The first thing you'll notice about Laurent Brossoit if you ever meet the guy is the size of his hands. The second thing you'll notice is how the Calgary Flames prospect takes responsibility for his poor performance since his Edmonton Oil Kings lifted the Ed Chynoweth Cup last May. In 20 WHL playoff games, Brossoit had a .933 save percentage, was named MVP, and was Canada's next best hope in goal.
Unfortunately, Brossoit has not performed up to his own high standards size those glory days. In four Memorial Cup games, Brossoit posted an .871 save percentage and allowed six goals in the team's elimination game against the eventual champion Shawinigan Cataractes. Brossoit had one start in the Canada-Russia Challenge in August, allowing six goals on just 27 Russian shots and Canada lost 6-5 despite manhandling the Russians in puck possession.
And now Brossoit's struggles at the start of the 2012-13 WHL season indicate that perhaps a streaky side, a goaltender who is perhaps not ready to carry the torch with Malcolm Subban this winter in Ufa, Russia for the World Juniors.
"To be there with Team Canada was an honour, but I didn't play as well as I wanted," he said. "There's a lot of pressure, but you know that going in. The pressure didn't get to me. It was because of me not watching the puck and doing what I usually do, certainly like I did in the playoffs (last spring). I have to keep it simple here, going forward."
The world junior experience is a thrill of a lifetime for every player, but Brossoit has tried to not think too far ahead.
"It's in the back of your mind, but you have to keep it back there ... that's just added pressure, thinking they're watching me and how I'm doing," he said. "I'm trying to manage my own game and the practices."
For certain, the pressures of the WHL playoffs and championship series hardly mirror nationally-televised games on Sportsnet or TSN. It's just a matter of your team winning or losing, but players aren't as carefully scrutinized.
How bad has it been for Brossoit, or rather, how much of a roller coaster ride has he been on? Check out this graph that indicates his rolling 10-game save percentage since the start of last season (blue line), compared to his save percentage overall in that time-span (red line):
On February 22, in a game against Kelowna last season, Brossoit came on in relief of Tristan Jarry who had allowed 4 goals on 18 shots. Brossoit's performance after the game represented the end of his worst 10-game performance until a September preseason start. At that point, he caught lightning in a bottle and the Oil Kings began their dominant 22-game win streak. Brossoit was in net for 20 of those games with a commanding .941 save percentage.
I think part of the problem is that going into the Memorial Cup, a lot of people expected the same Brossoit, but given how unsustainable a .941 save percentage is, there was little chance he could keep that sort of performance going. Some of that is pressure, some of it, as Matheson and Oil Kings' coach Derek Laxdal try to rationalize, is defence:
In part, his average stats are because the Oil Kings have been hurt on the back end, losing captain Mark Pysyk to the Buffalo Sabres' American Hockey League farm club at Rochester, N.Y.; Martin Gernat to shoulder surgery; and assistant captain Keegan Lowe with a knee problem.
"You take out Pysyk, you take out Keegan, you take out Gernat, you're probably taking out three of the top defencemen in the Western Hockey League," said Oil Kings coach Derek Laxdal. "But that's part of hockey. You have to battle."
I don't have scoring chance numbers from the WHL last season, but in the Kings' four Memorial Cup games, they were out-chanced 80-53 in total and 63-45 at even strength at the hands of their opponents. If you take away important pieces on the defence, it will be tougher to get an elite-level save rate. Still, Brossoit does need to be better.
And it looks like he is. Look at his WHL career as a whole, including preseason and playoff games although removing international and Memorial Cup games the same way as the chart above. Our blue line again indicates the 10-game rolling average, while the red line again indicates his career-to-date save rate:
Given that Brossoit has historically trended upward, I'd be willing to place money on a gradual increase on that red line until the end of the season. At the beginning of last preseason, Brossoit was a career .888. At the beginning of this preseason, he's a .909. Despite that, his career save percentage has been flat since the beginning of the preseason.
If I'm a stock trader, it's "buy, buy, buy" on LB31. It's just so unfortunate that his struggles have been shown on national TV, and that his expectations have been unrealistically high since that blip of a performance during the team's 22-game win streak.