Evaluating NHL goaltenders with goals saved above expected — Western Conference

The hockey world has come to a standstill with the 2019-20 season suspended due to COVID-19. With pretty much everything uncertain, it’ll be interesting to see what path the NHL will take amidst this pandemic.

Preemptive action should help keep COVID-19 at bay, and we have to credit where it’s due: kudos to the league for putting a pause on the regular season before any player was officially diagnosed with the virus. We can only hope that the serious measures taken around the globe will suppress the virus long enough to allow for sufficient healthcare and well-being.

Let’s distract ourselves from the issue at hand and take a look at how goalies in the league have performed so far in 2019-20. Earlier in the year, I broke down David Rittich‘s performance using his expected goals against compared to his goals against using xG data from Natural Stat Trick.

This time around, I’m using Evolving-Hockey’s xG model, and their convenient metric of GSAx — Goals Saved Above Expected. It’s exactly the same metric as the post about Rittich: expected goals against minus goals against, but it’s noted that there are differences in E-H’s expected goal model compared to NST’s.

A total of 84 goaltenders have suited up for at least one game this year, let’s break them all down, starting with the Western Conference. To do so, I’m plotting GSAx for every goalie for every team, and highlighting their workload using Fenwick against, which are all goals, shots on goals, and missed shots (or conversely, unblocked shot attempts).

For the data visualisations, teams are presented by division and sorted by their current standing in each division. Plots are created with R using “ggplot2” and the “viridis” colour scale was chosen with considerations for colourblindness. Note that the x-axis and colour scale is consistent across all plots for comparability.

Be sure to check out the Eastern Conference goalies, you can read the article here.

Pacific Division

Vegas Golden Knights

The Golden Knights are atop the Pacific, and most of the credit shouldn’t go to their goalies. Their starter Marc-Andre Fleury has the worst GSAx in the division letting in 14.2 more goals than expected across 48 appearances. That’s not good for the team when he’s facing significantly more shots than his backup goalies.

The recent addition of Robin Lehner to the team has helped as he’s already amassed a positive GSAx in his short stint with the team. Prior to being traded, Malcolm Subban was not having a great season either, as he had a not very nice -6.9 GSAx. In his one appearance, Oscar Dansk managed to sink to -3.4 GSAx.

Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers have worked with their tandem of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen for the whole season. Recently, Edmonton media had slated Smith as the definitive starter. Maybe that shouldn’t be the case.

Both have faced similar shot totals, one is above water in GSAx, the other is not. You do the math.

Calgary Flames

The aforementioned Rittich has seen it all this season. Outstanding performances and rough stretches. The Flames have been lucky to have Cam Talbot as their backup, as he’s provided solid stability when it was needed the most.

Rittich was one of the busiest goalies in the league to start the season, but as the season wore on, his performance took a bit of a hit, leaving the goaltender still looking to find his groove again.

Vancouver Canucks

There’s no denying that Jacob Markstrom‘s been by and large one of the best players on the Canucks roster this year. He’s carried his weight and has given Vancouver a chance at the playoffs. That’s not to say that Thatcher Demko been bad. He’s fared well enough himself too, and having two goalies performing their duties is all most teams can hope for, and Vancouver’s gotten it.

Arizona Coyotes

The Arizona Coyotes started the season scorching hot, hot enough to make the call to be buyers and bring in Taylor Hall. Unfortunately, the Coyotes’ goaltenders were unable to avoid injuries, with Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta both getting hurt. Kuemper was putting up Vezina-calibre numbers and had he been healthy, the Pacific playoff race might have looked drastically different.

Adin Hill came in with all the pressure in the world and despite the Coyotes being on the outside looking in, he deserves credit for not crumbling to the pressure and keeping the team in the race for as long as he did.

Anaheim Ducks

The busiest goaltender in the division right now, John Gibson seen a large dip in play this season. At -9.9 GSAx in 51 appearances, he has uncharacteristically struggled to stop pucks. His counterpart, Ryan Miller, hasn’t been great this year either, but comparing the two, Miller’s done better. Not exactly what you expect for the tandem.

Los Angeles Kings

The Kings once tweeted after Jonathan Quick signed his 10-year extension that the Kings would have 11 years of having a better goaltender. About that…

Jack Campbell has had better success in Toronto than he had with L.A., but the standout goaltender here is Calvin Petersen. He’s been great in his limited play. Much better than Quick, who was supposed to be better until at least 2022-23. Huh.

San Jose Sharks

There’s something going on with starting goaltenders in California. Martin Jones, like Gibson and Quick, has been bad. The Sharks tumbled out of the playoff picture early as nothing was clicking for the team. Bad goaltending coupled with no offence isn’t a recipe for success yet the Sharks are still cooking it.

On the other hand, Aaron Dell‘s been fine. Not a bad rebound year for the Airdrie-born goaltender. It’ll be interesting to see what the Sharks do moving forward.

Central Division

St. Louis Blues

The Blues didn’t need a miraculous run to the playoffs this year. They continued their winning ways with both Jordan Binnington and Jake Allen posting positive GSAx. Things have clicked for the Blues all season long, and their goaltending has played a large part in keeping them first in the conference.

Colorado Avalanche

Four goaltenders have dressed for the Avalanche this year: Philipp Grubauer, Pavel Francouz, Antoine Bibeau, and Adam Werner. Neither Bibeau or Werner’s contributions have been impactful, with both playing just two games each.

Francouz has been a welcomed addition to the Avs’ roster, and he’s been particularly valuable since taking over for an injured Grubauer. The tandem hasn’t necessarily been fantastic at elevating their game, but they’ve done their job and the Avalanche don’t have much to complain about.

Dallas Stars

The Stars have the best tandem in the league in terms of GSax. Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin have backstopped the Stars to victory after victory. The Stars have struggled offensively all season long, but have had two very reliable and consistent goaltenders to keep them in the playoffs.

The Stars are last in the Central with 180 goals for on the season; first in the Central with 177 goals against. The next lowest scoring team in the Central are the Blackhawks with 212 goals and the next lowest goals against team are the Avalanche with 191 goals against. Really, it’s a strange world the Dallas Stars are in.

Winnipeg Jets

The busiest goaltender in the league has the best GSAx in the league. Connor Hellebuyck deserves the Vezina, plain and simple. He has a whopping 16.9 GSAx, which more than doubles the next closest goaltender (Kuemper has a GSAx of 8.3). This paragraph should be read a few times to let it sink in.

Laurent Brossoit hasn’t exactly helped out his partner, but when the Jets have Hellebuyck’s season to celebrate, they’d probably be comfortable with a shooter tutor as the backup at this point.

Nashville Predators

The fall of Pekka Rinne has not been fun to watch. Rinne has the third-worst GSAx in the league in a season where his goaltending has seen a significant drop. If the season does not resume, it’ll be the first time in his career he’s posted a sub .900 save percentage.

Juuse Saros is more likely than not who Nashville will rely on moving forward. His season hasn’t been spectacular either, but comparatively to Rinne, Saros has excelled. Keyword, comparatively.

Minnesota Wild

The worst GSAx in the league? Check. The fourth worst GSAx in the league, also check. Things have not gone right for the duo of Devan Dubnyk and Alex Stalock this season. Dubnyk’s managed a GSAx of -27.5 in 30 appearances. That’s nearly an extra goal against per game than expected. Yikes.

Enter Kaapo Kahkonen. He’s tallied some wins but hasn’t done well in GSAx either. He’ll want to find some consistency in his game and the Wild will want to sort their goaltending out as soon as possible.

Chicago Blackhawks

Corey Crawford has started every game since the NHL trade deadline. That’s probably the right call for the Blackhawks as he’s been stellar. For a goaltender whose career was uncertain with previous concussion issues, it’s always a heartwarming story to see a comeback. We can only keep hoping that Crawford plays out his career with a good bill of health.

And there you have it. All the goaltenders of the Western Conference in just two charts. GSAx is a powerful way to evaluate goaltenders. A quick and easy stat to compare goaltending performances with, GSAx lets you say one with confidence that one goalie is stopping much harder shots than another.

It takes into account shot quality and isolates a goaltender’s performance. It provides much needed context that stats like goals against average or even goals saved above average just don’t have. It can make much more compelling arguments too, such as this one: Hellebuyck for Vezina.

Check out the Eastern Conference goalies here:

Evaluating NHL goaltenders with goals saved above expected — Eastern Conference

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