With the season a little more than a third of the way over, I thought it would be time to start handing out some report cards. These are, more than anything else, done for the purposes of discussion…you might agree with some of my grades, but the odds are that you won’t. So be sure to post your thoughts in the comments section.
I said it in my game story in the paper, and I’ll say it here as well: If the Trenton Devils are going to make a climb up the standings, they’re going to need Dave Caruso. And they’re going to need him to be better.
The thing about statistics is that you can almost always find something that will prove whatever point it is you’re trying to make. Caruso’s 3.43 GAA (which ranks him 31st among the 34 qualifying goaltenders) would be the highest he’s ever posted in a full ECHL season, and he has just three wins in ten games so far this season. But he’s also got a defensive group around him that gives up a lot of scoring chances, and his .917 save percentage is more indicative of how he’s played, especially recently.
It’s clear that the net is Caruso’s until further notice. Jeff Lerg will put more of a dent in Caruso’s playing time than Shane Connelly will once he returns, but Caruso is the unquestionable number one goaltender in Trenton. He’s earned it, but he needs to continue to do so. The fiery 28-year-old has been known to show visible signs of frustration after goals, so the key for him — and thus, the team around him — is to limit chances early in the game. Caruso seems to be more confident when he’s playing with a lead, but it’s a matter of if the team around him can stop blowing leads as they have all season long.
To an extent, Connelly’s statistical situation is the same as Caruso’s. You can look at his 3.88 goals against average and .880 save percentage with Trenton and draw your own conclusions.
But you can also look at the numbers he posted with teams higher than the Devils in the standings (2.82, .885 with South Carolina and 1.50, .957 with Elmira) and begin to wonder how much of those sub-standard numbers are really on him. It’s the same scenario as last season really, as Connelly put up pretty brutal numbers on a bad team (4.08, .870 on Johnstown) and saw a vast improvement in his statistics on a better team with the Stingrays.
Like Caruso, Connelly needs to be better. But unlike Caruso, it’s unclear whether Connelly will get the opportunity to do so. Jeff Lerg is likely about two weeks away from returning, and he’s going to get some playing time once he does. You could argue that Lerg isn’t much of an upgrade once he does come back, but the fact of the matter is that there will be three goalies for two nets and Connelly will be the odd man out.
But for now, he can do himself a lot of favors by making “the big save” when the time comes. Kevin Dean is a big fan of saying that all he wants is for his goalie to stop the pucks he should stop…but occasionally, Connelly’s going to need to stop of the ones he shouldn’t stop, and that’s something Caruso’s been able to do at times this season.
I’ve seen Lerg play a grand total of two times, so evaluating him will be difficult. But I don’t think it’s unfair to say there are serious questions that remain regarding whether he’ll be a successful pro goaltender. But the sample size is just too small right now to judge. Similarly, that’s the knock on Lerg, that he’s too small.
It hasn’t seemed to be a problem this season, as his numbers are fairly close to Caruso’s — his GAA is .01 better, but his save percentage is .029 lower. Makes you wonder if the defense plays any differently when Lerg is in the net, as his style of coming out and challenging and just being a little more aggressive out of necessity is certainly an adjustment from what Caruso does. Lerg faces an average of 30 shots a game, while Caruso faces over 35.
But the fact is, that like most players on this team, Lerg needs to be better. And once he fully recovers from his broken right thumb, he’ll get that opportunity.
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com