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Uncovering This Season’s True Top Performers

Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Antti Raanta

By looking at Goals Saved Above Average per game, Antti Raanta has had the strongest start to the 2014-2015 NHL season – followed closely by his teammate Scott Darling.

For years hockey fans have been judging goaltenders by their win-loss record and Goals Against Average. Those statistics have been proven to actually tell more about the team that the goalie is playing for than anything else. Save percentage isn’t perfect either, but it can be used in a variety of ways to find out how well a goaltender is actually playing.

Earlier this year a piece was written for this site that introduced a statistic called Goals Saved Above Average. GSAA is a fascinating stat because it tells you how many goals a netminder has saved his team, or allowed when compared to a league average goaltender. For a more in depth breakdown of GSAA, you can read that article here. It is highly recommended to read it before continuing on with this article.

It is mentioned in that previous article that GSAA is slightly flawed because goalies that play more games will accumulate more Goals Saved than other goaltenders. That can be fixed by turning it into Goals Saved Above Average per game, or GSAA/60. This new stat tells you how many goals are saved or allowed above average in each game that a goaltender plays in, evening the playing field.

Crunching the numbers from the 2014-2015 NHL season has returned some interesting results.

As a disclaimer, it is important to remember that we are dealing with some very small sample sizes, so don’t get heavily invested in these numbers if you are trying to predict a trend. These numbers simply tell us which goaltenders are off to great starts to the season, and which are on the opposite end. GSAA can fluctuate massively from a game to game basis, especially this early on in the season.

Also, if you see a goaltender that you think has played well a little bit further down the list than you expected, that’s normal. The goal of GSAA is to stay above a negative number. Anything above a negative number is considered quality goaltending. In some cases it is actually better to be closer to zero than at the top. If a goalie is forced to stand on his head every night, he will have a great GSAA for the time being, but the number may be unsustainable. Goalies closer to zero may simply be relied on less by their team. As long as he’s staying above negative, he’s getting the job done.

Only goalies that have played 250 minutes or more have been included, and the statistics are as of games completed on December 17th, 2014.

HOT

NameTeamGP (Mins/60)GSAAGSAA/60
Antti RaantaChicago Blackhawks6.955.320.765
Scott DarlingChicago Blackhawks7.15.060.713
Pekka RinneNashville Predators27.3317.880.654
Michael HutchinsonWinnipeg Jets9.386.080.648
Craig AndersonOttawa Senators19.189.830.513
Brian ElliottSt. Louis Blues13.7360.437
Calvin PickardColorado Avalanche9.523.870.407
Corey CrawfordChicago Blackhawks18.186.990.384
Jonathan QuickLos Angeles Kings25.039.360.374
M-A FleuryPittsburgh Penguins23.338.440.362
Roberto LuongoFlorida Panthers22.157.470.337

Incredibly, all three Chicago Blackhawks goaltenders that have appeared in a game this season are in the top 8 in GSAA/60. Collectively they have saved the team 17.37 goals against compared to league average goaltending. Clearly more credit needs to be given to the Blackhawks goaltenders for the success that they are having this season.

Above Average

NameTeamGP (Mins/60)GSAAGSAA/60
Niklas SvedbergBoston Bruins8.922.920.327
Sergei BobrovskyColumbus Blue Jackets20.885.990.287
Carey PriceMontreal Canadiens25.787.340.285
Jonathan BernierToronto Maple Leafs21.385.850.274
Devan DubnykArizona Coyotes10.572.70.255
Cam TalbotNew York Rangers6.421.40.218
Jimmy HowardDetroit Red Wings25.45.090.200
Martin JonesLos Angeles Kings7.351.310.178
Thomas GreissPittsburgh Penguins7.131.140.160
Antti NiemiSan Jose Sharks22.33.180.143
Steve MasonPhiladelphia Flyers20.182.510.124
Braden HoltbyWashington Capitals23.731.830.077

A lot of interesting names are on this part of the list. A case can definitely made for giving Niklas Svedberg, Devan Dubnyk, Cam Talbot, Martin Jones, and Thomas Greiss more playing time. Those goaltenders are further down the list if you just look at their total GSAA, but if you factor in their limited playing time, their starts have actually been quite impressive.

Average

NameTeamGP (Mins/60)GSAAGSAA/60
Jaroslav HalakNew York Islanders22.081.660.075
Cory SchneiderNew Jersey Devils28.61.950.068
Jhonas EnrothBuffalo Sabres20.971.270.061
Eddie LackVancouver Canucks9.650.50.052
Ondrej PavelecWinnipeg Jets22.951.140.050
Michal NeuvirthBuffalo Sabres11.450.370.032
Al MontoyaFlorida Panthers7.50.170.023
Dustin TokarskiMontreal Canadiens6.550.050.008
Jonas HillerCalgary Flames19.02-0.07-0.004
Tuukka RaskBoston Bruins23.42-0.28-0.012

The word average has a negative connotation, but in this context it is still very good. Like it is mentioned above, some of the goalies in this section may have not had as much action as some of the others, and have found it harder to accumulate goals saved. The fact that they are above the negative mark, or extremely close to it, is acceptable and there is nothing wrong with the way they are playing.

Below Average

NameTeamGP (Mins/60)GSAAGSAA/60
Ben BishopTampa Bay Lightning25.08-0.97-0.039
Henrik LundqvistNew York Rangers22.93-1.2-0.052
Robin LehnerOttawa Senators12.32-0.66-0.054
Frederik AndersenAnaheim Ducks25.97-1.84-0.071
Jake AllenSt. Louis Blues15-2.57-0.171
Semyon VarlamovColorado Avalanche14.62-2.62-0.179
James ReimerToronto Maple Leafs9.85-1.78-0.181
Cam WardCarolina Hurricanes20.88-4.15-0.199
Darcy KuemperMinnesota Wild18.4-3.71-0.202
Kari LehtonenDallas Stars24.23-6.41-0.265
Karri RamoCalgary Flames14.12-4.26-0.302
Niklas BackstromMinnesota Wild11.72-3.93-0.335

Goaltenders in this section have not played up to expectation. They have performed worse than the average goaltender in the NHL, albeit not that much worse. Their seasons could go either way at this point. Work must be done to get their GSAA out of the negatives, or it could get worse.

COLD

NameTeamGP (Mins/60)GSAAGSAA/60
Ryan MillerVancouver Canucks21.58-8.12-0.376
Ray EmeryPhiladelphia Flyers9.85-4.59-0.466
Ben ScrivensEdmonton Oilers21.4-12.12-0.566
Curtis McElhinneyColumbus Blue Jackets8.08-4.65-0.575
Evgeni NabokovTampa Bay Lightning7.03-4.17-0.593
Anton KhudobinCarolina Hurricanes9-5.68-0.631
Viktor FasthEdmonton Oilers10.63-7.53-0.708
Mike SmithArizona Coyotes20.88-16-0.766
Reto BerraColorado Avalanche6.17-5.95-0.964
Justin PetersWashington Capitals6.7-7.23-1.079
Chad JohnsonNew York Islanders9.47-11.85-1.251
Anders LindbackDallas Stars4.32-7.64-1.769

These goaltenders have not performed very well at all this season. Most of them have been giving up 0.5-1.7 more goals against every single game compared to the league’s average goaltender. That is a detriment to the team, and things need to change quickly. The good news is that it is a small sample size, and their seasons can still be turned around in the matter of weeks – they just haven’t made it easy on themselves by stumbling out of the gate.

As you can see, GSAA/60 is still not perfect because it is reliant on save percentage, which is a flawed stat – but it tells us a lot more than most of the other stats that are available. Using even strength save percentage could have been more fair, but the sample size would have been even smaller and a goaltender’s ability to perform well on the penalty kill should be taken into account.

This is not a predictive stat by any stretch, but hopefully it can shed some light on judging which goaltenders have been performing and which goaltenders need to start turning their season around.

About The Author

Greg Balloch

Greg Balloch is a Vancouver-based writer for InGoal Magazine, broadcaster for Sportsnet 650, and goaltending coach. His career began in Hamilton, Ontario with the Junior 'A' Hamilton Red Wings, before moving to Vancouver to cover the Canucks on the radio and work with the Surrey Eagles of the BCHL. A lifelong goaltender, he has been teaching the position for over a decade.

5 Comments

  1. al

    This is where numbers fail. Cam Ward might be the only Hurricane playing well this year. Especially after last year’s disaster, he’s really come back strong. Numbers are not going to be good when a) team gets outshot every night b) team goes 6 straight scoring 1 goal. One! and c) defense is more at home in Charlotte. I’d put him, qualitiatively in the above average catergory. Canes are wasting a good goalie performance, much like they did to Khudobin last year. Ugh.

  2. seb

    RE: Cam Ward. I think you’ve got something mixed up there. The Canes ARE NOT getting out shot every game. In fact, they out shoot their opponents in almost all of the games in which they lost by a goal. In that game against NJD, the shots were 40-16 in Carolina’s favor. They are, however, being outscored which is completely different. Not that I disagree with you. I do think Cam Ward is better than the numbers indicate.

  3. TJ

    I would put Halak in the above average category. Though he has faced less shots then some of the goalies in that category, his #’s this season are above his career average, not to mention he broke HOF Billy Smith’s consecutive wins record last month which is pretty impressive.

  4. BeninLondon

    When I am looking at these numbers I still can’t help but feel that there is a slight skew for the system that the goalie is playing in. Part of this might be because GSAA is a very save percentage centric stat but noting that all 3 Chicago goalies are in the top 8 makes me think even more that, not taking anything away from how well they have been playing, the system will effect these numbers more than anything.
    Chicago does a great job at forcing shots from the outside that are somewhat lower difficulty whereas a more run and gun team tends to have more crease scrambles and harder shots due to rebounds. I do think it is interesting to compare goalies on the same team and see how they stack up against each other like in Winnipeg where Hutchison is .648 and Pavelec is .050 or in Toronto where Bernier is +0.274 and Reimer is -0.181.

    • Greg Balloch

      Solid point. Agreed that it is flawed, but I think you’re right – it could be even more useful when comparing two goalies playing in the same system.