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Which NHL teams put their goalies in the best and worst positions to succeed?

While NHL goaltenders are often evaluated as individuals, their teams can do a great deal to help them thrive — or torpedo their numbers.

Goaltenders may play the loneliest position in hockey, but in the NHL it requires a team effort for them to succeed.

Although goalies are often evaluated based on metrics like save percentage and GSAA that measure the rate at which they stop all the shots they face, not all attempts are created equal. The defensive play in front of the net plays a massive role in the quality of shots a goaltender faces, and in turn his ability to keep the puck in front of him.

That's relatively intuitive stuff, but it can be difficult to measure at times. Quantifying defensive structure can be tricky, and there's no perfect way to do it. The NHL's new player tracking data offers an interesting avenue, though.

NHL Edge provides information on the amount of "high-danger," "mid-range," and "long-range" shots every goaltender has faced this season.

According to the chart below, high-danger shots are those in the two segments closest to the net, the mid range is a three-segment area behind that, and long-range attempts are the three spots closest to the blue line.

Via NHL.com
Via NHL.com

Those categories don't account for every attempt on net, but they capture most of them outside of infrequent sharp-angle shots that don't tend to be particularly dangerous. The average NHL team allows 26.6% of its shots against from high-danger areas and 27.2% from mid range, with 19.9% of attempts against classified as long range.

With this information, we can see which teams leave their goalies with the toughest shots to stop and which ones make life relatively easy on their netminders.

Quantity is a factor, too. For instance, the New York Islanders are one of the best teams at limiting high-danger looks on a percentage basis (23.1%), but they allow so many shots overall (35 per game) that their goalies still have plenty of tough work.

Putting all that together, here are the teams that are the best and worst at helping the men who guard their creases.

The Kraken do a good job of protecting Philipp Grubauer from difficult shots. (Photo by Steph Chambers/NHL Getty Images)
The Kraken do a good job of protecting Philipp Grubauer from difficult shots. (Photo by Steph Chambers/NHL Getty Images)

Offering the most help

Seattle Kraken: This is a surprising team to see on this list considering the Kraken are the 26th-best goal-suppression squad in the NHL and have a team save percentage of .888. That said, Seattle is the only team in the NHL to allow more long-range shots (24.3%) than high-danger looks (22.0%).

Looking at some of their underlying numbers, it's clear the Kraken have done quite a bit to help their netminders thrive. At all strengths, Seattle allows the fifth-fewest scoring chances per 60 (25.97), seventh-fewest high-danger opportunities (11.03), and seventh-fewest expected goals against (2.88). The team also ranks ninth in the NHL in raw shot suppression, conceding 29.3 per game.

All of this information suggests that Philipp Grubauer and Joey Daccord deserve a significant share of the blame for the team's rough start to the season.

While both goaltenders have seen a relatively low percentage of shots from tough spots, both have been well below average against high-danger and mid-range opportunities.

Via NHL Edge
Via NHL Edge

Los Angeles Kings: It's not a surprise to see the Kings here considering they allow the second-fewest shots in the NHL (27.1 per game) and are the only squad that concedes fewer than 10 high-danger chances per 60 minutes (9.59).

They are only narrowly above average when it comes to the number of high-danger looks they allow as a percentage of all shots against (26.1%), but because they dominate the play so much no team has conceded fewer total high-danger attempts on net (141). The Kings also have the third-highest long-range shot rate in the NHL (23.8%).

Those numbers help explain why Cam Talbot has been absolutely outstanding between the pipes (.928 SV%) after a rough 2022-23 season (.898 SV%), but it doesn't reflect well on backup Pheonix Copley.

Pheonix Copley headshot
Pheonix Copley
IR
G - LA - #29
2023 - 2024 season
4-1-2
Rec
1
SO
3.16
GAA
154
SV
.870
SV%

Florida Panthers: Like the Kings, the Panthers aren't elite at preventing high-danger opportunities on the shots they allow (26.1%), but only four teams give up fewer total shots (27.9/game).

The Panthers also concede the lowest percentage of mid-range shots in the league by a significant margin (20.5%), making them one of just four teams with less than half of their shots against coming from high-danger or mid-range areas. Their share of shots allowed from those two regions (46.6%) is the lowest in the NHL.

Only the Carolina Hurricanes have allowed fewer scoring chances per 60 minutes than the Panthers (28.45), and Carolina has trouble preventing high-danger shots, which account for 29% of its attempts allowed.

Sergei Bobrovsky hasn't had a terrific season under the favorable circumstances, but they help explain how Anthony Stolarz is thriving.

Anthony Stolarz headshot
Anthony Stolarz
G - FLA - #41
2023 - 2024 season
16-7-2
Rec
2
SO
2.03
GAA
633
SV
.925
SV%

Leaving goaltenders on an island

San Jose Sharks: This is another predictable result considering there's nothing the Sharks have been good at this year. San Jose allows more shots than any other team (36.8/game) with the third-highest percentage of them coming from the high-danger area (30.0%).

That's resulted in the Sharks allowing 32 more high-danger opportunities than any other team and only four have allowed a lower percentage of their shots against from long range (17.9%).

The fact the Sharks are giving up four goals per night sounds like an outlandish statistical anomaly, but they seem to be getting approximately what they deserve, as they've allowed 3.82 expected goals per 60 minutes in all situations.

San Jose's goaltenders have posted understandably ugly numbers in 2023-24, but Mackenzie Blackwood deserves credit for producing a save percentage that's near the NHL average (.903) with the deck stacked against him.

Mackenzie Blackwood headshot
Mackenzie Blackwood
G - SJ - #29
2023 - 2024 season
10-25-4
Rec
2
SO
3.45
GAA
1,243
SV
.899
SV%

Chicago Blackhawks: The Blackhawks haven't been quite as much of a disaster as the Sharks, but their defensive play has still been brutal.

The Blackhawks are conceding 3.65 goals per game and it's not difficult to see why, as they're the fifth-worst shot-suppression squad in the league (33.2 shots/game), and no team has allowed a higher percentage of high-danger shots (31.9%).

Only the Sharks allow more high-danger chances per 60 minutes (16.38) than Chicago (15.06). As a result, the Blackhawks have given up almost as many high-danger goals (45) as the Kings' goals-against total (47).

Chicago's goaltending hasn't transcended its poor defensive play overall, but Petr Mrazek deserves credit for putting in a workmanlike effort under difficult circumstances.

Petr Mrazek headshot
Petr Mrazek
G - CHI - #34
2023 - 2024 season
18-31-4
Rec
1
SO
3.05
GAA
1,564
SV
.907
SV%

Edmonton Oilers: There are a few teams that could go in this third spot after the Sharks and Blackhawks — who are in a league of their own in terms of hanging their netminders out to dry.

Considering the Oilers are one of the best teams in the NHL at preventing shots, there's a good case for leaving them off this list, but when they do allow opportunities they tend to be juicy. The Oilers' percentage of shots from both the high-danger area (28.3%) and mid range (31.7%) are both well above average.

Adding those numbers together, 60% of the attempts they concede are from the toughest places for goalies to handle — the highest number in the NHL. As a result, their long-range shot percentage against (17.1%) is the second-lowest in the league.

Edmonton has undoubtedly received some poor work between the pipes from the trio of Stuart Skinner, Jack Campbell, and Calvin Pickard but the numbers that trio have put up make a bit more sense in the context of rarely facing relatively harmless, routine shots.

The Oilers have shown a little more life in recent weeks under new coach Kris Knoblauch, and it will be interesting to see if they do more to help the guys protecting their nets under his leadership in the months ahead.