A goalie can't win a game for you all by themselves, because they can't score goals. Even Ron Hextall could only score on an empty net, which requires having a lead in the first place. The best that goalies can do is give their team a chance to win, and not necessarily with a shutout, but simply with a quality start that affords their team a reasonable opportunity to secure the two points.
This week we're going to see which goalies are giving their teams a chance to win over the first half of the seasoneither by stopping the puck at a consistent rate, or coming in after the starter falteredand which teams are making the most of those opportunities.
There are those who believe Chris Osgood's 400th win punched his ticket for the Hall of Fame, but as discussed at Brodeur is a Fraud and Behind the Net, Wins are a lousy way to judge a goalie's
contributions to team success. I'm far more impressed by solid goalies playing behind anemic offenses than I am with mediocre ones fortunate enough to play behind the dynastically potent ones.
Let's forever replace goalie wins with Quality Starts, which is awarded on more meaningful grounds. Any starting goalie who gives their team a chance to win, either by allowing two or fewer goals, or by stopping an above average number of shots, deserves credit for giving his team an opportunity to win, regardless of whether their team ultimately squandered it or not.
Key Number: 25%
When considering Quality Starts, the key number is 25%. Generally a team will only lose roughly 25% of the time their goalie earns a Quality Start, and likewise will somehow manage to secure the two points 25% of the time that their goalies fails.
Those seeking more precision can review our original study here.
Among active goalies, Tim Thomas entered this season with the fourth-highest even strength save percentage since the Lockout, so it's no surprise to see the veteran Bruin sitting atop the leaderboard, just as he did in 2008-09.
Highest Percentage of Quality Starts, 2010-11
Goalie Team QS%
Tim Thomas Boston 78.6%
Brian Boucher Philadelphia 73.3%
Anders Lindback Nashville 73.3%
Martin Biron NY Rangers 72.7%
Corey Crawford Chicago 71.4%
Semyon Varlamov Washington 71.4%
Cory Schneider Vancouver 70.0%
Jason LaBarbera Phoenix 69.2%
Tuukka Rask Boston 69.2%
Sergei Bobrovsky Philadelphia 68.0%
Minimum 10 starts
Other than Boston, there's at least one other team whose success has been riding heavily on their consistent and reliable goaltending: the Philadelphia Flyers. Sergei Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher have quietly combined for 28 Quality Starts out of 40, putting their team within reach of victory a whopping 70% of the time. And all that for a cap hit under $2.7 million!
Otherwise, the list is unfortunately backups, whose numbers can sometimes shine given small enough sample sizes against handpicked opponents.
Among those who get the majority of their team's starts, and against league leaders and division rivals, it's only fair to mention Jonas Hiller (67.6%), perennial leaderboard appearant Niklas Backstrom (65.4%) and L.A.'s Jonathan Quick (64.5%). And where is Ondrej Pavelec, whose amazing .931 save percentage as a starter is behind only Thomas and Andrew Raycroft? Right behind at 62.1%.
Perhaps one of the most interesting questions concerns the following two groups of starting goalies. Examine the list and see if you can find anything in common between their internal memberships, and in contrast between groups.
Pekka Rinne, Nashville
Henrik Lundqvist, NY Rangers
Tomas Vokoun, Florida
Carey Price, Montreal
Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Toronto
Steve Mason, Columbus
Antero Niittymaki, San Jose
Every goalie in Group A has save percentages well above .920 (as a starter), and two of them are even featured in our latest Player Power Rankings. By contrast, Group B includes goalies who aren't
even stopping 90% of the shots they face (or just barely). But guess what? Every single goalie in both groups has Quality Start percentages in the same mid-50's range.
Should we draw any conclusions from this? I've studied Quality Starts for years, and I'm hesitant to do so. These are awfully small sample sizes, and there hasn't been a great deal of historical persistence to Quality Starts. For instance, if Jean-Sebastien Giguere has some secret ability to keep teams in games, then he certainly didn't show it while appearing in the league's bottom-10 the past two seasons.
This Year's Disappointments
We certainly have a fair share of netminders that aren't giving their teams opportunities to be competitive. While not solely to blame for their team's woes, struggling goalies like Martin Brodeur must shoulder at least some of the responsibility.
Lowest Percentage of Quality Starts, 2010-11
Goalie Team QS%
Chris Mason Atlanta 25.0%
Martin Brodeur New Jersey 29.6%
Jonas Gustavsson Toronto 30.0%
Peter Budaj Colorado 31.6%
Dan Ellis Tampa Bay 34.8%
Jonathan Bernier Los Angeles 36.4%
Rick DiPietro NY Islanders 37.5%
Mike Smith Tampa Bay 40.0%
Nikolai Khabibulin Edmonton 40.7%
Marty Turco Chicago 43.5%
Minimum 10 starts
Just like Philadelphia and Boston were excellent examples of teams that were succeeding because of their goaltending, Tampa Bay is a team that is succeeding despite them. Between Dan Ellis and Mike Smith's uninspiring performances, you can see why they acquired Dwayne Roloson. Looking at Rick DiPietro, you have to wonder why the Islanders felt they were in a position to give him up (unless they're merely looking for a more favorable position in this year's draft lottery).
Over in Atlanta, Chris Mason is having a tough year, much as he did in his last season in Nashville three years ago. You can't blame the Thrashers blue line, because his performance is a far cry from starter Ondrej Pevelec, the sixth-best starter in the league, and one of the top surprises of the season.
Finally, you have to give Chicago coach Joel Quenneville credit for shifting starting duties from a known, trusted veteran to a rookie, based on performance. Check out who he favored as the season progressed:
Number of starts, Chicago goaltenders
October: Turco 10, Crawford 3
November: Turco 8, Crawford 6
December: Crawford 7, Turco 5
January: Crawford 5, Turco 0
Starting last month, Turco has earned only 5 of the last 17 starts. Why go with someone keeping you in 43.5% of the games when you have someone keeping you in 71.4%?
The Anaheim Ducks are second in their division, and 11th overall, but imagine how good they would be if they hadn't squandered 7 of Jonas Hiller's 25 Quality Starts? Just as Tampa Bay is to be celebrated for succeeding despite shaky netminding, the Ducks should be admonished.
vThe Detroit Red Wings haven't wasted a single one of Jimmy Howard's 16 Quality Starts, which is why he can have a 48.5% Quality Start percentage but can still be 22-7-4. They've also bailed him out of 6 of his non-Quality Starts, which is tied for the lead with Colorado's Peter Budaj, who has just a 31.6% Quality Start percentage, but is sitting at 11-8. If Anaheim were as kind to their netminder as Detroit and Colorado were to theirs, they'd have 63 points and lead the NHL.
At least Anaheim is in the playoff picture, but what about the Calgary Flames? They've wasted six of Miikka Kiprusoff's Quality Starts, second-most in a tie with Kari Lehtonen, Antti Niemi, Pekka Rinne, Cam Ward, Dwayne Roloson and Ilya Bryzgalov. And his poor backup Henrik Karlsson, who has delivered quality in five of his seven starts, is stuck on just two wins. Whatever the causes are for Calgary's underachievement, the answers probably don't begin in nets.
New Stat: Really Bad Starts
One thing we've ignored so far is the Really Bad Start (RBS), which is defined as any game where your starting goalie fails to stop at least 85% of the shots. An RBS is like the opposite of the shutout, and gives the team very little chance of winning. In fact, all NHL teams combined are 16-165-13 in RBS situations.
While even great goalies can have an RBS, like Tomas Vokoun and Martin Brodeur (7), or Ryan Miller, Craig Anderson and Nikolai Khabibulin (6), you have to once again give credit to Tim Thomas, who has managed 28 starts without a single stinker. Jose Theodore has started 16 games and Brian Boucher 15 without fans holding their noses, making it all the more unappealing to watch goalies like Steve Mason, Brian Elliott and Dan Ellis, all of whom have eight RBS.
Studying the results so far this season, it appears that Steve Mason is either really good (14 Quality Starts) or really bad (8 RBS). Kind of like Jonathan Bernier, the only player with as many RBS as Quality Starts (4). To account for those particularly terrible nights, what if we were to adjust Steve Mason's save percentage, giving him credit for .850 on those nights he was worse? Among the 32 goalies with 20 starts or more, Mason's .900 save percentage is 27th, but it jumps to a respectable .914 when we make this adjustment, which is more in-line with his career performance to date, and up to 20th when we do this for everyone else, too.
The same thing happens with Ty Conklin in St. Louis, who has five Quality Starts out of eight, but two truly brutal starts unfortunately dragged down to a terrible .898 save percentage (as a starter). This one adjustment brings him up to .914, much closer to his career average.
Josh Harding Award for Best Reliever
So what do you do when you've got a Mason or Bernier in net, and it looks like a stinker? Given that the chance of winning an RBS is only 11%, you really have no choice but to gamble on your backup, so it pays to have a good one.
The problem is that goalies stop just 89.9% of shots in relief, compared with 91.3% when starting. That's partly because the backup generally isn't as good a goalie as the starter, but it's also because they're coming in cold. Check out the four goalies who have started and relieved in at least four games this season, who together paint the same picture: most goalies just aren't as good coming in cold.
Save Percentages, Starting vs. Reliving
Goalie Start Relief
Clemmensen .913 .954
Hedberg .906 .822
Garon .905 .899
Ellis .883 .873
With the injury to Josh Harding, who has demonstrated the uncanny ability to come into a game cold and be effective over the past few seasons, the title of "Best Reliever" is up for grabs, and it may be Scott Clemmensen's for the taking.
Only five goalies have played 100 minutes in relief this season: Johan Hedberg, Mathieu Garon, Scott Clemmensen, Dan Ellis and Justin Peters. Of them, only Clemmensen has a save percentage above league average, at .954 with a GAA of 1.21. He may be delivering quality in only 37.5% of his starts, but he has sure been effective in relief of Tomas Vokoun.
Sometimes goalies get too large a share of the blame when a team is losing, and likewise too much credit when they win. It's a goalie's job to stop shots and give their teams an opportunity to win the games, nothing more and certainly nothing less. Teams like Philadelphia and Boston are successful in large part because of their goalies are doing their jobs consistently and reliably, and the failure to do so is why teams like Tampa Bay and Chicago have made changes in nets. Just don't drag the goalies into the debates of why Anaheim and Calgary are underachieving, because they should be trying to take better advantage of the netminding they're receiving before asking for more.
Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
You can contact Robert by clicking here or click here to see Robert's other articles.