January 04, 2014
In the end, Oscar Dansk's best save of the game didn't count.
With 11 seconds to go in Sweden's World junior championship semifinal against Russia, Dansk was holding onto his net to keep his position established as Russian forward Vyacheslav Osnovin walked out from the corner in an attempt to tie the game. Osnovin lost control of the puck, and so too, did Dansk, of his post. The net fell out from behind him (was it intentional on Dansk's part?) and the play was blown dead as Russia's Pavel Buchnevich took a shot from the far side of the net. Somehow, with Dansk sprawling, the puck hit his pad and stayed out.
It was just how the day went for the Columbus Blue Jackets prospect, and a modest summary into how his tournament had gone. With the win over the Russians, and stopping 26 of 27 in the process, Dansk's save percentage from the tournament jumped over Andrei Vasilevsky's to an impressive .935 before going into the gold medal game. In that regard, he's only behind Finland's Juuse Saros, though has more wins (and no losses) and a higher goals against average thanks to playing behind the better team.Unfortunately, he didn't break out into his legendary dance moves, but was named the best player for Sweden in his team's 2-1 win over Russia. He held own in the first period, making 10 saves on a flurry of Russian chances. The Swedish defence calmed down later in the game, and Dansk was only expected to make one save off of a four-minute high-sticking double minor to Elias Lindholm after the second period. After allowing a weak one to Damir Zhafyarov that brought Russia to within one, however, he shut the door with an excellent save off of Bogdan Yakimov a few minutes later, and able to swat the rebound away from Yakimov with his stick before having to make another big stop.
27 shots against isn't an eye-popping number at this level. In the junior game, particularly back in the Ontario Hockey League where Dansk spends his days when he isn't protecting Sweden's net in his home country, goaltenders frequently see upwards of 35 shots a night. In his rookie OHL season with the Erie Otters a year ago, Dansk faced 40-or-more shots 12 times in 43 appearances. He rarely has to this season, now that the Otters are a powerhouse. Dansk is third in the league in save percentage, with a .919 behind London's Anthony Stolarz and Sault Ste. Marie's Matt Murray.
There's some hard evidence, though also anecdotal evidence, that goaltenders playing behind teams that give up more shots will generally have higher save percentages and few good explanations as to why. Goalies that play behind better teams have less of an opportunity to get into a rhythm, sure, but there's also the case to be made that any mistake made playing on a team as good defensively as Sweden or Erie means that it has more of a chance of showing up in the statline or factoring in the game. That may have been the case against the Russians, as Dansk allowed his only goal off of a weak shot from the corner that banked in off of Dansk's own stick. Those goals loom larger when you're facing 27 shots as opposed to 45, but to Dansk's credit, he stopped the other 26.
Through the first semifinal game, only Canada's Zach Fucale has faced a lower number of shots per 60 minutes played as Dansk's 24.6 (Fucale has seen just 22.7 in 180 minutes). Dansk is also second in the least amount of shots per 60 minutes faced. Some goaltenders have the luxury of being able to ease up a little, but Dansk is not one of them. There's the old baseball trope of "pitching to the score" to explain pitchers that put up gaudy win totals but relatively pedestrian earned run averages. That's not really the case of Dansk, who seems to make as many saves as the elite netminders that get a little more work.
That's good for the Swedish, to know that they have a player they can really count on if they do get rung up offensively for long sequences. Any and all players and coaches will tell you that they have confidence in their goaltender, but it's another thing altogether to perform for those extended periods of time, or killing penalties, where your team is getting strung up a little. That happened to the Swedish early in the game against Russia, and a little bit at the end, but Dansk was able to shut down a high-powered Russian offence. Of their 27 attempts, 14 were from Russia's best shooters in the tournament: Zhafyarov, Mikhail Grigorenko, and Anton Slepyshev. Many teams look like they have better defensive systems thanks to a hot goaltender, but the Swedish legitimately do, playing with the puck consistently at the other end of the ice and not giving up many scoring chances against. What makes them a formidable opponent is they also have a goalie that can routinely post a high save rate with low shot totals against. No matter who wins the second semifinal, Sweden will no doubt be the favourite, and the scary thing is that Dansk will be third or fourth on the list of reasons why.
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