DO GOALTENDERS PERFORM BETTER AGAINST HIGHER SHOT VOLUMES?
Two weeks ago, I spoke at length with Brian Boucher about an array of goaltending-related topics. The former Flyers netminder discussed his views on topics ranging from why today’s NHL goalies are usually bigger than the ones of even 15 to 20 years ago, the effects of the trapezoid and why save percentage standards around hockey have been climbing in the last quarter century.
“I’m not a visionary, but I can’t see how goaltending can get much better than it is today,” said Boucher. “If you look at how the craft at the position has been improved around hockey in the last few decades, it’s pretty amazing. It’s been almost perfected in a lot of areas.”
Specific to the point of save percentages, it was not all that long ago where a goaltender with a save percentage above 90 percent was considered to have an above-average season. In more recent years, that has crept up beyond 91 percent and is inching toward 92 percent. Meanwhile, if you go back to the time period of the mid-1980s to 1992-93, a save percentage in the neighborhood of 90 percent and a goals against average around 3.00 would make a goalie a Vezina Trophy candidate.
Part of the answer for the climb of save percentages lies in the continued refinement of goaltending technique, the continued evolution of goaltending equipment and the heavy emphasis by coaches on systems that place team defense as the top priority.
Boucher has a theory on another factor: greater standardization of the way shots (and other stats) get tracked from game to game and from arena to arena.
“Shot counts are more accurate now. There used to be a lot of nights where you’d go into a visiting building and look at the stat sheet after the game and wonder if they were watching the same game you just played in,” said Boucher. “You knew for sure that you made at least 25 saves, yet you would only have 18 or 20 credited to you.”
He continued, “To me, any puck that would go into the net if if gets past you is a save. Doesn’t matter how hard the puck is shot. Doesn’t matter if it’s just a dump in to get a line change. If you stop it, it’s a save. This is something I used to talk about a lot with Neil Little. The numbers add up fast, too. Your save percentage is going to look a lot better if you’ve let in three goals on 38 shots or four goals on 45 shots than three on 18 shots.”
Recently, Sportsnet’s Chris Boyle did some research that seems to bear out Boucher’s theory. Boyle found that the higher the volume of credited shots a goaltender faced in a given game, the higher his save percentage for that game was likely to be. The same would also hold true when looking at save percentages over multiple games.
Part of the explanation for this finding is related to the fact that some of the games in which a goaltender sees less than 20 shots are games where he gets pulled early after allowing a few goals. This will pull save percentages down in a hurry.
For instance, Boyle found 20 games over a four-year period in which New York Rangers superstar goaltender Henrik Lundqvist faced fewer than 20 shots. Six of those games were either shutouts or performances where he allowed just one goal. Nevertheless, Lundqvist’s overall save percentage for those 20 games was 88.5 percent.
In the meantime, Lundqvist had 12 starts in which he faced 40 or more shots. Five times, Lundqvist gave up one goal or posted a shutout. His overall save percentage was 95.6 percent. Boyle found similar discrepancies across the league.
Boyle pointed toward several other potential factors that seem feasible. First of all, goaltenders find it easier to stay mentally focused when they see more shots. Most goalies themselves seem to feel that way.
Secondly, Boyle found that there tends to be a higher volume of routine saves in higher shot total games. A higher percentage of shots originate from the dangerous scoring areas around the slot in lower shot volume games. Remember, these are percentages, not actual numbers. There could be four shots from point blank range, two tough deflection and a breakaways in both the 18-shot game and the 42-shot game.
At the end of the night, if the goalie lets in two goals, he’s still made the same number of tough saves yet his save percentage in the first game is .889 compared to .952 for the latter. If a routine shot somehow slips through along the way, the save percentage stat in the second game is still .929 while in the first game is a hideous-looking .833.
Said Boucher, “The thing that made Dominik Hasek so incredible, apart from the way he could make mind-boggling saves, was that he kept coming up with pretty close to the same percentage of saves every night. He’d do it no matter how low or high the number of shots were credited. You’d look at him the end of the year and he’d have a .930 save percentage, and he had to do it the hard way.”
********* THURSDAY QUICK HITS
* Defenseman Brandon Manning is the Flyers last remaining unsigned restricted free agent. Asked yesterday about the status of the negotiations Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said the two sides are “in a holding pattern” at the present time. Last year, Manning did not sign until late August.
* Former Flyers checking forward Darroll Powe will be returning to the organization on an AHL-only contract next season. Yesterday, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms announced they had signed the 29-year-old to a minor league deal for 2013-14. Last season, after being waived by the Rangers, the veteran of 329 NHL games dressed in 73 games for the Hartford Wolf Pack. He tallied 13 goals and 24 points while receiving 106 penalty minutes.
* Former Flyers forward Adam Hall celebrates his 34th birthday today. Hall recently signed to play next season in Switzerland’s National League A for HC Ambri Piotta.
* Villanova native Colby Cohen, a former second-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche, will be resuming his hockey career in the UK next season after signing to play with the Nottingham Panthers. This past season, the 25-year-old Cohen played five games in Finland for Ässät Pori and a pair of AHL games for the San Antonio Rampage.
* Today in Flyers history: On Aug 14, 1997, the Flyers officially signed Tampa Bay Lightning restricted free agent center Chris Gratton to an offer sheet. The offer was for a five-year, $16.5 million contract, which included a $9 million signing bonus payable in seven days. The offer sheet was originally signed 10 days earlier, but the Lightning disputed its legality to the NHL. Tampa claimed the faxed copy they received from the Flyers was smudged and illegible. The offer sheet was held up and reviewed by the NHL before being upheld.
On Aug. 20, 1997, the Flyers worked out a deal in which the cash-strapped Lightning. Tampa Bay agreed not to match Philadelphia’s offer sheet. Tampa received four first-round draft picks as compensation. The picks were immediately flipped back to the Flyers in exchange for Mikael Renberg and Karl Dykhuis.
* Today in Flyers history: On this day in 1990, Russ Farwell hired Bill Dineen and Simon Nolet as scouts. Dineen, who along with Inge Hammarström advocated for the selection of Peter Forsberg in the 1991 Draft, later became the Flyers head coach. Nolet, a player on the Flyer’ first Stanley Cup winning team, remains in the scouting department to this day. His most notable contributions have been recommending the first-round selections of Simon Gagne in the 1998 Draft and Claude Giroux in 2006.
This post originally appeared on www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.