 will eventually begin to backfire, costing games rather than winning games due to exhaustion. Point of the article thus once again highlights the ‘Achilles heel’ of this franchise at present: the coach. Insistence upon Miller when workload strain suggests Markstrom, is yet one more example of WD’s inability/refusal to adjust. Sometimes the failure to adjust is seen within the game, sometimes it occurs in the selection of a tired keeper, but the one consistent element is an inability/refusal to acknowledge that the same approach is not working. From PP to line combos to an overworked 36 yr old goalie, WD must bear responsibility for a failure to adjust accordingly.

    • Bud Poile

      There is this goaltending coach named Melanson.I’m pretty sure he has a lot to say on who should play and why.

      Since he has coached goalies in both Montreal and here in Vancouver for the last seven years,won three Stanley Cups and remained a professional for nearly 40 years it is highly likely that Willie defers to Rollie on what Miller is capable of attempting.

      This article is just another example of incessant, unnecessary hand-wringing.

        • Bud Poile

          A phone call away.Surely, an onerous task.

          Rollie was here last year and the year before and coached Luongo when everybody here said the same damned thing over and over.Four years later Luo is still an NHL starting goaltender pulling off 60 games per year.

          Gillis ostracized Luo,lost Luo and then lost Schneider both.

          Luongo is older than Miller and has played in more games than Ryan this year,last year and the one before that.

          • Schneider was traded before Luongo was traded.

            Why is it relevant how much Luongo is playing?

            Goalie Coaches do not make lineup decisions – they help goalies with play style, technique, and practice. Neither Melanson or Cloutier is telling Desjardins which goalie to start – lineup decisions are the responsibility of the head coach.

            Pretty much every single thing you’ve said in this thread is wrong. That’s almost impressive.

          • Bud Poile

            Ah,yes,Goon. Context.

            Head coaches have assistant coaches. They do absolutely nothing,are never consulted and just show up for team photos.

            The ultimate responsibility rests with the GM, not the coach.The GM-or his asst.- is always talking with his head coach on everything.

            The game day decisions ‘rest’ with the head coach.Big deal.

            Since Desjardins knows squat about goalies or goaltending and the D and special teams have their own separate coaches there is a chain of command with separate layers of responsibility.

            It must be Pee Wee hour around here.

          • TheRealPB

            What are you talking about? Are you really suggesting that head coaches aren’t ultimately responsible for choosing who is making a start? What evidence do you have that Rollie Melanson, Dan Cloutier, Doug Lidster, Jim Benning, Trevor Linden, or Willie Desjardins for that matter has found Jacob Markstrom wanting? Has he been letting in tons of bad goals? Have there been statements made that he’s got to pick up his game?

            Whether the Canucks are all in for the future or the present, playing Miller into the ground makes zero sense. If it’s all about now then you have to give him a break — ALL evidence from past performance points to it. Just repeating that he’s a starting goalie is nonsensical. If you want to prepare your younger goalie better for the future (or just see what you have and make sure your $11 million investment makes sense) then you play him. You cannot have this both ways.

            You are tilting at windmills.

          • Bud Poile

            Head coaches are ultimately responsible for keeping their jobs,and they are but one piece of a hierarchical enterprise.

            We have all found Markstrom wanting,at least those of us that can see clearly what he is.

            Like I said,let the professionals decide when Miller “is being run into the ground.”

            It’s clear the author,you,me and everybody else here are not remotely qualified to make or decide what he is or is not capable of.

            Those closest to him are so let them all do their jobs. That’s what I’ve been talking about.

      • Steamer

        Uh yeah, Melanson is no longer in Van, Bud – he’s working part-time with Demko in Utica, thus not in the loop for WD’s goalie selections. Personally, I think both Miller & Markstrom have been more than adequate; perhaps Miller is more consistent – until overworked – but Markstrom’s play is most nights is of a calibre that gives the team a fighting chance. Think there have been at least a half dozen nights when Miller’s game suffered due to exhaustion. He’s an excellent goalie, but at 36, needs his workload managed more effectively.

  • Killer Marmot

    But then Jim Benning came out and said this:

    ‘Ryan Miller is our number one goalie. Let’s make no mistake about that.’

    That seemed like an awfully bold move considering all of the points I just made.

    Was that really a “bold move”? When someone is one of the most accomplished — and consistent — goaltenders in the NHL and you’re paying him six million smackers a season, you had better say he’s your number one goaltender.

    • I am Ted

      Uh, not bold at all. It’s the truth. If I was in game 7 of the Cup finals and I had a choice between Miller and Markstrom – I’d take Miller. Nothing against Markstrom but Miller used to be a special goalie and still has a lot of his talent and skill even in his twilight years.

  • Killer Marmot

    The statistical case for stating that Miller plays worse the more he is worked may be flawed.

    Miller is going to be worked more when the Canucks are in particularly busy parts of their schedule. When the Canucks have played a lot of games recently, they might allow better quality scoring opportunities for the opposition, raising the shot percentage against.

    Further, the NHL schedulers seem to try to minimize teams’ time on the road, which means they leave few gaps, which means that Ryan is going to be busier when on the road. If the Canucks get scored on more often when on the road then this too would bias the results.

    One way to affirm such confounding factors might be to see if BOTH goalies gets scored on more when the Canucks have played a lot of recent games (we presume that Markstrom is young enough and doesn’t play enough to get “worn down”.)