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On the importance of goaltending

Nov 6, 2013, 4:42 PM EDT

Sergei Bobrovsky Getty Images

Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards had a good quote recently about the relative struggles of his Vezina Trophy-winning goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, compared to last season.

“He made me a good coach last year, and that’s what that one position can do,” Richards said, per the Columbus Dispatch. “If a team’s struggling, the coach isn’t very good. All of a sudden the goalie becomes good, and all of a sudden the coach seems to know what he’s doing. That’s the one position where they’re able to do that.”

With that in mind, we thought it could be interesting to list a few teams that have experienced substantial variation in their team save percentage, for bettor or for worse, from last season to this season.

Columbus (from .920 to .907) — Not surprisingly, the Jackets’ record has been negatively affected. They’re currently 5-9-0, tied for 25th in the NHL with just 10 points.

Ottawa (from .933 to .921) — Like the Jackets, the Sens haven’t been able to rely so much on goaltending in 2013-14. A .921 team save percentage is still very good, but Ottawa’s record (5-6-4) is not.

NY Rangers (from .920 to .903)Henrik Lundqvist had a pretty awful start, but he seems to be back in form lately. And wouldn’t you know it? The Rangers are starting to win some games.

Edmonton (from .917 to .875) — Based on team save percentage, the Oilers have the worst goaltending in the NHL. Question: if Devan Dubnyk had been good to start the season, what are the chances Dallas Eakins would be forced to tell Nail Yakupov to ignore the trade rumors?

Tampa Bay (from .899 to .911) — There are, of course, teams that have seen their goaltending improve. Like the Lightning, who’ve received excellent work from Ben Bishop. At this point, Bishop is looking like a nice addition by general manager Steve Yzerman.

Montreal (from .904 to .934) — The Habs finished October with an 8-5-0 record. Carey Price finished the month with a .939 save percentage. Not a coincidence.

St. Louis (from .902 to .915)Jaroslav Halak has been healthy and solid for the Blues. Brian Elliott has been much improved as well. And if that’s not scary enough for the rest of the league, St. Louis has found its scoring touch. Only the Sharks (3.73) are scoring more goals per game than the Blues (3.46).

Toronto (from .917 to .935) — Safe to say the Maple Leafs would be in trouble if not for their tandem of James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier. But credit general manager Dave Nonis for getting two very capable players to solidify the most important position in the game. It’s always a nice luxury to have, even if some like to focus on the “controversy” aspect.

Colorado (from .901 to .955) — Last but not least, the Avalanche currently boast the highest team save percentage in the NHL. They also have the highest points percentage, at .923. Without Semyon Varlamov and J.S. Giguere, there’s no chance they’d be 12-1-0 after 13 games. None.

  1. sknut - Nov 6, 2013 at 4:48 PM

    The Wild have gone from .905 to .918 and it shows. Harding has been outstanding and its allowed them to maintain through a couple of scoring droughts.

    • pxland - Nov 6, 2013 at 5:12 PM

      Who?

      • williplett - Nov 6, 2013 at 5:51 PM

        http://scores.nbcsports.msnbc.com/nhl/index.asp

        That’s him with the number ones next to his name.

      • pxland - Nov 6, 2013 at 6:46 PM

        ….cares.

      • 19to77 - Nov 6, 2013 at 8:18 PM

        The Vezina committee might.

    • endusersolutions2013 - Nov 6, 2013 at 11:47 PM

      Actually Josh Harding is a great story. Came back after being diagnosed with MS last year. Played well against the Hawks when their starter hurt his groin during game 1 warmups. He’s been super hs year, would have had a real good record with more goal support earlier.

      Candidate for comeback player.

  2. sunderlanding - Nov 6, 2013 at 5:05 PM

    I do agree in the important in goaltending, and realize that no stat is 100%, but people use SV% too much when deciding how good a goalie is. It can be a team stat as well, and can be a reflection of the type of shots they allow. If I’m a goalie on a team that only gives up three shots a game, but all three are two on ones my save percentage will probably be worse than a team that allows forty shots from the blue line. Boston is one of the best defensive teams in the NHL and their goalies always have good SV%. That’s not a coincidence.

    • Jason Brough - Nov 6, 2013 at 5:17 PM

      Yep, the “shot quality” debate is one of the more interesting ones that the stat nerds, er, people are having right now.
      http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/introducing-the-shot-quality-project/

      • sunderlanding - Nov 7, 2013 at 4:45 AM

        Thanks. Didn’t know it was a hot topic with hockey nerds. Nice to know there is a team of nerds working on my drunken rants!

      • thailer35 - Nov 7, 2013 at 9:45 AM

        Best. Link. Ever!

    • tdrusher225 - Nov 6, 2013 at 7:19 PM

      Great point. Goaltenders are getting far too much credit for team success and SV% is a big reason why. These days, especially during the playoffs, if goalies can see the puck they’re going to stop it 95% of the time. And if teams aren’t getting quality scoring chances, the credit should be falling on the shoulders of the entire team rather than solely on the goaltenders.

      • sunderlanding - Nov 7, 2013 at 4:46 AM

        Well said. It is a team game after all. Let’s face it, most of these dudes can play.

  3. hockeygod2893 - Nov 6, 2013 at 7:37 PM

    Flyers went from .900 with Bryz to .925 with Mason. Ironically this year’s team is worse though.

  4. endusersolutions2013 - Nov 6, 2013 at 11:50 PM

    The article unfortunately only looks at starters. Hawks lost two games to the Bolts when Ben Bishop played, and the Billin Sieve (Hawks backup) had a save % of .818 in those two. On his third start, when the Hawks were in danger of losing to Ottowa, and the 2nd of a back to back, they had to put Corey C back in, and the Hawks won 6-5.

    In contrast, Ray Emery was outstanding last year as the backup, going 17-1 with a 1.94 GAA.

    backups matter.

  5. 2qswing - Nov 7, 2013 at 9:08 AM

    The importance of goaltending. Talk about master of the obvious. However having seen every Jackets game for the last 4+ years I can tell you it is not fair to put this on Bob. Nobody expected him to repeat .956 save%. Even Jarmo said as much. He looked into the camera tat the draft and said ” We have to score more goals” . OK so you sign Horton. but he’s not available until December or January. Other than that you bring back the same roster that couldn’t score goals last year.
    But there is one notable exception. You did not resign your leading scorer from last year, Vinny Prospel. I know how old he is, I know he lost a step. But he didn’t miss a shift last year, always seemed to be in the right place, scored some big goals AND was your leading scorer. 30 points in 48 games.He would have been the perfect bridge until Horton gets healthy. By the way Mark Letestu was your second leading scorer last year and he is currently buried on the 4th line ?? The other night against Ottawa the roster showed 8 centers and 2 left wingers ( I know Foligno was out, that would have been 3 wingers) Point is the roster is unbalanced.
    It doesn’t matter if Bob is at .950 or .917 or .855. If you only score two goals or fewer a game you will lose.
    Bob will be fine … manage your offense.

Top 10 NHL Player Searches
  1. C. Anderson (1681)
  2. B. Bishop (1618)
  3. M. Fleury (1554)
  4. D. Alfredsson (1513)
  5. J. Harding (1362)
  1. C. Price (1248)
  2. D. Setoguchi (1175)
  3. M. Staal (1161)
  4. A. Ekblad (1138)
  5. J. Giguere (1120)