I've seen way too many people talk in the comment sections about how "Kevin Poulin sucks", or "Poulin will never cut it as a starting goalie," so here's a post in defense of Kevin Poulin.
One of the most obvious and most frequent reasons I've seen brought up to criticize Poulin is his SV % which, at .891, is admittedly bad. However, Poulin's % is very skewed by the abysmal penalty kill of this team, and his EV % is .912. Of course, the average NHL goalie has an EV % of .920 or so, putting Poulin slightly below average, but this is where you have to look at the shots he's faced. Here's a look at the games he's played, and the goals he's allowed this year:
10/11/13 @ Chicago, 3-2 L (SV % .893)
Poulin made some big saves, and overall put up a good game, especially for a guy who hadn't played since April. The first goal is the result of poor defensive coverage; two Islanders tried to cover the pass, leaving Nordstrom open in front of the net to bang it in, it also didn't help that Donovan was literally on top of Poulin. 2nd goal came when Poulin made a good save on a shot from the point, but Toews was left wide open to score on the rebound on an open net, even the Chicago announcer admitted Poulin didn't have a chance.
The 3rd goal was similar, Poulin made the save, and Strait left Handzus completely alone in front to score on the rebound. Poulin didn't really have a chance on any of the goals allowed, all can be attributed to lapses in defensive coverage. He probably could've improved rebound control, but this was his first game since last season.
10/26/13 VS Philly 5*-2 L *EN (SV% .871)
This is one game where I'd say Poulin genuinely struggled. The first goal was a misplay by him on a PP shot from the face-off circle, he should've had it. The 2nd goal isn't really on him, Voracek was allowed to skate straight in to the crease, and as he shot, Nielsen actually skated into Poulin. On the 3rd goal, the Flyers move the puck straight through the Isles coverage, Lecavalier gets it in front and shoots it, Poulin makes the initial save, and Lecavalier bats the rebound out of mid-air. Poulin probably should've had it, but the defense by Donovan/Carkner/Bailey was no help.
On the 4th, Hickey turned it over at the blue line, Donovan made a terrible misplay on the 2 on 1, the Flyers passed the puck around to draw Poulin out, and Lecavalier banged it in. Poulin should've stayed in the net and kept better positioning, but again the defense was no help.
Overall, it was a poor showing by Poulin and the defense, but keep in mind he had spent the previous 2 weeks on the bench.
11/2/13 VS Boston 3-1 W (SV% .963)
This was a very good game by Poulin, he made some key saves (especially late in the 3rd), and really kept the team in at times. The one goal against was a PP goal where he made the save, but a crowd of people fell on top of him and the puck eventually went off Nielsen into the net. Poulin was robbed of a shutout in this game, and really played well.
11/7/13 @ Carolina 1-0 L (SV% .958)
Poulin had another good game. The winning goal was scored early on when a long shot deflected just in front of the net, Poulin honestly didn't have a chance. He gave the Isles the chance to win, but the offense couldn't produce.
11/10/13 @ Montreal 4-2 L (SV% .871)
Poulin was ok in this game, despite what the stats indicate. On the first goal, Gallagher got a breakaway and put it in just past the leg pad of Poulin. That's a really tough save to make, and Poulin was covering the right angles, Gallagher just had a good shot thanks to a defensive collapse by the Isles. The 2nd goal came on the PK, when Eller was left wide open in front of the net to bang in the one timer from Gallagher. Again, Poulin really doesn't have a chance on that shot. The 3rd goal was another PP goal which was deflected in front, another shot Poulin doesn't have much of a chance on.
The 4th goal was a terrible defensive play by Hamonic and AMac. First, Hammer loses it at the blue line, then AMac gives it way at the faceoff circle to Gallagher, leaving Galchenyuk and Eller all alone in front, and Galchenyuk tips in Eller's pass. Poulin was evidently frustrated by the lack of defense on that goal. Overall, not a good game team wise, but you can't pin it on Poulin.
11/12/13 VS Nashville 3-1 W (SV% .970)
Poulin played very well in that game, even earning the first star. The one goal he allowed was admittedly weak (somewhat soft five-hole goal), but his performance in the rest of the game makes up for it. Again, he was just short of the shutout.
11/14/13 VS Los Angeles 3-2 L (SV% .875)
This game still hurts. Poulin played well throughout the game, especially in the 1st 2 periods, but the team stepped off the gas in the 3rd, forcing Poulin to make big saves even on the PP. The first goal was a bit weak by Poulin, a one-timer from a deep angle that he really should've had. But he was so close that at a first glance it's really tough to see how that got by him (it just slipped through a small space between his arm and torso). The 2nd goal deflected off Carkner's skate, and just trickled past Poulin. He almost gets the puck at first, and then on the second reach he grabs it just after it crosses the line. On the 3rd goal, Poulin was screened by a Kings forward and Hickey, whose legs it went through, and again Poulin almost had the save.
All in all with this game, you can really only fault him on the first goal, and he still played very well early on.
11/16/13 VS Detroit 5*-4 W *SO (SV% .864)
Poulin wasn't even supposed to play in this game, but was forced to after Nabby was injured on the first shot (and goal). However, he still did a good job in the relief. The first goal (against Poulin) was a PP goal deflected in front by Datsyuk. He was also somewhat screened by Bertuzzi and Hamonic, giving him little chance to make the save on an already difficult shot. The second goal was a weak one by Poulin, it was a simple shot by Franzen from the slot, which he should've had with his blocker. The third goal was another tough one, there was a wild scramble in front of the net and Datsyuk managed to deflect it off AMac, who was lying in the crease.
Poulin was solid in the shootout, and overall did a good job, especially considering the fact that he thought he would have the night off.
11/19/13 @ Toronto 5-2 L (SV% .792)
This is the only other game where I feel Poulin played poorly. The first goal came thanks to a misplay by Ness, who left Smith wide open in front for the pass, Poulin didn't really have much of a shot, Ness was supposed to be covering that pass. The second goal came on the PP, where Kessel sniped it past Poulin. Poulin didn't have much of a chance on that shot, especially since he was partially screened by two Leafs and Ness. The third goal came on a misplay by Carkner and Ness, who allowed the Leafs to take it right in toward the crease, and then left Raymond alone in front for the rebound.
The fourth shot was on Poulin, he really should've had it with his glove, even if it was an uncontested shot taken from the circle. The fifth goal is tough to call. On one hand, the defense shouldn't have allowed that 2 on 1, especially with a sniper like Kessel. On the other, Poulin probably could've had that shot. Overall, the is one game where Poulin actually played poorly.
11/22/13 @ Pittsburgh 4-3 L (SV% .882)
This was another game where Poulin really played solidly, but the team around him couldn't bail him out. The first goal came on a horible Isles PK, and Kunitz was left wide open in front to deflect the puck past Poulin. The second came on another horrible PK, where Kunitz was again left wide open (way to learn your lesson, PK) to drill home the one-timer, a shot most goalies would let in 9 times out of 10. On the third goal, Poulin could've potentially had it, but in reality he made the initial 2 saves and was left out to dry by the defense.
The fourth goal was terrible by the defense. First, Martinek loses the puck against the boards in his own zone. Then, the entire team leaves Sidney Crosby, the best offensive player in the league, wide open in front of the net. Of course he buries the shot, he's Sidney Crosby. Poulin again was left out to dry throughout this game, and yet managed to keep them in it until the very end.
11/23/13 @ Philly 5*-2 L *EN (SV% .813)
Poulin was solid in this game, his save percentage was low due to his being pulled. The first goal came after Poulin made a great save, and Read was left wide open on the rebound. The second goal can't really be blamed on Poulin, since Hamonic and a Flyers forward passed in front of the net as the shot went through, screening Poulin. The third goal came after Poulin made a few great saves on a typically bad Isles PK, but he couldn't handle the third rebound as Giroux was left completely unguarded. Overall, he didn't really deserve to be pulled, as he was solid in the first period, and none of the goals were his fault.
Overall, you can see that most of the goals allowed by Poulin were thanks to deflections, screens, and defensive misplays, which shows even further why you can't simply base his performance off of SV %, since it doesn't reflect the quality of the shots faced.
Another argument I saw recently is that even if he is facing quality shots, a really good goalie should be able to stop some of those. People brought up Ryan Miller, who is doing well on a terrible Buffalo team. However, something needs to be kept in perspective: Poulin is not a really good NHL goalie yet. He is a 23 year old prospect who has just been thrown into the starter role due to an underperforming, and now injured Nabokov. Up until now, he had played 10 games in '10-11, putting up solid numbers but facing an injury, 6 games in '11-12, putting up decent numbers, and 6 games last year as the official backup to replace DP. This is the first time in his career he is getting consistent starts, and he's doing so on a team with poor defense.
You can't compare Poulin to Miller by any means. Buffalo hasn't always been bad, they were mediocre when Miller was developing, which allowed him to get adjusted to the NHL level. Poulin was thrust into the starter role on a struggling team, and now he has no viable backup. Furthermore, Poulin doesn't have the experience of guys like Quick or Crawford which allows them to make the difficult saves. Poulin is still developing, so he has shown the ability to make big saves, but he hasn't done so consistently.
When looking at how good/bad Poulin is, you really have to look at the context. He is a 23 year old, who up to this season had only 22 games of NHL experience under his belt, and only 6 games with an established role in the NHL. This year, solid performance enabled him to take the starting role, but with a solid backup in Nabby. With Nabby injured, he is now going to be playing almost every game, except for the occasional back-to-back. Oh, and he's doing all of this on a team with a poor defense (due to injury), and a horrible PK.
So maybe you should really think about whether Poulin really sucks. In my opinion, I think that with Viz back and an improved defense, Poulin has the capability to be an average starter this season. I also think he has great reflexes, and if he works on his positioning more, he could be a really good starting goaltender in the future. But then again, I'm an optimist.
And don't make this argument about "Oh if Nabby allowed those same goals..". First of all, I'm a Nabby supporter, and I posted something similar to this about Nabby during the preseason. Second, this article isn't about Nabby, or which goalie is better, it's just a defense of Poulin.