There’s the old saying that you’ve repeatedly heard from coaches and broadcasters in almost any sport: “Good teams find a way to win.” It’s a rather flatulent, hollow aphorism, but it’s an attempt express that good teams don’t have excuses, they win.
One of the most common excuses is goaltending. (Just ask the Wild.) You’ll no doubt agree that good goaltending helps to win games and bad goaltending makes it harder to win games. But are good teams getting better goaltending more often than other teams? Or are good teams finding ways to win games even when their netminder is having an off night? These are questions worth digging into, even when the answers seem obvious (yes?), as it might reveal quite a bit about the makeup of a team and how they’re achieving success.
I’m using this data from Rob Vollman’s work on quality starts (as highlighted here by Hockey Reference). It shows the winning percentage of teams when they’re getting different levels of save percentages from their goalies. Here’s how that works out historically (original data from pre 2009-10).
|Save %||Win %|
|0.913 or better||0.777|
|0.900 to 0.912||0.536|
|0.885 to 0.899||0.503|
|0.884 or worse||0.246|
Those winning percentages may have shifted a bit in recent years, but it at least provides a bit of a reference point to look at for a league average as we compare the teams of the Metropolitan Division. Let’s just start with raw Sv%, 5-on-5 Sv% and standings points as of Saturday afternoon for these teams.
|New York Rangers||91.9||93||58|
|New York Islanders||89.6||91.2||65|
I’ve grouped each team’s games based on those save percentage splits above. From that we should be able to see if some teams are getting more games in the higher stratifications and how they compare to each other and the league average in terms of their point percentage in games within each of those groupings.
Let’s first break out how many games each team has at each level.
While the Penguins and the Capitals have the most games at .913 and above, the Rangers’ 34 games over .900 is impressive. No one else crosses even 30 games. That gives the Rangers just 12 games under .900. The closest to that mark are the Capitals and Hurricanes with 19 a piece. Everyone else is over 20. ( Penguins: 20, Devils: 21, Blue Jackets: 23, Islanders: 24, Flyers: 26.)
That starts to highlight as well that the Islanders goaltending situation this season is improved (best EV Sv% in four seasons and a better all situation Sv% than last season, albeit only slightly), but they aren’t getting great goaltending consistently. They’ve got a total of 24 games over .900, which is tied for last with the Flyers and Blue Jackets. The big difference between those teams: The Islanders are on top of the division.
Let’s tease that apart and see the winning percentages of each team at these different levels.
Couple things to note before digesting these numbers: The middle two sections (.912-.900 and .899-.885 Sv%) have fewer games total for most teams. With sample sizes that small (five teams have three or fewer games in the .912-.900 range) the numbers are less significant than the numbers on the ends (.913 and above and .884 and below). For reference see the pie charts above or the table at the end of this article to get a full sense of how many games these point percentages represent.
What can we take away from this? The Islanders are getting far less quality goaltending than the rest of the division, but it hasn’t mattered. They’re finding ways to win no matter what. Unlike the Rangers, who seem much more dependent on good goaltending, but they’re getting a lot of it. The Rangers are 1-6-0 when they get .884 or below, but that has only happened seven times. (Just seven times!) Whereas the Islanders have gotten that kind of terrible goaltending 20 times, but are 7-13-0 in those games, gathering 35% of the possible points in those games. That’s over 10% above the league average of 24.6%.
The Penguins have similar numbers to the Islanders, but they’re getting a good distribution of games across categories and performing above league average in those for the most part. Same goes for the Caps.
The Blue Jackets have are slightly tougher to judge because they’ve had so many injuries to key players. But while the massive number of injuries they’ve sustained can’t be underestimated, they’re 0-14-0 in games where they get a .884 Sv% or below. They’re completely dependent on goaltending for wins and they aren’t getting an abundance of quality starts from their netminders, which has largely been Sergei Bobrovsky and he’s currently out of the lineup with an injury.
Carolina has had solid goaltending, but they don’t know what to do with it. Or, maybe, they do know what to do with it: draft Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.
Philadelphia has only won 65.9% of the games where they get a .913 Sv% or better. They’re 13-6-3 in those games. That’s the lowest mark in the division save Carolina. That’s a pretty good step under league average. However, they’re playing above average when they get crap goaltending. They’re 4-12-3 when they’ve got a .884 Sv% or below, collecting 28.9% of the points. That’s the third best point percentage at that level in the division.
Here’s a look at the complete stats:
|.913 record||.913 P%||.913 Games||.900 record||.900 P%||.900 Games||.885 record||.885 P%||.885 Games||.884 record||.884 P%||.884 Games|
|New York Islanders||22-1-0||95.70%||23||0-1-0||0%||1||3-0-1||87.50%||4||7-13-0||35%||20|
|New York Rangers||21-3-2||84.60%||26||4-3-1||56.30%||8||1-3-1||30%||5||1-6-0||14.30%||7|
The breakdown serves as a good look at some strengths and weaknesses of these teams heading down the stretch and into the playoffs. The Islanders aren’t getting great goaltending, but they’re for real. Their PDO of 99.6 doesn’t reveal that the goaltending is likely to swing the other way, but they don’t need to have the best goaltending in the league to win and they’d probably be able to keep their heads above water should they lose Jaroslav Halak.
The Rangers continue to play well, but are maybe too dependent on the play of Henrik Lundqvist. An injury to him could be devastating. Similar things can be said of the Blue Jackets’ dependence on good goaltending and while they aren’t contending for a playoff spot any longer, the loss of Bobrovsky could mean bad things for this team. (Or good things if you’re a Jackets fan cheering for lottery balls.)
Good goaltending will win games, but the teams who will still be playing at the end of April will need to be able to overcome games where they aren’t getting top tier goaltending.