Through the season thus far, we’ve gathered enough of a sample size to rank the performances and quality of goaltending for each team in the Metropolitan Division by goaltending tandem. We’ll be taking into account a myriad of statistics to rank the teams from strongest to weakest, and take a look at how each goaltender stands in relation to the rest of their intra-divisional competition.
The metrics that we’ll take into account are save percentage, average goal distance, high danger save percentage relative to high danger shot volume, and variance of expected goals against versus actual goals against.
All statistics are only including 5 on 5 play, since penalty killing quality can be such a wild card, and good goaltending can be offset by bad penalty killing. All of the statistics in this piece are courtesy of Natural StatTrick.
1. Columbus Blue Jackets
If we were to flashback to the start of the season, many were skeptical of the quality of goaltending the Blue Jackets would get out of Joonas Korpisalo and Elvin Merzlikins after Sergei Bobrovsky took his talents to South Beach. The reality of the situation is, both Korpisalo and Merzlikins have had strong performances all year. This begs the question, is it the defensive system and structure of Columbus that leads to above average goaltending, or are they extremely good at developing goaltenders?
The fact is, Sergei Bobrovsky has been underwhelming in Florida, posting an .898 save percentage and a 3.25 goals against average after getting a 7 year, $10 million annual average value contract.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets are getting stellar goaltending from a tandem that combined has a cap hit of $2,024,125. That being said, Korpisalo was recently injured, and they’ve been leaning on Merzlikins and Matiss Kivlenieks. Kivlenieks hasn’t been included in these rankings since he has only played in two games so far this season.
When looking at the entire division’s save percentage at 5 on 5 play for goaltenders playing more than 12 games, Merzlikins is second in the division, and Korpisalo is sixth. Overall, the strength here for the Blue Jackets is that both goaltenders have save percentages at, or above, .930. That’s very strong, and one of the main reasons that the Blue Jackets are at the top of the division regarding overall goaltending.
2. New York Islanders
After Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner departed from the Island to Chicago in free agency this past summer, many contemplated the effect of losing a goalie of Lehner’s caliber. General Manager Lou Lamoriello swooped in and signed former Avalance (and Capital) Semyon Varlamov. The duo of Varlamov and Thomas Greiss have been formidable in net, resulting in the Islanders falling into second place in the Metro Division goalie rankings.
The Islanders have the added benefit of having more of a 1A/1B scenario in net. Greiss has starter quality statistics, and Head Coach Barry Trotz has had no qualms in turning to either goaltender from a game-to-game basis. Greiss does have the stronger numbers, but his average goals distance is a bit worse than Varlamov, meaning he tends to give up goals on shots from further away.
3. Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes slot-in at number three overall in the Metro Division in these rankings, although they have a slightly lower save percentage overall than the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Hurricanes have better figures for goals allowed versus expected goals allowed and a stronger average goal distance figure. This is also an interesting turn of events, because the biggest question for the Hurricanes coming into the season was the strength of their goaltending with Petr Mrazek and James Reimer.
Mrazek has definitely been leaned upon a lot more by Head Coach Rod Brind’amor, but it’s kind of a mixed bag between Mrazek and Reimer statistically. Reimer has the stronger save percentage, actual goals versus expected goals against, and average goal distance, but Mrazek has stronger high danger save percentage figures. Overall, though, the Hurricanes have gotten strong goaltending at even strength.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins slot-in at third overall in save percentage at even strength, but slotted in behind Carolina due to worse goals allowed versus expected goals allowed and a slightly longer average goal distance allowed.
Although Matt Murray has had somewhat of a down year, Tristan Jarry has stepped in and performed admirably (or not if you’re a Caps fan). Jarry currently ranks first in the Metro in 5 on 5 save percentage, which pulls the Penguins up higher in this list.
The ascension of Tristan Jarry has put into question the future of the Penguins’ goaltending. Both Jarry and Murray are pending RFAs entering this summer. Depending on who the workhorse is down the stretch, it could mean that Murray is moved this off-season, and Jarry is extended. But, for now, the Penguins and Head Coach Mike Sullivan have two solid options down the stretch. Murray is the goaltender with the playoff experience and two Stanley Cups on his resume, so we could see some interesting story-lines play out the rest of the season.
5. Washington Capitals
When looking at the Capitals’ goaltending holistically, the group isn’t among the strongest in the Metro. Coming into the season, we had the known quantity with Braden Holtby, who was among the top tier of NHL goaltenders, as well as the relative unknown with Ilya Samsonov.
As we’ve progressed through the season, Samsonov has thoroughly impressed, while Holtby has posted his career worst performance. Holtby’s numbers ultimately pushed the Capitals down this list.
The actual goals against vs expected goals against tells a huge story here. Holtby has given up more goals than were actually expected in terms of shot danger, where Samsonov has given up fewer actual goals against relative to expected goals against. This means that Samsonov has come up with some big saves on scoring chances that had high danger associated with them. You can really see the difference in the high danger save percentage at 5 on 5 play, and deduce the source of that goals against relative to expected goals against figure.
Now, there’s still time for Holtby to regain his form. He might not get back to his career average save percentage of .916 in all situations (he’s at .896 now), but the Caps will surely hope that Holtby finds his game sooner rather than later. If he doesn’t, then the time will come to see if Head Coach Todd Reirden rides the hot hand in net.
6. New York Rangers
The Rangers’ goaltending at 5 on 5 play has been mediocre at best when compared to the rest of the division. The biggest “surprise” for the Rangers has been the success that backup Alexandar Georgiev has found this season, leading to questions about the future of the Rangers’ netminders when highly touted goaltending prospect Igor Shesterkin is ready for more NHL action.
Lundqvist is signed through next season, his age 38 season, and many wonder how much longer Lundqvist will play or be in the Rangers’ plans moving forward.
Lundqvist is slightly stronger in save percentage and high danger save percentage, but Georgiev has a stronger actual goals against relative to expected goals against and average goal distance. This duo is more of a 1A/1B tandem, with relatively similar numbers for games played. The interesting figure here is that Lundqvist has a stronger high danger save percentage, but a worse actual goals against relative to expected goals against. This is because Georgiev has a higher save percentage in medium danger chances.
7. Philadelphia Flyers
Although Carter Hart had a really strong rookie campaign last season, he seems to be suffering from a small sophomore slump. Backup Brian Elliott has had a strong season so far. Ultimately, the Flyers are at the bottom of the division for save percentage as a team, which slots them in just above last in the division.
Both goaltenders are giving up more goals than expected, and are tending to give up more goals from outside. Ultimately, these two goaltenders are posting relatively similar numbers, so there’s likely a systemic issue here. The Flyers will hope that Hart can work through his sophomore slump to get back to the level of play he had last season, where he impressed as a rookie.
8. New Jersey Devils
This isn’t much of a surprise. The Devils are just not a very good team, and that usually reflects on goaltenders’ performances. That being said, Mackenzie Blackwood has had a pretty strong season at 5 on 5 play, but the Devils have rotated four goalies in this season, looking for a stronger backup. Cory Schneider has spent time in the AHL, after many seasons of being a high-end goaltender for the Canucks and the Devils. Louis Domingue has been average at best.
Realistically, Blackwood’s numbers outside of save percentage are more suffering because of the quality of players on the ice for the Devils this season. The problem that the Devils are running into is that they’re really relying on Blackwood to play most nights. Domingue has the second most games played at 12, and Blackwood has played triple that amount. The Devils will definitely be looking for a more formidable backup as they look to improve their roster this off-season.
By Justin Trudel