The Rangers went into this season with question marks surrounding both of their goaltenders. Henrik Lundqvist was shaking off questions about an uncharacteristically poor season last year, and Ondrej Pavelec, Benoit Allaire’s latest pet project, had one foot out of the NHL. There were good reasons for fans and pundits alike to be skeptical of the stability in the Ranger crease, especially with Lundqvist turning 36 this season and the ridiculously high-quality backup goaltenders the Rangers have had the past four years.
At the halfway mark of the season, it seems that many of those fears have been unfounded (mine included), as both goaltenders have been strong through the team’s first 42 games. Let’s a dig a little deeper at each of their respective performances, shall we?
There is no question that Hank did not have a great year last season. However, after the Rangers were eliminated from the playoffs, Lundqvist headed over to the World Championships and helped Sweden capture a gold medal. Watching him play in those games, you could tell that his skills weren’t seriously deteriorating and made me optimistic for a bounce back this season. My, what a rebound it has been.
Let’s start with the rate stats (much to my dismay). Hank is sporting a slightly above league average 2.52 GAA and a well above-average .924 save percentage. Obviously, the save percentage is the number his supporters are focusing on, as it is .004 above his career .920 save percentage and miles ahead of his .910 save percentage from last season. His raw save percentage is good for 5th in the NHL amongst goaltenders playing at least 20 games.
So, why is there such a disconnect between his save percentage and GAA rankings? It really starts with the performance in front of him. First, let’s take a look at his expected stats. Through 42 games, Lundqvist has allowed 63 goals. His xGA (expected goals against) is 73. This logically dove tails into his 10 GSAA (goals saved above average), which is good for third in the NHL, behind only Sergei Bobrovsky and Andre Vasilevskiy’s ridiculous 15+ counts.
This is relatively easily explained by looking at the batsh*t crazy levels of HD shots against that Hank has faced thus far. See below in both numerical and heat map form:
Will you take a look at that freaking heat map? Hank should honest-to-god mutiny. I have my pet theory on why a relatively talented defense corps hemorrhages shots to this extent (*coughsystemcough*), but that’s not really the point of this analysis. The point is that Lundqvist, at age 35, mind you, is facing a cruel and unusual level of HD shots against, while putting up rate stats and advanced analytics at or near the top of the league.
Minor tweaks in his style have been at the forefront of his resurgence. Retreating (no pun intended) from the goal line blocking style that has been his trademark since his emergence in the NHL, Hank has become a bit more dynamic in his save selections and crease depth. He has tailored his movements and picked his spots to be aggressive in situations where players do not have multiple options and he can zero in on the puck carrier. This has improved his MD save% greatly, which has buoyed his overall stats.
My longwinded grade: A, Dave’s much more concise grade: ????
I will openly admit I was very skeptical of the Rangers’ acquisition of Ondrej Pavelec in the offseason. He was no spring chicken anymore and had a history of suspect work ethic and an overreliance on his (admittedly, considerable) natural talent. The concept here was that Benoit Allaire would work his voodoo magic with Pavelec and he could be a force in a 25-30 game sample. It took a little bit of adjustment, but it appears we are finally starting to see the fruits of that labor.
Starting again at the rate stats, Pavelec sports an (eerily similar to Hank) 2.55 GAA and a .926 save percentage. Obviously, the save percentage is outstanding for a backup, and the GAA confirms the deficiencies cited above for Lundqvist. However, they have done it in completely different ways.
Pavelec has made up for a lack of success on HD shots with an astounding consistency on LD and MD shots. The difference in net front systems comes into play here. Hank tends to prefer a net fronting strategy (see a refresher on d-zone strategies from our resident x’s and o’s guy, The Suit, right here), whereas AV tends to prefer a side net strategy with the backups. As you can see from the heat map below, the Rangers have done a better job protecting the front of the net from HD shots in Pavelec’s games than in Hank’s. Now, a couple of caveats here, the right-side HD shot disproportionality is likely sample size noise (369 min), rather than our left defensemen being that much better than the right defensemen.
Either way, Pavelec hasn’t had much success with the HD shots so far, so it makes sense that the team would endeavor to shield him from those types of chances. This could be sample size noise as well, but let’s face it, most backup goaltenders’ seasons are predicated on noise because of their inherently smaller samples.
Up to this point, Pavelec has been everything that the Rangers could have hoped he could be: B+
All stats via Corsica.Hockey"Mid-season report card: the goalies",