The World Junior Championships will be played this winter in Ufa, Russia, on a big ice surface for the first time since 2008. Does this give Malcolm Subban the natural advantage to take the starting goalie job, since he gets to play half his games at Yardmen Arena on internationally sized ice?
The other thing worth looking at is whether Subban's save percentage has been artificially inflated by the ice surface. There are goaltenders who do well on international surfaces and poorly on the North American-sized rinks. Vitaly Kolesnik, the former Colorado Avalanche "goalie of the future" comes to mind in that regard.
Heading into Thursday's games, Subban is tied for second with Jordan Binnington and behind Spencer Martin in save percentage this season. Part of my theory is that shots on big ice surfaces can come disproportionately from the perimeter, though that isn't always the case. The scoring and shooting areas don't change on either size of the ice surface.
When you split Subban's home and road stats, or, we'll do it from last year's games because we have a higher sample size, there isn't a real difference. He was 5th in the OHL in save percentage with .923 last season, but he had an identical save percentage at home and on the road: .923 at Yardmen, and .923 at all other buildings.
In his career, in fact, Subban has a .914 save percentage on the road, and a .918 at home. I tested this with a lot of goalies, and it's true that teams and goaltenders both perform better at home, both in shot prevention, goal prevention, and save percentage. So the brief discrepancy shouldn't be unexpected.
This led me further down the rabbit hole. Niagara also has a differently sized ice surface from the majority of OHL rinks, it just so happens that Jack Gatecliff Arena is 10-feet shorter than your standard rink at 190 x 85. Does this have an effect on save percentages?
It does, moreso than Belleville's rink. Mark Visentin, third in save percentage in OHL last season, second in 2010-11, had a remarkable split in home versus road games in his career. He had a .922 save percentage at the Jack, and just .902 away from it. After his first 89 games (our same sample size for Subban) the split was .889 versus .909.
The Ice Dogs after all, were a team that were dominant at home (Visentin was 44-17-3-7) but fairly average on the road (32-31-5-4). This is despite surrendering nearly three more shots per game at home as to on the road. In fact, This is the only building I tracked since 2008 where the home team was giving up more shots. My theory is that the length of the ice played an illusion with the actual shot distance of the player taking them, so more shots came from the perimeter, despite the smaller confines. This is a tough theory to test, however.
But those arena effects don't play a role in Subban's stats. He's just as strong away from Yardmen Arena as he is at Yardmen Arena. I don't doubt that he's the clear No. 1 looking ahead to December's Team Canada roster.