Goaltender is the most important position in hockey, but since a goalie’s impact is limited to one end of the ice there is only so much they can do to help their team win a hockey game. This week Henrik Lundqvist was a good example of this. Despite two terrific back-to-back performances on Wednesday and Thursday where he combined to stop 77 out of 78 shots, the Rangers failed to score a single goal and ended up losing once in regulation and once in a shootout.
The situation was completely different for the Washington Capitals and Michal Neuvirth. Neuvirth also played back-to-back games this week but was pulled from both of them, recording two identical stat lines of 4 goals against on 15 shots. Fortunately for Neuvirth the Caps are the best offensive team in the league, and Washington managed to come back and win one of those games. Combined with the play of Neuvirth’s replacement Jose Theodore, Washington’s goaltending numbers in those two games were an awful 5.28 GAA and an .833 save percentage, yet the Capitals picked up two points. In New York, Lundqvist’s 0.48 GAA and .987 save percentage resulted in just one point in the standings.
Goalies are often evaluated on whether the team wins or loses while they are in net even though half of the win/loss equation comes from the number of goals that the team manages to score. If Washington’s goaltending was compared against New York’s solely on the basis of win/loss records then the observer would come to a very mistaken conclusion about which team had better goaltending.
To reinforce this point, here is the overall win loss record and winning percentage of teams this season when scoring X number of goals in a game (not counting shootouts):
X Goals Win-Loss Record Winning Percentage of Teams when Scoring X Goals
0 goals 3-79-4 .058
1 goal 34-173-39 .217
2 goals 109-171-54 .407
3 goals 192-84-47 .660
4 goals 174-25-17 .845
5 goals 109-0-11 .954
6 goals 55-0-0 1.000
7 goals 22-0-0 1.000
8 goals 5-0-0 1.000
9 goals 1-0-0 1.000
If a team is clicking offensively and puts 5 or more pucks into the other team’s net then it almost doesn’t matter how good their goaltending is because they are almost certain to win the game.
These numbers also show that the key goal in the game is the third goal scored by a team. When teams score two goals they lose the game in regulation 51% of the time. When teams score three goals they lose in regulation just 26% of the time. A team that scored three goals in every game they played would rack up the regulation wins and overtime losses and would likely end up as one of the best teams in the league. They would also be significantly better than a team that alternated between scoring 5 goals and scoring 1 goal.
Let’s look at a detailed breakdown of the goal support for two of the leading Vezina candidates, Ryan Miller and Martin Brodeur:
Number Of Goals
Goalie 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Miller 4 6 6 9 5 4 3 0 0 0
Brodeur 1 5 13 10 8 3 1 0 0 0
Overall the two goalies had the exact same goal support (2.78 goals per start), yet the distributions are noticeably different. The Sabres have been more inconsistent, getting shut out more often but also more likely to win in a blowout. New Jersey rarely scores fewer than 2 or more than 4 goals in a game, but the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th goals are the three that have the largest impact on a team’s expected win probability. This indicates that the Devils are likely a better offensive team than the Sabres but tend to adjust their offensive play based on the score. An average goalie behind an average defense with Miller’s goal support would be expected to win 56.8% of the time. The same goalie with Brodeur’s win support would be expected to win 57.9% of the time. Both of these numbers are only slightly above league average, indicating that the Sabres and Devils have both been winning through solid defense and great goaltending so far this season.
Here are the top 10 goalies with the highest expected winning percentage, based on goal support received in games started (minimum 15 starts). It is not surprising to see a Washington goalie at the top of the list (Neuvirth and Varlamov would have been at the top as well if they met the minimum cutoffs):
Rank Player Team Expected Win % Goal Support per Start
1. Jose Theodore WSH .709 3.67
2. Ondrej Pavelec ATL .668 3.42
3. Ray Emery PHI .657 3.38
4. Jonas Hiller ANA .635 3.06
5. Roberto Luongo VAN .634 3.26
6. Michael Leighton CAR/PHI .631 3.38
7. Cristobal Huet CHI .630 3.18
8. Evgeni Nabokov SJS .628 3.12
9. Dwayne Roloson NYI .625 3.00
10. Jaroslav Halak MTL .612 2.95
Several of these goalies play for teams that aren’t among the leaders in scoring. Anaheim ranks 15th, the Islanders are in the 22nd spot and Montreal is all the way down in 27th. That suggests that the other goalies on those teams must not have received much goal support, and that is indeed the case. There are several tandems with very different win/loss records, and in most cases that is due to a differing level of team support:
Goalie Win-Loss Record GAA Goal Support per Start
Jonas Hiller 17-13-2 2.78 3.06
J.S. Giguere 4-7-5 3.03 2.25
Dwayne Roloson 18-7-6 2.70 3.00
Martin Biron 2-11-2 3.22 1.60
Jaroslav Halak 12-6-1 2.46 2.95
Carey Price 11-15-3 2.68 2.11
Biron has been the unluckiest goalie in the league this year by far. His team has scored 3 goals or more in just 2 out of his 15 starts. Here are some other goalies working without much help from their teammates:
Rank Goalie Team Expected Win % Goal Support per Start
1. Martin Biron NYI .338 1.60
2. Carey Price MTL .445 2.11
3. Brian Elliott OTT .450 2.10
4. Tim Thomas BOS .464 2.29
5. J.S. Giguere ANA .481 2.25
6. Antero Niittymaki TBL .485 2.33
7. Cam Ward CAR .486 2.40
8. Chris Osgood DET .488 2.28
9. Jonas Gustavsson TOR .495 2.46
10. Mathieu Garon CBJ .496 2.33
Henrik Lundqvist just missed the top 10 with .512, but if the Rangers offense continues its slump it won’t be long before he shows up on this list.
Lastly, comparing a goalie’s actual win/loss record against their expected record adjusted for goal support will give a sense of how well the goalie has performed this season. It must be emphasized that there are several other variables that also affect this measure, including team defense, team discipline, and team shootout performance. Here are the top 10 goalies in terms of actual points minus expected points:
Rank Goalie Actual Points minus Expected Points
1. Ryan Miller 10.8
2. Martin Brodeur 10.4
3. Ilya Bryzgalov 8.8
4. Evgeni Nabokov 8.5
5. Miikka Kiprusoff 8.1
6. Jimmy Howard 5.8
7. Pekka Rinne 5.4
8. Semyon Varlamov 5.2
9. Cristobal Huet 4.7
10. Jon Quick 4.2
Huet and Quick are on this list primarily because their teams are good at preventing shots, but for the most part the others are there because they have contributed to their teams winning hockey games. Goal support has a strong impact on which teams win and lose games, and looking at goaltender wins without taking it into account is a mistake.
Philip Myrland is an author of Puck Prospectus and runs the statistical hockey website Brodeur Is A Fraud. You can contact him at BrodeurIsAFraud@Inbox.com.
Philip Myrland is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
You can contact Philip by clicking here or click here to see Philip's other articles.