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April 9, 2010
Driving To The Net
Brian Boucher - Bad, or Bad Luck?

by Timo Seppa

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On the eve of the dramatic home-at-home series between the rival New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers, that will in all likelihood decide which team makes the postseason––the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens have a mere 2-4% chance of missing the playoffs––it’s time to take a closer look at Brian Boucher, the much maligned goalie-left-standing for the Philadelphia Flyers (after season-ending injuries to Ray Emery and Michael Leighton). Is the 33 year old journeyman really as bad as his 8-17-3 record, 2.78 GAA and .899 save percentage would indicate, or is there a good reason why many in the Philly media have a soft spot for “Boosh”? Further, do the Broad Street Bullies have a chance of making any noise in the playoffs with Boucher in net, should they make it past the Broadway Blueshirts?

A late first round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers way back in 1995, the NHL career of Brian Boucher got off to a promising start, when he posted a league-leading 1.91 GAA for the Flyers over 35 games in 1999-2000 as a 23 year old, with an impressive .918 save percentage. Unfortunately, the Woonsocket, Rhode Island native never again achieved the same level of success, with save percentages plummeting to .866-.906 in tours of duty with Philadelphia, Phoenix, Calgary, Chicago and Columbus through 2006-07. Yet over the past two seasons, while backing up Evgeni Nabokov with the San Jose Sharks, the thirty-something Boucher had something of a renaissance, boasting a .919 save percentage to go along with a 15-7-4 record – perhaps what convinced GM Paul Holmgren to bring Boucher back to Philly as an insurance policy to the volatile Ray Emery, who was a year removed from any North American playing time. Boucher’s career numbers have been those befitting a backup: a 100-120-40 record, with a 2.72 GAA and .900 save percentage, over 10 seasons.

That brings us to 2009-10, where Boucher has no doubt seen much more playing time than the Flyers’ brass had planned. First, he filled in as the starter during Emery’s multiple IR stints, before being relegated to backup again after Carolina castaway Michael Leighton won the starting gig with surprisingly strong play. After Leighton’s injury on March 16th––and since no viable NHL-caliber goaltender was picked up before the trading deadline––it’s been Boucher’s job by default.

On the surface, it seems to be no contest between the three primary netminders the Flyers have employed this season: Leighton, at 16-5-2 with a .918 save percentage was by far the best; Emery, at 16-11-1 with a .905 save percentage was middling; Boucher, at 8-17-3 with an .899 save percentage was easily the worst. But using Rob Vollman’s concept of Quality Starts, and a goaltender’s expected win percentage based on each game’s save percentage registered (albeit, 2008-09 stats), let’s look at exactly how many games Brian Boucher should have won, compared to his fellows.

First, we’ll break down how many games each goaltender posted in each of four save percentage ranges (each corresponding to a winning percentage):

Philadelphia goaltenders - Number of games per save percentage (range)

			
Goaltender        Starts   .913-1.000   .900-.912   .885-.899   .000-.884
Ray Emery	  28	    15	         2	     3	         8
Michael Leighton* 23	    18	         1	     2           2
Brian Boucher	  28	    15	         2	     1	         10
*Flyers' games only				

Per Vollman’s findings:

  • Save percentages between .913-1.000 (above the median .912 save percentage) yield an expected .777 winning percentage.
  • Save percentages between .900-.912 yield an expected .536 winning percentage.
  • Save percentages between .885-.899 yield an expected .503 winning percentage.
  • Save percentages between .000-.884 yield an expected .246 winning percentage.

Armed with this statistical tool, we can see just how the three Flyers’ goaltenders were expected to fare as far as wins and losses, based solely on their performance in net:

Legend:

Total: Expected total points in goalie's starts, based on save percentages

Average: Expected average points in goalie's starts, based on save percentages

Philadelphia goaltenders - Expected points per save percentage (range)

		
Goaltender       .913-1.000  .900-.912  .885-.899  .000-.884  Total  Average
Ray Emery	  23.3	      2.1	 3.0	    3.9	      32.4   1.16
Michael Leighton* 28.0	      1.1	 2.0	    1.0	      32.0   1.39
Brian Boucher	  23.3	      2.1	 1.0	    4.9	      31.4   1.12
*Flyers' games only					

Just by eyeballing the above two tables, you can see that Boucher’s results should have been in the same ballpark as Emery’s results, with only one or two bad games more than Emery.

Finally, let’s look at how those expected point totals compared to reality:

Legend:

Actual Points: Flyers' actual points in goalie's starts

Expected Points: Expected points in goalie's starts, based on save percentages

Team: Actual points minus expected points

Team/Game: Points per game not attributable to goalie, based on save percentage

Philadelphia goaltenders - Expected points per save percentage (range)

Goaltender        Actual Points   Expected Points   Team   Team/Game
Ray Emery	  33	          32.4	            0.6	   0.0
Michael Leighton* 34	          32.0	            2.0	   0.1
Brian Boucher	  17	          31.4	          -14.4	  -0.5
*Flyers' games only			

What a difference. While the team in front of Ray Emery and Michael Leighton played as expected, Philadelphia fell 14.4 points short of expected––a staggering half a point per game––over Boucher’s 28 starts. Therefore, it’s not surprising to find out that Boucher’s goal support has been 2.18 GF per game versus 2.89 GF per game in Philadelphia’s other starts – Not bad goaltending, not bad luck, but rather bad support. In comparison, the league’s worst offense, that of the Boston Bruins, has scored 2.48 GF per game.

So while Brian Boucher is a below average netminder as far as NHL number ones go, his win-loss record is another case of the Philadelphia offense going AWOL. Yes, Boucher’s been bad, but the team in front of him has been far worse. Philadelphia’s chances of beating out New York and of pulling off a first round upset rest with the Flyers’ skaters, not with their goaltender.

Timo Seppa runs the statistical hockey site Ice Hockey Metrics. Follow Timo on Twitter at @timoseppa.

Timo Seppa is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Timo by clicking here or click here to see Timo's other articles.

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