With the Capitals’ struggles to find consistent goaltending following the departure of franchise stalwart Braden Holtby, the organization entered the 2022 off-season with a clean slate between the pipes. The Capitals traded Vitek Vanecek to division rival New Jersey, and decided to non-tender restricted free agent Ilya Samsonov. Samsonov ultimately ventured north of the border and signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Capitals ended up signing the crown jewel of the goaltending free agency class in Darcy Kuemper, coming off of a Stanley Cup run with the Colorado Avalanche. They also signed the relatively unproven Charlie Lindgren to serve as Kuemper’s understudy.
The strategy has largely panned out for the Capitals, although it seems that the change of scenery has served both Vanecek and Samsonov well. The Capitals essentially moved on from goaltending that showed flashes of high-caliber play, but suffered extended doldrums in performance, transitioning to a top-ten goaltender in the NHL and an affordable backup, who is more than capable.
In this post, we’ll take a look at the statistics behind the performances of Kuemper and Lindgren, and look at how they stack up with the rest of the NHL. The statistics used in this post are courtesy of Evolving Hockey, HockeyViz, and Hockey Reference. If you’d like to learn more about the statistical terms used in this post, please check out our NHL analytics glossary.
Goals Above Replacement
The Goals Above Replacement (GAR) metric allows for the valuation of player performance in relation to the baseline of a replacement-level player, which would be a player with a GAR value of 0. GAR is an all encompassing metric that gathers the value the player adds to their team while on the ice, and is very similar to baseball’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR).
Let’s take a look at how Kuemper and Lindgren have performed so far in their GAR valuation:
As mentioned in the introduction for this post, Kuemper has shown that he’s a top ten goaltender in the league based off of his GAR value. Overall, he’s ranked 8th in the league, which is rather impressive considering the injury-plagued lineup that’s been playing in front of him all season.
Kuemper’s 10.4 even-strength defense GAR (EVD GAR) ranks 10th in the league, while his 4.8 short-handed defense GAR (SHD GAR) ranks 10th as well. That level of consistency between game situations is exactly what the Capitals were expecting when they signed him this off-season.
For Lindgren, it’s always a good sign when your backup goaltender performs better in terms of player value than nine other team’s starting goaltenders. The drop-off from Kuemper to Lindgren isn’t very steep either, which is a large reason why Lindgren has posted an 11-5-2 record this season with a .912 save percentage and a 2.60 goals against average. Lindgren’s EVD GAR ranks 30th while his SHD GAR ranks 22nd.
Since GAR is largely influenced by time on ice (since you have to be on the ice to accrue value), Lindgren’s GAR ranks a bit lower than others on the list above him. Lindgren has been on the ice for the 28th most ice time this season, so it’s not so surprising to see him ranked below Kuemper here.
One of the ways we can evaluate a player’s GAR value, regardless of ice time,is by using rates of GAR value generation instead of total GAR production. Here’s how Kuemper and Lindgren fare in that regard:
A caveat: the GAR/60 NHL ranking is filtering out goaltenders that have faced less than 400 Fenwick shot attempts against (FA). This is an effort to weed out goalies that have small sample sizes that can cause wild variances in GAR/60.
It’s rather clear that Kuemper is the higher performer in net, but that’s exactly what we should be seeing from a goaltender of Kuemper’s caliber. This is another metric that shows that Kuemper truly belongs in the echelon of top ten goaltenders around the league. Lindgren’s performance puts him in solid performance territory.
On-Ice Statistical Performance
GSAx measures the amount of expected goals against (xGA) minus the total amount of goals allowed (GA). This measures how the goaltender is performing in relation to expectations.
With a GSAx of zero, the goaltender is allowing as many goals against as expected. Anything above zero is solid, and anything below zero means that the goaltender is giving up goals they likely shouldn’t.
The benefit of GSAx is that it measures a goaltender’s performance in their exact scenario. For example, if a goaltender on a bad team is playing very well over the course of a season, they can still post a positive GSAx even if their team allows a lot of goals.
GSAA measures a goaltenders performance against the league average save percentage times shots on goal against. If a player posts a GSAA above zero, they’re performing better than league average. If it’s below zero, they’re below average. If they’re at zero, they’re exactly average.
Here’s how Lindgren and Kuemper have fared so far this season:
Here we go again, Kuemper posting top 10 marks in both GSAA and GSAx. There’s not much more left to say about this, but Kuemper has been as advertised: a high-end goaltender with consistent performances over the course of the season.
Lindgren has also performed well, posting above average GSAA and he’s allowing less goals than were expected to be scored on him.
The following are visualizations of each goaltenders performance in terms of GSAx over the course of their careers in the NHL, courtesy of HockeyViz. First, here’s Lindgren:
The gray line shows expected goals against, where the red line shows actual goals against. Lindgren had a tough stretch about a quarter of the way through the season, however he has righted the ship and has performed extremely well following that blip in overall performance.
And here’s Kuemper:
Since about three quarters of the way through the 2017-18 season, Kuemper has proven to be an excellent goaltender in the league. Through his brief time in Washington, Kuemper has never really even come close to having the “observed” line hit the “expected line” on this chart.
That’s a testament to his consistency, even with a rather “tough” start to his career in DC at the start of the season. He’s gotten better as the year has gone on and has given the Capitals a chance to win most every night, even with the cavalcade of injuries to the skaters in front of him through the season.
A little over halfway through the season, General Manager Brian MacLellan’s “gamble” of moving on from both of his goaltenders from the prior season has paid off. With consistent goaltending, the Capitals were (and have been) able to weather the storm of injuries the team has faced in the first half of the season. It’ll be interesting to see how the Capitals look when they finally have a healthy roster plus consistent high-level goaltending from their starter.
So far, Kuemper has been as advertised: a high caliber starting goaltender that can help elevate a team’s performance. Lindgren, who was relatively unproven entering the season but had posted solid statistics in his short NHL career, has served honorably as the Capitals’ backup and really elevated his game when Kuemper was out of the lineup due to injury.
By Justin Trudel