What We Learned: Getting a better look at the best goalies in the NHL
There are just a few goalies who, over the course of the season, have really earned a lot of accolades for their work to this point.
Everyone seems totally willing to give Devan Dubnyk the Vezina right this second, and for good reason. He leads the league in save percentages by seven points, and the two guys closest behind him have significantly fewer minutes played because they’re either a backup (Scott Darling) or missed a lot of time (Craig Anderson).
The other guy who got that kind of attention this season, right up until he fell apart in the past month or so, was Sergei Bobrovsky, who was perhaps the most crucial driver of Columbus’s incredible early-season success. Even despite having been terrible for awhile, he still has a .926 save percentage, tied for fourth in the NHL.
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But the guy Bobrovsky is tied with is very, very interesting insofar as his name hasn’t really come up too much in the Vezina discussion. He’s the guy who won it last year. It bears repeating that Braden Holtby didn’t really deserve to win the Vezina last season because he wasn’t the best goalie in the league, he just happened to be a very good goalie on the best team (recall he had 48 wins in 66 games). Not to say that he wasn’t great, because he was, but he didn’t bring the level of performance Ben Bishop, Corey Crawford, or Cory Schneider did. Doesn’t matter now, though.
Holtby is following up a Vezina win with an even better performance. Few acknowledge this.
If I’m putting together a Vezina ballot right now (with 30 or so games to go for every team) that’s probably my top three. And I’d be tempted give the award to Holtby, to be honest. With that having been said, though, simply looking at save percentage alone probably isn’t the best way to evaluate talent these days. We have many more tools available to us.
The en-vogue move in recent years has been to compare overall save percentage with 5-on-5 save percentage, which effectively shows the goalie’s performance when it’s most independent from team performance. It was (and still is) instructive when determining just how well a goalie performed in a fairly controlled environment, and highlighted their individual talent level.
But today, thanks to shot location data you can get from NHL game sheets, we can also factor in shot quality in every situation, and use that to determine how many goals a netminder has prevented in comparison with what an average goalie would have stopped facing the same workload in terms of both volume and difficulty. That is synthesized into one stat: Corsica’s “goals saved above average.”
And when you look at GSAA, a slightly different picture of who has been the best goaltender in the league starts to emerge. Of the 37 goaltenders to play at least 1,000 minutes at 5-on-5 this season (goalies we can safely say are starters, in 1a/1b tandems, or working through injury situations), one goalie has a not-insignificant lead on the competition, and it’s not one of the three Vezina candidates discussed above.
It’s actually Cam Talbot.
A few things are pretty surprising right off the bat here.
For one thing, Cam Talbot leads the league in GSAA, which I guess shouldn’t be that much of a surprise given that he’s .920 (no one talks about this, either) on a team with a, shall we say, patchwork defensive group. The only situations in which he’s given up more goals than an average goalie are 4-on-4 and 3-on-5, which are both pretty rare game states in the first place. And regardless, the impact there has been minor.
Otherwise, you have to say that Talbot has been a credit to the Oilers in just about every way conceivable, which is no small feat. He’s faced more shots than any goaltender in the league, which makes sense because Edmonton is trying to ride him into the ground; he’s started 50 of the Oilers’ 56 games. With this in mind, wedging Talbot into your Vezina top-three right now is a perfectly legitimate stance. And what’s surprising is that it’s consensus-pick Dubnyk who ends up on the outside looking in if you want to go by the overall quality of the job done so far. (Which is to say that I don’t expect it to last, given how heavily he’s being used.)
Holtby of course saves the most goals at 5-on-5, which should come as no surprise, and has really only been victimized at 4-on-4 and 3-on-4, which you can’t really blame him for. Crawford and Price are likewise way up there in GSAA at 5-on-5, but shorthanded situations and 3-on-3 hockey have hurt their overall numbers considerably.
Another number I think is fascinating, though, is that for as much stick as Kari Lehtonen (.903) rightly gets these days, it’s not because he’s bad at 5-on-5. If we once again acknowledge that this is the part of the game over which a goalie has the most individual control, it’s worth noting his 5-on-5 GSAA is sixth-highest in the league (plus-14). It’s everything other game state where he’s getting smoked, particularly on the PK, and while you can say some of that’s on him, maybe his defensemen owe him a couple steak dinners too. That’s not to say goaltending isn’t a problem in Dallas, because it clearly is and has been, but there might be equally big fish to fry right now too.
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Point being, if you want to look at the ways in which goalies are helping their teams, you can always dig deeper to get a better idea of how difficult their workload is and how valuable they’ve been. And by that measure, because of his workload, right now it looks like Cam Talbot has been the best goalie in the league.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: Bear with me here, but what if Randy Carlyle just isn’t a good coach?
Arizona Coyotes: Who would have guessed that the ice in Arizona isn’t good?
Boston Bruins: Man, this is why Julien had to go: The Bruins are scoring more because Bruce Cassidy said “shoot like 16 percent.” Claude was telling them to only shoot 7.5 percent. What a dope!
Buffalo Sabres: Jack Eichel and Evander Kane seem to have something going lately, which only increases the chances Buffalo trades Kane.
Calgary Flames: Brad Treliving wants to be a buyer at the deadline, apparently? Doesn’t seem like a good idea to me.
Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes head into their bye week now. Once the season is over, it’ll be interesting to see how teams across the league did coming out of their bye weeks.
Chicago: Hey, it’s a five-game winning streak. They’re still behind Minnesota, which is shocking.
Colorado Avalanche: The Avs only have 15 wins. It’s Feb. 13. Good lord.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Hahahahahahahahahahahaha hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha hahahahahahaha hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha hahahahahaha. Boy, when the wheels come off, they go flying, huh?
Dallas Stars: Jamie Benn had two assists Saturday night. Why has everyone been acting like his season has been lackluster? He’s over a point a game since October.
Detroit Red Wings: Man, this team is horrible. Blow it up. Put it out of its misery.
Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers go into their bye week sitting very comfortably at third in the division. Which, hey, you’ll take it.
Florida Panthers: The Panthers have allowed 10 goals in their last two games. Seems like a problem.
Los Angeles Kings: The Kings aren’t looking to make a splash at the deadline. That’s interesting. Wonder if that means Lombardi doesn’t seem them being meaningfully competitive in the West.
Minnesota Wild: Man, they just keep winning. Bruce Boudreau really ought to be the Jack Adams recipient this year if they win that division.
Montreal Canadiens: Here’s an idea: Fire Therrien, hire Julien. What a thumb in the eye to the Bruins.
Nashville Predators: Every time I think I have this team figured out they go and do something like this.
New Jersey Devils: The Devils took seven of the last eight points since the All-Star break. I’m sure that’s not a coincidence or anything. I’m sure it’s because they fixed everything that was wrong with them.
New York Islanders: Hell yeah, build a rink on Long Island. Why didn’t anyone think of that before?
New York Rangers: This is absolutely not one of the 100 best players in the history of the league. No sir. Nope.
Ottawa Senators: Bless Craig Anderson. What a player.
Philadelphia Flyers: This is the turning point, baby! Here come the Flyers! Yeah!
Pittsburgh Penguins: Get lost with this. Come on. They’re not trading for Matt Duchene.
San Jose Sharks: Logan Couture being out for any length of time would be, uh, bad.
St. Louis Blues: Another coach who is a big ol idiot: Ken Hitchcock. Why didn’t he tell the Blues to score a lot of goals and the goalies to not give up a lot? What a dope! Not even good at coaching to be honest.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Let me evaluate Callahan for you: He’s bad and old and broken down. Thanks.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Leafs are losers of six in their last eight. Probably, uhh, bad.
Vancouver Canucks: This is the kind of game that will convince Benning they’re really close and need to be buyers at the deadline.
Vegas Golden Knights: One suspects this is not a test the league will pass.
Washington Capitals: This is a laugh-out-loud great headline.
Winnipeg Jets: Why on earth are we talking about the Jets’ playoff position? They’ve been out of it since October.
Play of the Weekend
What this replay, bafflingly, doesn’t show you is that Drouin creates two turnovers then goes on a tour of the offensive zone before this sick no-look feed and tap-in goal.
Gold Star Award
Henrik Lundqvist has 400 wins now. Normally I wouldn’t say wins matter, but the reason he has so many is almost entirely because he rules. Chris Osgood has 401 wins for a very different reason, including the fact that he played behind an All-Star team.
Minus of the Weekend
Claude Julien isn’t going to Vegas, presumably because he has better options.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year
User “RawNastyHands” took great care here.
To Colorado: Pacioretty, Beaulieu, Juulsen, 1st rounder 2017
To Montreal: Duchene, Landeskog
How do you know you don’t like bribes if you’ve never taken one?
Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.
(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)
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