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RPI's New Goal: Allow Two or Fewer

As Offense Struggles, Engineers Netminder Must Be Even Stingier

By Jon Paul Morosi

Albany Times Union, February 16, 2005

TROY -- Which of the 30 was it?

Was it his left-pillow kickaway of Les Haggett's point-blank try in the first?

Was it his fine stop on Mike Meech midway through the second?

Or was it one of his 14 fort-holding saves in the third?

It had to be in there somewhere. How do we know? RPI senior goaltender Andrew Martin has allowed just over three goals per game in league play (3.21). Saturday night against Brown, he gave up only two, factor No. 1a (behind Kirk MacDonald's big-league, toe-drag wrister) in the Engineers' 3-2 win.

Look at the numbers. Martin has started 20 of RPI's 32 games to date. He has allowed two or fewer goals six times. RPI is 5-1-0 in those games, 3-10-1 in the others.

With freshman Jordan Alford starting in net, the Engineers are 3-2 when allowing two or fewer, and 2-4-1 otherwise.

So, yes, one goal is that important. Martin and RPI coach Dan Fridgen traced its disappearance on Saturday night to the first-period save on Haggett, when Martin swallowed an open net with his quick, cross-crease butterfly slide.

"He had nothing but net," Fridgen said. "You could see the disbelief by Haggett that it didn't go in."

Said Martin: "That was the one. The key save at the key time."

Other times this season, the Engineers have not benefited from key saves at key times. See their 4-8 record in one-goal games.

"If we allow one less goal, those eight one-goal losses could be ties," Fridgen said. "That's eight points. Where would that put us?"

Answer: Sixth place and almost certain home ice, up from 10th and a likely first-round road trip.

"It comes down to one shot," Martin said.

Martin is 10th among the ECAC Hockey League's 13 regular goalies in goals-against average. The top six are at 2.00 or below. Martin is about two goals behind leader David McKee, his close friend and fellow Texan.

You can think of that two ways: Martin is allowing two more goals than McKee. Or, McKee is making two more saves than Martin. Friday, when RPI visits McKee's Big Red at Lynah Rink, Martin will try to make those two extra saves.

Of course, Martin's success is contingent upon that of RPI's offense. If the Engineers scored four goals per game, three behind Martin would be no great concern. But they're not scoring four. They're scoring almost half that (2.28) in league play.

"At the beginning of the year, our goal was to allow three goals or less. But that's not cutting it," Martin said. "Now we have to take a step down to two goals or less."

"If I take away that one goal, in that one period, that could be the difference."

Sabermetric hockey, if you will. In baseball, teams win by limiting or scoring runs. In hockey, teams win by limiting or scoring goals. Theories espoused in Moneyball apply at the rink, too. As Union coach Nate Leaman put it, "If you have a goaltender who comes up with 35 saves during the year to stop a goal, you've just gotten a 35-goal scorer. And how rare is a 35-goal scorer in college hockey?" (None in Division I last season.)

Martin prefers to keep his settings on "autopilot" during games - "I never have any idea what the shots are" - but knows well the overall calculus of winning and losing hockey games.

"There's always one I wish I could have back," he said. "The good thing is, as I've come along, I've learned the difference between giving up two and giving up three. I'm picking up on what my mind-set should be."

Just in time. The Engineers have four regular-season games left. After that, the length of their postseason largely depends on which side of the two-goal/three-goal San Andreas Fault Martin spends his March.

"If I start stopping pucks on those big goals, where's that going to take us?" Martin asked. "Teams now are expecting to get three or four on us. But if I give up two, or one, what will we be able to do?"