A Tale of Two Jeffs

By Elliot Olshansky - January 30, 2008

There were some interesting developments in the CSTV.com Hobey Baker Watch this week. For the first time in what feels like forever, someone decided that Kevin Porter shouldn't get his first-place vote this week.

Who got the vote instead? The man most responsible for keeping Porter off the scoreboard this weekend Michigan State goaltender Jeff Lerg.

Now, the funny thing is that that first-place vote bumped Lerg all the way up to fourth in the Hobey Watch, one spot above Miami's Jeff Zatkoff. These two have been somewhat tied together lately: after not recording a single shutout between them the entire first half of the season, Zatkoff and Lerg got their first shutouts of the season on the same night: January 19, when Lerg blanked Ohio State and Zatkoff stopped every shot he saw against Lake Superior. Then, they both got their second shutouts of the season this past Friday, Lerg against the aforementioned Wolverines and Zatkoff at Alaska. Now, they both jump back into the Hobey Baker Watch on the same week, making the top five, no less.

The only thing that seems a bit off is that Lerg, with his 16-5-5 record, 2.17 goals-against average and .925 save percentage, is ahead of Zatkoff, who leads the nation with a 20-3-0 record and 1.50 goals-against average and is second in the nation with a .937 save percentage.

Now, I think it's a moot argument in the first place, because neither of them has the numbers to win the Hobey, and they can thank Ryan Miller for that. Of course, Lerg has a national championship, which Miller would likely be happy to trade him for. That's actually part of why Lerg gets more attention, by the way: the exposure he got during the Spartans' NCAA tournament run - not just the huge play despite his size, but his personality, character, and the fact that he can do all of this while pulling off a 4.0 GPA (does he still have that?) - put him at the front of many minds when it comes to Hobey contenders among goalies. I even had him penciled in as a Hobey Finalist over the summer for those reasons. We really don't know a whole lot about Zatkoff. That's not a bad thing - he's never been in trouble - but that also means he doesn't have the same kind of story that Lerg has.

What Zatkoff does have is consistent excellence. Only twice this season has he allowed more than two goals. When coaches talk about a goaltender giving his team a chance to win every night, that's what they're talking about. He's been amazingly steady this season, producing the best goals-against average in the country with only two shutouts (none until this month).

Lerg, meanwhile, has had some very bad games - take the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame game, for example - but has made his reputation as a big game goaltender. As Ben Holden noted today in the Hobey Watch, if you need a goaltender to win one game for you (the fate of the world riding on it is optional), Lerg is widely considered to be that goalie when it comes to college hockey. He played two big games this weekend against Michigan.

Zatkoff still has earn that reputation in big games. It's worth noting that Miami's CCHA championship in 2006 was a regular-season championship, not a tournament championship, and while he did stop 43 of 44 shots in the RedHawks' upset of New Hampshire in the NCAA tournament last year, the Wildcats were in decline by that point. Zatkoff, as steady as he's been, hasn't gone out and won the big game the way Lerg has.

That's not to say he won't, and it's not to say that that should be the determining factor. Myself, I voted for Zatkoff this week at No. 4, and didn't have Lerg on my ballot. But at a certain point, it's a matter of preference.

Whom do you prefer?

Posted by Elliot Olshansky at 06:16 PM on January 30, 2008

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