Archive for Goaltending
Finally, after 82 games and 187 days, the Rangers now know they will be facing in the first round of the playoffs. After a relatively strong start to the season, the Pittsburgh Penguins, suffering from a number of significant injuries, limped into the 8th and final playoff spot on Saturday. In preparation for the start of the series on Thursday, we will be running some preview posts so we can see what lies ahead for the Blueshirts in the opening round.
First up is an analysis of Marc-Andre Fleury, who will have the esteemed honor of playing behind an absolutely injury ravaged defense. Fleury had a nice renaissance of sorts this season, posting numbers far above his career averages (2.32 GAA/.920 sv% vs career averages of 2.59 and .911, respectively). He was far from the problem for the Penguins this year. I actually did a preview of Fleury way back in 2012, and the scouting report has definitely changed a bit. Quick refresher if it’s been a while; I’ll cover Stance, Crease Movement/Depth, Equipment, Puck-Handling Ability and Exploitable Weaknesses. Let’s get after it… Read More→
When the New York Rangers announced that goalie Henrik Lundqvist has been cleared to return to practice, most of the Ranger Twitter-verse united in cheers of “WOOHOO!” But a few people stated that the Rangers now have a goalie controversy. Cam Talbot has been playing out of his mind the past few games, and has done a fantastic job of filling in for Lundqvist while he was injured.
Let me be clear: There is no goaltender controversy for the Rangers.
Talbot has been great after a few shaky games to begin his run as a starter. He’s carried the Rangers through major SH% regression, leading them to a likely division win and a potential President’s Trophy. That said, Henrik Lundqvist is the starting goaltender for the New York Rangers. Period.
*due to the large percentage of the BSB staff who were physically at the Canucks game, Dave’s goal breakdown will be posted this afternoon.
The entirety of the Rangers’ community held their collective breath during the announcement that franchise goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was experiencing continued symptoms from his fluke neck injury. It was a strange coalescence of events that ended in a vascular injury and an uncertain timetable for his return. In his stead, it was a no-brainer to turn to Cam Talbot. What was somewhat surprising was that 20-year old MacKenzie Skapski got the nod to play second string for the big club.
That’s not a knock on Skapski, mind you, who has been playing very solid hockey in his first pro-season in the AHL. After eight games without Lundqvist, Skapski is still yet to start a game (however rumored to be starting tonight in Buffalo). Since Lundqvist’s injury is relatively rare in hockey, his timetable and confidence is his overall health going forward somewhat suspect. All of this begs the question of whether the Rangers would be wise to bring in some additional goaltending depth prior to the deadline. With this in mind, I thought I’d break down some low-cost candidates who could be waived if need be in the event Hank comes back strong and ready to go for the stretch run.
MacKenzie Skapski, New York Rangers:
Let’s start with the obvious. The Rangers could simply give Skapski a try and see if he can handle the speed of the NHL game. I admittedly haven’t seen much of him, but the little I have watched shows a quick, athletic tender, with a tendency to get too busy in his movements and can overplay his positioning. Beniot Allaire is a master at quieting a goaltender’s motions (see Talbot, Cam), so I think this possibility is worth a shot. Better than Skapski riding the bench until Hank returns.
Yann Danis, Hartford Wolfpack:
Alternatively, the Rangers could swap Skapski for career journeyman Yann Danis. The 33-year old Quebec native has seen NHL action for the Habs, Islanders, Devils and Oilers over the course of his career, posting decent numbers in small samples. Something tells me he would make it through waivers on his way back down, and I would much rather see him decorating the bench at MSG and letting Skapski play in Hartford in the Rangers don’t see playing time in MacKenzie’s short-term future.
Anders Lindback, Buffalo Sabres: (1 year/$925k, pending UFA)
Just a couple years back I was a big fan of Lindback. He was a big goalie who had played well in limited time behind Pekka Rinne and looked to break out as a starter with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Instead, Lindback tanked and another massive goalie in Ben Bishop stole the crease in Florida. His large frame has gotten away from him and his mechanics have gotten all out of whack. He is as dispensable as it gets, though, turning UFA after the season.
Scott Clemmensen, Albany Devils: (1 year/$600k, pending UFA)
We’ve all seen plenty of Clemmensen over the years, both with New Jersey and Florida. He is about as vanilla as a backup goalie gets, but we can be confident in his competency for a few games at a time. The bigger question is whether Sather and Lou could get together for a trade even of this microscopic magnitude.
Reto Berra, Colorado Avalanche: (2 years/$2.9m remaining)
Two years and almost $3 million left on his deal. Pass.
Mike McKenna, Arizona Coyotes: (1 year/$550k, pending UFA)
Another career journeyman and pending UFA. McKenna has bounced around with the Lightning, Devils and Blue Jackets before landing in the desert. For what it’s worth, he has better AHL numbers than Danis does, but that’s hardly a conclusive argument for going out and getting him. Plus, it’s not like the ‘Yotes have goalie depth to spare at this point. McKenna is not likely worth the hassle for an incremental upgrade on what the Rangers already have.
Richard Bachman/Viktor Fasth, Edmonton Oilers (1 year/$615k, pending UFA/1 year/$3.4m cap hit remaining)
Bachman is another McKenna-type. Pending UFA on a small deal, but since they are overflowing with mediocre goaltenders in Edmonton, maybe this makes a little more sense. Fasth on the other hand has another year on his deal at a $3.4m cap hit. Yuck.
Jason LaBarbera, Norfolk Admirals (1 year/$750k, pending UFA)
When I first looked up old friend Jason LaBarbera, I was almost positive he was a free agent. Apparently the Ducks snuck him down to Norfolk, where he has very solid numbers in twenty games. Might be worth a flier, but not much of a huge upgrade to be had here. If he was a UFA, I’d say grab him and let him play a few games to rest Talbot, but he’s not exactly an ideal trade target.
As you can see, the pickings are slim. I don’t suppose you can really seek a meaningful upgrade when Lundqvist will hopefully be back in the next couple weeks, but depth is never a bad thing. Personally, I would soldier on with out internal options, whether that is Danis or Skapski. If I had to go outside the organization, I think Clemmensen is your best bet, but good luck with that. Moral of the story: get well soon, Hank.
The Rangers obviously endured a significant loss with the news that Henrik Lundqvist will miss around three weeks of the regular season but here’s the thing; if it was going to happen then now is the perfect time, in the perfect situation and with a great schedule coming up. Providing Lundqvist comes back 100% the Rangers may see this as a blessing in disguise.
A quick look at the Rangers busy schedule for the next three weeks and there are several games where, based purely on standings and opposition quality, the Rangers shouldn’t ‘need’ Lundqvist which begs the question whether Talbot would have been in line for more starts this month anyway. In February alone the Rangers have several ‘bottom feeders’ on tap.
The Sabres, Coyotes (twice), Leafs are all on the February schedule while the Flames, Flyers and Avalanche also play the Rangers and aren’t exactly intimidating opponents this season either. Given Alain Vigneault’s declaration that he knew which games Talbot was going to get moving forward, did he look at the rather friendly – and busy – schedule and had already planned a heavier workload for Talbot in February?
It’s not exactly the midpoint of the season, but now is as good a time as any to begin our midseason grades. It also helps that I had writer’s block and no idea what else to write about, so this won. I’ll be covering the goalies and coaching this year, and I’ll be grading the coaching staff at the group level. I won’t be breaking it down into each assistant coach.
Henrik Lundqvist: 20-9-3, 2.31 GAA, .917 SV%, 5 SO
Hank had another very slow start to the year, allowing three or more goals in 11 of the first 20 games of the season. His numbers remained respectable due to four shutouts in that span, but it was the second season in a row where people wondered if Hank was starting to decline. Of course Hank turned it on in the next 12 games, allowing three or more in just two games.
Is it a coincidence that the Rangers are on an absolute tear now that Henrik Lundqvist is back to his best form? Of course not. Lundqvist struggled to begin the year and many people began to wonder whether Lundqvist had peaked and whether the 32 year old’s best years were behind him. Lundqvist however has been able to rebound in a big way and has been – along with Rick Nash – the bedrock of the Rangers success.
In his first ten starts of this season Lundqvist was wildly inconsistent. In those first ten starts he conceded at least three goals six times and in addition to his bloated numbers, Lundqvist’s first few months were punctuated by his conceding several soft goals. Recently however, we’ve seen Lundqvist be much more compact, stingier and when needed, he has subsequently bailed the Rangers out on a few occasions. The San Jose win on Saturday was a prime example of when the Rangers had to rely on their goaltender he was an absolute brick wall.
Lundqvist’s return to form also coincides with the Rangers recent offensive outburst. When a team’s goaltender is on form it allows a team to take more risks, allows defensemen to pinch a little more and generally, allows a team to play more aggressively in all areas of their game. If Lundqvist is at his best, the Rangers are surely a Cup contender again this year. So where does Lundqvist belong in the pecking order of NHL goaltenders, right now?
As we continue to digest last night’s win over the Kings (is winning getting boring, yet?), I thought we could go off-topic on this snowy Friday afternoon. For our regular readers, you know that I have been clamoring for a more comprehensive goaltending statistic than our standard rate stats; GAA and save percentage. As the world of Corsi and Fenwick and the like continue to evolve, goaltending statistics remain woefully underdeveloped. Enter former Rangers goaltender Steve Valiquette, who in addition to Sportsnet’s Chris Boyle (Shot Quality Project), have begun comprehensive research into how shot quality effects goaltender performance. (s/t to Kevin Power)
Every time a new goalie metric is conceptually introduced, I am forced to feel like an ungrateful cynic. Smart, hardworking, dedicated people are attempting to give me what I’ve asked for. Maybe it’s the delivery; “Steve Valiquette is going to change the way we think about goaltending!”, “This new statistic is going to revolutionize goaltending!”. No, it’s not. But it’s a great start.
I don’t want to get into the mechanics too much, but here is pretty much how Valiquette’s theory works:
- The zone is divided in half, vertically from the center bar of the net to the top of the circles, and is bisected by a horizontal line going laterally across the top of the circles.
- The centerline is Valiquette’s “Royal Road”. This line represents the lateral marker a puck travels across within that zone, which leads to higher percentage shots.
- The types of shots are broken down into “Green” and “Red” shots.
- Green shots include
- Possession across “Royal Road”
- Passes across “Royal Road”
- One-timers on same side of “Royal Road”
- Broken plays
- Green Rebounds
- Red shots include
- Shots from outside the designated area
- Red rebounds
- Green shots have accounted for roughly 76% of NHL goals this season, and are obviously converted at a much higher rate than Red shots (24%).
Ok, with that out of the way, here is my take. I think it’s fantastic the work Valiquette is putting in. I hope that is leads to a wealth of new information about how goaltending is evaluated. Once you get past all the terminology, his theory is pretty simple: shots that come what we consider “dangerous” areas of the ice are converted at a higher rate, more so if the goaltender is forced to move laterally. There is also a much higher chance of rebounds, deflections and scrambles resulting in goals than shots from the perimeter.
This all seems pretty obvious, no? I don’t mean to sound overly negative, but it seems to dress up a lot of concepts we simply take for granted, even if they aren’t currently quantified. Don’t get me wrong, I think this tracking concept has a ton of value as a foundation to a more comprehensive, value-based statistic (any statisticians out there, hit me up. I’ve got ideas).
I think that the greatest value this methodology has is situational analysis of current form. Craig Custance over at ESPN spoke to Valiquette about it (Insider post), and applied the method to Dallas goaltender Kari Lehtonen to evaluate whether his poor (relatively) rate stats this year are a true dip in form or whether he is getting hung out to dry. This is a really effective use of this statistic, but there is no basis for comparison that you can really hang your hat on to assess value.
Either way, this is a big step in the right direction for the continued evolution of advanced statistics. I believe a foundational concept now exists to build on, from a quantitative standpoint, and that is incredibly impressive in itself. But, as I said with GSAA, it’s a great start, and an evolution, but certainly not a revolution.
There was a time last season that Henrik Lundqvist was playing so poorly, and Cam Talbot was playing so well, that a very small but very vocal segment of the fan base was calling for a change at the number one spot. Imagine that. Crazy, right? But, it happened. Small sample sizes can do wacky things to people’s perceptions. Talbot had a phenomenal 2013-2014 season, but has struggled so far (relatively speaking) in the new campaign.
Last year, Talbot ended the season with a 1.64 GAA and a .941 save percentage in 21 games played. If he had put up those numbers over a starter’s workload, he would have run away with the Vezina. We all knew (hopefully) that these flawed metrics, although nice to see from our backup, were not reflective of his true talent level. In fairness, they aren’t reflective of anyone’s true talent level.
In 4 games so far this season, Talbot’s GAA has ballooned to 3.48 and his save percentage has slid to .880. Neither of those numbers are particularly pretty. I’ve seen comments on the Twitters and other social media about how hard regression is hitting Talbot, which naturally begs the question: what is the mean he is regressing to?
Over the past few years, the debate has grown more intense about the validity and reliance on #fancystats. The concept of quantifying the game has been a theme we have run with around here, albeit with the conceit that there is no perfect, all-knowing stat that can be universally relied upon to demonstrate a player’s ability level.
Statistics trying to quantify human athletic performance are inherently limited. There are very human characteristics in play; such as intelligence, judgment, emotion, situational awareness, etc. It makes it difficult to measure performance as if they were vital signs. I think that to fully expect that level of quantification or to vilify the statistic for being unable to is missing the point.
Much like politics, I think the emergence of these statistics and the resistance to adoption has pushed the two positions out to the extremes. The old school hockey community has written them off or marginalized their effectiveness, citing “games are played on the ice, not on a spreadsheet”, or taking pot shots at the Maple Leafs for hiring Kyle Dubas for their Assistant GM position, and various stats writers to make up a new analytics department. Read More→
While we all know that the Rangers success lives and dies with Henrik Lundqvist’s health and performance (as it should), there has always been an undercurrent of concern from the Rangers fan base about a lack of overall goaltending depth in the system. With Martin Biron retiring and Cam Talbot graduating to the NHL, the problem has become more pronounced, especially with Talbot likely to depart after this season in pursuit of more playing time.
Slats & Co. addressed this issue to an extent by drafting Brandon Halverson and Igor Shestyorkin this past June. As exciting as those two prospects are, Halverson will continue to ply his trade in the CHL for the foreseeable future while Shestyorkin will be firmly planted in the KHL. This creates a serious gap in viable options in Hartford in the event of injury. Read More→