The Metropolitan Division has no shortage of elite and extremely talented goaltenders manning the cage for their respective teams. From solidified veterans like Henrik Lundqvist and Braden Holtby, up-and-coming talents like Carter Hart and MacKenzie Blackwood, and a fringe elite goalie in Matt Murray, there’s bound to be many good games between Metropolitan teams. In this post, NoVa Caps ranks the top tandems in the division, dives into each of the goaltenders’ statistics. The methodology behind these rankings will be combining the cumulative 2018-19 season stats of each team’s goalie tandems, projecting what they’ll look like in the 2019-20 NHL season, and looking at career trends.
The methodology behind these rankings will be combining the cumulative 2018-19 season stats of each team’s goalie tandems, projecting what they’ll look like in the 2019-20 NHL season, and looking at career trends.
On top of the normal statistics that one thinks of when judging goaltenders (save percentage, goals-against average, shutouts, or wins and losses), some advanced statistics will used for analyzing goaltenders. These will include save percentage on the power play, penalty kill, and at even-strength, as well as Point shares, Goals Allowed Percentage, and Quality Start Percentage.
Save percentage as a whole gives a good picture into an overall performance of a goaltender, but looking at each scenario and seeing how a goaltender performs helps grant a little more context into overall performance. Quality Start Percentage is a baseline statistic that shows how often a goaltender plays at an acceptable level for an NHL player. Specifically, this metric looks at starts made by goaltenders during which their save percentage on that night is either higher than their average save percentage for the season, or if their save percentage is higher than 88.5%. Point shares are an interesting statistic that helps judge how much value a player is providing to their team in standings points. Hockey Reference has a great explanation of how point shares are calculated, which you can visit here.
1. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
Overall, the goaltenders for the Penguins ended up with the highest combined point shares as a duo in the Metropolitan Division. Additionally, the duo of Matt Murray and Casey DeSmith led the division as a tandem in even-strength save percentage, Goals-against average, Quality Start percentage, and tied for first in shutouts.
The elite level of play that Murray is capable of was on full display in the Penguins’ back-to-back Stanley Cup victories in 2016 and 2017. Overall, Murray is a strong goaltender in the playoffs, posting a career save percentage of .921, and a Goals-Against Average of 2.16. For a goaltender who’s just 25-years old, he’s already amassed quite a resume. DeSmith is a solid backup for Murray, and has already accounted for 8.9 point shares in his short NHL career.
The interesting piece for the Penguins this season is how well they’ll be able to play in front of their goaltending defensively. The Penguins do not have a plethora of talent in their defensive corps, and it resulted in them finishing 14th in the NHL in goals against. Without the high level of play of the Penguins’ goaltenders, they might have even missed the playoffs. It will be interesting to see how the Penguins’ defensive system fares this season. If the defense struggles, the team will likely see a drop-off in Murray and DeSmith’s statistical output.
2. NEW YORK ISLANDERS
The Islanders’ goaltending last year was one of the team’s strong points. Thomas Greiss was arguably the best “backup” goaltender in the league last season, having played over half of the games in the regular season in a tandem with now-Chicago Blackhawk Robin Lehner. The Isles rode their stellar goaltending and defensively-focused system to the best goals-against ranking in the NHL last season. Overall, the new tandem of Semyon Varlamov and Greiss heading into this season ranks in the top three in every category that’s typically used to measure a goaltender’s performance. The question marks for the tandem include Varlamov’s ability to stay healthy and Greiss’ ability to continue his stellar play this season. It wouldn’t be surprising if Greiss ended up overtaking Varlamov as the starter during the season if he’s able to keep his play elevated.
This Islanders have the exact opposite issues systematically that their division rivals in Pittsburgh do (i.e. they have a really strong defensive system and don’t have issues keeping the puck out of their net). The issues for the Isles will come on the other end of the ice, where they ranked 22nd in the league in goals for. The bright side for the Islanders is that they have the goaltending to keep them in games in which scoring is at a premium.
3. WASHINGTON CAPITALS
Although Braden Holtby is measured as the second-best goaltender in the Metropolitan Division with 10.2 point shares, the Capitals are really weighed down by Copley’s meager 3.9 point shares. Ultimately, it’s hard to ask for much more in point shares when Copley only played in 27 games, but he posted below the NHL average in most statistical categories. With that in mind, Copley tied as the sixth-best backup goaltender in the division.
There’s a few reasons to expect improvement in goaltending from the Caps’ tandem this season. For one, [General Manager] Brian MacLellan really focused on bringing in talent that helps suppress shots on goal against this offseason, namely Garnet Hathaway, Brendan Leipisc, Richard Panik, and Radko Gudas. If defenseman Michal Kempny is healthy by the start of the regular season, the defense will be in a much better position to improve from its 17th ranking in goals against last season. Another reason fans could expect more from this group is that Holtby is in a contract year and will be playing for his next contract. If the Capitals see Holtby play at the Vezina Trophy-caliber level he’s capable of, he would almost certainly command a contract similar to what Sergei Bobrovsky received in free agency from the Florida Panthers this summer. For Copley, he’ll be simply playing for his job as the backup goalie. With top goalie prospect Ilya Samsonov needing some NHL game-time to gauge his ability to handle the rigors of the NHL, Copley could be on a short leash. There will be added pressure in training camp where there will be three goalies battling for the backup job between Copley, Samsonov, and Vitek Vanecek.
4. NEW YORK RANGERS
The Rangers’ tandem of Lundqvist and Georgiev come in at third in the Metropolitan. This may come as a surprise considering Lundqvist wasn’t exactly the goalie he was in his prime last season, but the reason why they came in ranked so high in the division is that they have two solid goaltenders. Lundqvist still came in as the third-best goalie in the division in terms of point shares, and interestingly enough, Georgiev came in as the third-best goalie in point shares for backup goaltenders.
Lundqvist’s statistics could have suffered as a result of the Rangers transitioning into a rebuild last season. They’re looking to come out of the rebuild phase this season after adding Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba, as well as drafting Calder contender Kaapo Kakko. If the Rangers are looking to get back in the mix for the playoffs, they’ll have to improve on their goals-against mark, which ranked 24th last season. It doesn’t appear that the Rangers made additions to make them that much better on the defensive front outside of Trouba, but it remains to be seen what the addition of Adam Fox on the blueline will do for them.
5. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS (10.1 Point Shares Combined)
The Flyers went through an NHL-record eight different goaltenders last season. Although the Flyers have struggled for a long time in finding their franchise goaltender, they finally have found one with the potential to be the face in net in Carter Hart. Hart solidified himself as a starter after his rookie season in Philly, and will be the starter going forward. The fact that Hart put up 6.2 point shares in only 31 games played is tremendous, and he’ll likely take the mantle as the Metropolitan’s best goaltender over the next couple of seasons.
Brian Elliott is essentially a fringe NHL backup at this point in his career. After a few really strong years in St. Louis, he’s falling off in nearly every statistical category and has done so over the last few season. This is to be somewhat expected, since Elliott is 34, and will be 35 by the end of this season.
The Flyers will likely be a better team this season than they were last year. They acquired two defensively responsible right-handed defensemen in Justin Braun and Matt Niskanen this off-season, and will look to improve on their mark as the third-worst team in the NHL in goals allowed. With Hart manning the net, it’s hard to imagine that they wouldn’t see improvement in the crease this season.
6. CAROLINA HURRICANES (10.8 Point Shares Combined)
The Carolina Hurricanes really rode the tandem of Curtis McElhinney and Petr Mrazek last season, and they were a big part of the team’s run to the Eastern Conference Finals this past spring. Mrazek was the better goalie down the stretch, and he got the lion’s share of starts during the playoff run. Overall, the Hurricanes finished eighth in the NHL in goals against, due mostly to Carolina’s deep defensive corps and possession-focused system that limited shots against.
The biggest questions for the Hurricanes is whether or not Mrazek can perform like he did last season. Mrazek’s save percentage of .914 was the best he’s posted since 2015-16 with the Detroit Red Wings. After that, he’s been a slightly below-average NHL goaltender. Is this a career revitalization for Mrazek, or an outlier? Carolina certainly hopes for the former, but they don’t get much comfort in James Reimer as their backup goaltender. Reimer had some really trying years in Florida after being moved by Toronto. Will a new, fresh start benefit him?
7. NEW JERSEY DEVILS
MacKenzie Blackwood has a lot of potential to be the starting goaltender for the Devils for years to come. In his rookie campaign, he played in 23 games and posted pretty solid numbers. The Devils will need him to continue this trend of play if they’re looking to enter the mix of wild card teams in the Eastern Conference this year. They’ll likely lean on him to play a lion’s share of games this year, with Cory Schneider regressing after years of solid goaltending play following legendary Martin Brodeur’s departure.
Blackwood and Carter Hart are going to battle it out this season as the best young goaltenders in the division. Hart likely has the better team in front of him, but the Devils will be an exciting team to watch with 2019 first overall pick Jack Hughes and newly-acquired defenseman P.K. Subban in front of him. The real question for the Devils will be if Schneider can post solid numbers in a reduced role. He wasn’t able to do so last season, but the Devils were also cellar dwellers in the NHL last year. The Devils are stuck with Schneider’s sizeable $6 million cap hit for the next three seasons, so expect this to be the pairing in New Jersey for at least the next couple seasons.
8. COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
If there was a contending team from last season that was hurt the most by high-caliber players leaving in free agency, it’s definitely the Blue Jackets. They lost forward Artemi Panarin, but to add insult to injury, they lost two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. A lot of pressure will be put on Joonas Korpisalo to take over the starting job, but it’ll be hard for him to live up to Bobrovsky’s performances over the past several seasons in Columbus. He was below average last year, and certainly doesn’t have stellar statistics.
Elvis Merzlikins is a really interesting prospect slated to make his NHL debut. He’s been playing in the Swiss-A league for the past six seasons for Lugano, and posted really strong numbers in a decent professional league in Europe. Last season, he had a .921 save percentage and a 2.44 goals-against average in 43 games played. The difficult portion for Merzlikins will be the transition from the larger European ice to the much more fast-paced North American ice and NHL game.
Overall, Merzlikins will have to learn fast if Korpisalo struggles. Columbus still has a pretty decent team that will push for a playoff spot, but look for Columbus to try to scoop another goaltender out of free agency or in a trade this season if Korpisalo struggles.
By Justin Trudel