Archive for Goaltending
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→
The 2014-2015 season marks Henrik Lundqvist’s tenth NHL season. He broke in during the first post-lockout campaign in 2005-2006, and has commanded the Rangers crease ever since. While Lundqvist has been a noted style icon off the ice, his aesthetic choices on it have been far more divisive.
From 2005-2009 Hank was the poster boy for TPS Hockey (formerly Louisville). After an ill-fated merger with Sherwood, the King was scooped up by Bauer Hockey to be the face of their new One100 line, and he has been decked out in the company’s gear ever since.
While training camp has started and we will soon be awash with interesting hockey news and happenings, let’s indulge one more silly off-season post with a brief history of Henrik Lundqvist’s pad choices.
Cam Talbot has been an interesting story since joining the Rangers in Marty Biron’s stead at the beginning of last season. An undrafted free agent who blew the lid off his ceiling and went on to have a mini-breakout season as Henrik Lundqvist’s backup. He put up tremendous numbers (12-6-1, 1.64 GAA, .941 sv%), and by virtue of his age, can become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this coming season.
Now, this puts the club in something of a pickle. He has an incredibly small sample size of games to judge his true talent level. What complicates things further is that most goalies of NHL caliber talent can put up quality numbers in a small set of games. What makes a starter is the ability to hold up that level of play over a fairly grueling 55-65 game sample. We have no idea if Talbot is up to that task, and unless something goes catastrophically wrong, we’re unlikely to find out this season. Read More→
Well, here we are. The Top 10. I hope you enjoyed the ride, I know I sure did. In case you missed it, here are the previous two entries in this years list (30-21) and (20-11). Without further adieu, your 2014-2015 Top 10…
10. Mike Smith- Arizona Coyotes. Last year’s ranking: 10
- Smith has become more famous for his goal at this point than his puck stopping abilities, but those should absolutely not be overlooked. For a big guy, he moves exceedingly well and has cemented his status as a top-notch positional goaltender over the past few seasons. I mentioned in my first Top 30, that I expected perennial Vezina-caliber campaigns out of Smith, and while he has been slightly off that lofty standard, he has been a rock in the Arizona (Phoenix?) net. His large frame and third defenseman puck-handling skills make him an integral part of the ‘Yotes franchise and remains one of the league’s top tenders.
Welcome to Part II of the Top 30. In case you missed our first installment, you can find that right here. Bizarrely enough, there are no housekeeping matters to attend to with this portion of the article (you can find all relevant rules, methodologies, etc. in the first post), so let’s dive right in with rankings 20-11…
- Mason has been kicking around the list for the past two seasons right on the cusp of the #30 spot. He was always just that one shaky year from fading into oblivion after a remarkable start to his career. Last season, Mason finally started to round back into form, in Philadelphia, of all places. He was rewarded with the starting job (courtesy of Ray Emery) and a, we’ll call it “generous”, three-year contract. All eyes on Mason in the City of Brotherly Love this season to confirm last year wasn’t a fluke.