Hey Wilderness, just popping in with a small sample about Small Sample Size.
Those 3 S' are among the three most powerful words in sports. It can make anyone look like an MVP or a bum. It's transforming Josh Harding into a Vezina winner. It made Matt Cooke the Wild's leading scorer for a while. Hell, it even made Antti Miettinen look OK at some points. And now? Before Niklas Backstrom went down with a concussion, it was making him look like backup fodder.
And, even more fresh in our minds, it's making us pine for Niklas Backstrom's services as a backup, because Darcy Kuemper has looked like a complete bum.
And don't take my word for it, read the Twittersphere after searching for "Darcy Kuemper". It's not pretty. Photos of him as Swiss Cheese, beach ball mentions, and a "sieve" comment for every lake in Minnesota.
While Kuemper didn't lose the game for the Minnesota Wild last night, he certainly didn't do anything to make a comeback against the Canadiens easier, stopping only 6 of 9 shots. Believe it or not, this actually raised Kuemper's save percentage to .630, up from .571. Terrible. Easily the worst in the NHL.
But what are we really talking about here? 16 shots. That's right: 16 shots. That's half a game's worth of shots (or a whole game's worth, if we're talking about the 09-10 version of the Wild). That represents a paltry 4.1% of the shots that Josh Harding has faced, and almost anyone would say that Josh Harding's season thus far has been a small sample size. To put this in perspective, even after tonight's game, if Josh Harding allowed 6 of his next 16 shots allowed to score, he'd have a very-good .928 save percentage, still good for top-10 in the NHL. It's a mere drop in the bucket.
Let's look at (admittedly still) small, but more substantial parts of Kuemper's career. His 10 games in the AHL haven't provided any reason for panic. He only has 3 wins and 7 losses to show for it, but his .908 save percentage isn't exactly bad. For comparison, it represents about the same level of performance that Matt Hackett put up in 43 AHL games last season (.907). No worries there. When you see the 8 games where he saw NHL action, he also put up a .908 save percentage, where he played exclusively against playoff teams. That was after absolutely slaying the AHL to the tune of a .934 save percentage in 21 games that year. As a 22-year-old.
And I don't want to use the backup-going-in-cold thing as an excuse. As a backup, you need to go into games in situations like that, and your job is preventing things from getting out of hand. And for whatever reason, he didn't do that either time he was given a chance. I won't minimize that. And thusly, I won't blame the Wild if they're a bit gun-shy to go to Kuemper coming up. They'll of course be eager to get an experienced option in Backstrom backing up Harding, perhaps even going outside the organization. And barring that, I wouldn't even be surprised if the Wild turn to Johan Gustafsson as a backup option, just to see what he does with a chance at NHL minutes.
But having said that, there's very little to suggest that Darcy Kuemper's play in his two games of backup duty will have any bearing on how he will play even a week from now, let alone for any long-term period of time. He's a 23-year-old goalie, there's going to be bumps in the road. As hard as it is sometimes to not let alarming results in small samples lead us to make snap judgements, it's important to do so.