Using Even Strength save percentages to determine which teams have the best goaltending

After many debates about whether or not Washington has above or below average goaltending, I decided to look at all team’s goaltending and see which ones have the best and worst goaltending. Since save percentages on special teams (PP and PK) are largely luck based, I decided to use each goaltender’s even strength save percentages. Also, to make the data less skewed, I only used goaltenders who have seen at least 50 shots this season, meaning I didn’t include goalies who maybe had 20 minutes of relief duty (Richard Bachman and Mike Brodeur come to mind). There were definitely some surprises.

The league average save percentage is about .916 so this is the grading scale I used:

Excellent = <.930 save pct.

Above Average .920-.929 save pct.

Average = .910-.919

Below-Average = .901-.909

Awful = <.900

Here’s the top 5 from each:

1. Boston Bruins (Tim Thomas/Tuukka Rask .943 ES save pct.)

Combined 2010-11 salary: $7.0 mil

The obscene play of Tim Thomas this year is well documented and he’s gotten about 70% of the starts in Boston because of it. Rask has been great as the Bruins’ backup and could be a starter on a few other teams. He proved that last year with how good he played during the second half of the season. I don’t know if this duo will be able to keep up a save percentage like this (mostly because it’s too high for nearly any goalie to maintain) but Boston fans have to be happy that they’re getting 2008-09 version of Thomas.  What’s also scary? Boston surrenders the 4th most shots in the league.

2. Dallas Stars (Kari Lehtonen/Andrew Raycroft ES save pct. .936)

Combined 2010-11 salary: $3.4 mil

I thought this number would be inflated because of Raycroft’s high save percentage at a small sample size but it turns out Lehtonen is playing out of his mind this season. He is still injury prone and his .932 save percentage at even strength probably won’t hold up for much longer but I’ll give credit to where it’s due here. Raycroft is really not much more than a back-up goalie but he always seems to face a ton of shots when he’s in net for the Stars. Dallas’ weak penalty kill might have something to do with that.

3. Nashville Predators (Pekka Rinne/Andres Lindback .931 ES save pct.)

Combined 2010-11 salary: $3.675

This is surprising considering Rinne’s battled injuries all season and Lindback has performed better than anyone thought he would in relief duty (.939 EV strength save pct).  Not bad for a guy who was signed out of nowhere and for less than $1 mil per season. The Preds aren’t a team that scores a lot so these two always have to be sharp in order for them to win games and the Preds are currently on a 6-game winning streak. Maybe this isn’t that big of a surprise after all.

4. Anaheim Ducks (Jonas Hiller/Curtis McElhinney ES save pct. .929)

2010-11 salary: $5.07 mil

This may as well just be Jonas Hiller seeing how he gets almost every start and has been terrific this season. He’s seen over 1000 shots at even strength alone and has stopped over 93% of them. He also makes $3.5 mil less than Giguere. The Ducks certainly aren’t looking back from that trade at all.

5. Phoenix Coyotes (Ilya Bryzgalov/Jason LaBarbera ES save pct .929)

Combined 2010-11 salary: $5.5 mil

Bryz isn’t quite having the season he had last year and he’s had to miss some time recently due to a family issue but LaBarbera has picked up the slack nicely. Bryz will likely see more minutes the rest of the way and is the better goalie but LaBarbera has recently proved he can start in a multitude of games and still a few if needed.

Here’s the rest of the league in no order:

Atlanta (Pavelec/Mason) .929
Philadelphia (Boucher/Bobrovsky) .928
Florida (Vokoun/Clemmensen) .926
Minnesota (Backstrom/Theodore) .925
Pittsburgh (Fleury/Johnson) .925
New York Rangers (Lundqvist/Biron) .925
Montreal (Price/Auld) .924
Vancouver (Luongo/Schnieder) .922
Toronto (Gustavsson/Giguere/Reimer) .918
Edmonton (Khabibulin/Dubnyk/Gerber) .917
Colorado (Anderson/Budaj) .917
Chicago (Crawford/Turco) .917
Detroit (Howard/Osgood) .916
San Jose (Niemi/Niittymaki) .916
Columbus (Mason/Garon) .915
Buffalo (Miller/Lalime) .914
Islanders (DiPietro/Lawson/Poulin) .913
Carolina (Ward/Peters) .912
Washington (Varlamov/Neuvirth/Holtby) .912
Los Angeles (Quick/Bernier) .912
St. Louis (Halak/Conklin) .909
Ottawa (Leclaire/Elliot) .909
Calgary (Kiprusoff/Karlsson) .904
Tampa Bay (Rolson/Ellis/Smith) .898
New Jersey (Brodeur/Hedberg/McKenna) .898

You know what the most interesting thing about this is? Look at how many goalie tandems fall into the “league average category.” For some of them, it’s partially due to injuries forcing inexperienced goalies to be called up and they weren’t too successful (Washington). Other teams have one above-average goalie’s save percentage being drawn down by a below average back-up goalie (Carolina, St. Louis, Calgary).

There in lies my problem with using this method. You have a team like Calgary who has a goalie like Miikka Kiprusoff, who we all know is a great goaltender and has posted numbers that were well above average in his career and has a save percentage of .920 this season, which is above average. However, Henrik Karlsson, Calgary’s backup, has a save percentage of only .890, which drags the team’s overall save percentage down to around .904. Karlsson has only played in 9 games this season and is basically a replacement level goaltender and his poor save percentage in a small sample makes Calgary’s goaltending look worse than it actually is.  Same can be said for Atlanta’s goaltending with Chris Mason’s brutal .896 save pct. dragging down Ondrej Pavelec’s phenomenal percentage of .949.  On the flip side, Toronto has been receiving good results from Marlies call-up James Reimer (.945 save pct.) and it makes their goaltending look better than it has been for the entire season. Jonas Gustavsson and JS Giguere’s numbers are below-average and Reimier’s .945 save percentage bumped it up.

I guess the issue here is with sample size more than anything. One season can be considered a small sample size so it might be better to use a method like this over the course of 5 years to determine which teams have been getting better goaltending than others.One idea I had was looking at goaltenders production compared to their salaries to see how much teams were overpaying goalies or which ones were finding capable goalies for low costs.

I will say that I like this method better than the WAA formula I tested a couple months ago.


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