Evaluating NHL goaltenders with goals saved above expected — Eastern Conference

While the hockey world continues to navigate through the unknown with the 2019-20 season being suspended dueto COVID-19, we continue to hope that appropriate actions and responses can be taken to prevent the virus from further wreaking havoc. With any luck, the NHL won’t have to cancel the playoffs like they’ve resorted to before.


Let’s continue the distractions and look back at goalie performances so far in 2019-20. Previously, I broke down David Rittich‘s game-by-game performance by plotting expected goals against compared to his goals against using xG data from Natural Stat Trick.

To look at all goalies at once, I’m using Evolving-Hockey’s xG model and their convenient metric of GSAx — Goals Saved Above Expected. It’s the exact same metric as the post about Rittich: expected goals against minus goals against, but note that differences exist between Evolving Hockey’s expected goal model compared to NST’s.

A total of 84 goaltenders have suited up for at least one game this year, with 47 playing out of the Eastern Conference. To compare the goaltenders, 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.

If you missed breaking down the Western Conference goalies, you can read the article here.

Metropolitan Division

Washington Capitals

The Capitals could be described as lucky to be in first place in the Metropolitan, as their starting goaltender, Braden Holtby, has been far from good. Sporting one of the worst GSAx’s in the division with a -12.6, Holtby is probably thankful that the worst season of his career is at least paused for the time being.

Ilya Samsonov, on the other hand, has been a formidable backup goaltender and has fared much better than his counterpart has.

Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers started eight different goaltenders last year, so for them to be down to just three this season was a surely welcomed dose of consistency. Carter Hart has looked impressive, and has managed to be one of the best goaltenders in the conference in terms of GSAx.

Brian Elliott has not been as good as previous years, while Alex Lyon is slowing climbing on up. If the Flyers elect to move on from Elliott after this season, they’d be signifying that they’re comfortable with the Hart/Lyon tandem moving forward.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Tristan Jarry and Matt Murray have split the bulk of the work this season, but Jarry’s performed well while Murray has not. Both of their goaltenders are young with some solid numbers between them. There isn’t much to worry for the Penguins between the pipes as Murray is likely regress to better numbers eventually.

Carolina Hurricanes

Best GSAx goaltender in the Eastern Conference? James Reimer? No one saw this coming, but the Hurricanes are running with it. Between him and Petr Mrazek, the duo have put together quite a strong campaign.

When the Hurricanes turned to Anton Forsberg and Alex Nedeljkovic, things didn’t go quite as well for them. Not to worry as the Canes are the envy of the league, forever having David Ayres‘ performance to play on repeat while the NHL is paused.

Columbus Blue Jackets

What a storied campaign the Blue Jackets have put together. Joonas Korpisalo was the number one goalie heading into the season and he ran with it. Though not faring too will in terms of GSAx, he’s backstopped Columbus to more wins than not.

When Korpisalo was injured, Elvis Merzlikins swooped in to save the day. Going on a lengthy win streak, the Blue Jackets were at one point sixth overall in the league. Unfortunately things turned for the worst as more injuries plagued their roster, with no team missing more man games than Columbus has.

In Matiss Kivlenieks‘ short stint in the big leagues, he had two good starts and two bad starts. He ended underwater in GSAx, but there’s potential for the goaltender to see more NHL action if the Blue Jackets decide to extend him.

New York Islanders

The seemingly unstoppable Islanders fell hard and quick after their early season dominance. The tandem of Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss haven’t been spectacular by any means, and the team is currently on the bubble in the wild card race.

Greiss is just one season removed from winning the William M. Jennings trophy with Robin Lehner. That’s not to say Greiss isn’t have a good year, cause he’s been fine, he’s just trending back to average after putting up an absurdly great campaign last year.

New York Rangers

The Rangers weren’t supposed to be in the playoff race, yet they are. Henrik Lundqvist, Alexandar Georgiev, and even Igor Shesterkin all have positive GSAx values and find themselves ahead of many of their peers.

Give the goalies credit, they have played a large role in making this season much more successful than it was expected to be.

New Jersey Devils

The Devils were in rough shape early in the season, rough enough to eventually trade away Taylor Hall. They’re still in rough shape, but it isn’t as bad. The emergence of Mackenzie Blackwood has been a bright spot in an otherwise tough season for the Devils.

Louis Domingue and Cory Schneider probably both wish they could have been better in their limited appearances for the Devils, as they both posted poor GSAx despite not playing that much hockey. Similarly with Gilles Senn, his two-game trial of the NHL was not the greatest time for the young netminder.

Atlantic Division

Boston Bruins

Boasting the best tandem in the Eastern Conference, the Bruins have benefited from the superb play of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. With the two of them splitting more games, they’ve both been up to task and have left little room for complaint.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Andrei Vasilevskiy won the Vezina last year. He’s well underwater in GSAx this time around. Despite clawing their way out of mediocrity and back into NHL dominance, the Tampa Bay Lighting have not enjoyed good goaltending along the way.

Curtis McElhinney hasn’t been good in relief, and Vasilevskiy has not posted a Vezina campaign at all. But as good teams do, the Lightning have found many ways to win.

Toronto Maple Leafs

There aren’t many nice things to say about Frederik Andersen‘s season. He’s been quite bad for the Leafs and has played the brunt of the games. Michael Hutchinson hasn’t helped much either.

It wasn’t until the Leafs acquired Jack Campbell that they finally had a goaltender with respectable GSAx results. Campbell’s been limited his contributions to the Leafs, but at least they’re positive ones.

Florida Panthers

What went wrong the for the Panthers? Sergei Bobrovsky was brought onto the case and he definitely wasn’t up to the task. He’s playing the worst hockey of his career despite being paid more than ever before.

Sam Montembeault hasn’t been great for the Panthers either, but they at least have Chris Driedger, who actually has the best overall GSAx in the Atlantic Division in just 11 appearances this season.

Montreal Canadiens

Carey Price‘s performance this year has been just fine, but he’s conceded many goals that he should have had. Out of the other three goaltenders that have suited up for the Canadiens, Keith Kinkaid has been the worst, with a -9.3 GSAx in just six appearances.

Conversely, Charlie Lindgren and Cayden Primeau have been Montreal’s best goaltenders in terms of GSAx, despite playing limited minutes. Both Lindgren and Kinkaid have six games played, but their on ice performances have greatly differed.

Buffalo Sabres

Whatever there is to say about the Buffalo Sabres, Duane has probably said it already. Goaltending was just another bullet point in a long list of disappointments. Carter Hutton, Linus Ullmark, and Jonas Johansson have all posted negative GSAx results.

In particular, Hutton has one of the worst GSAx in the conference, and when a goalie that starts half of the games in the season does that poorly, not much good can come out of it.

Ottawa Senators

Immediately following the Sabres’ goaltenders are the Senators trio of negative GSAx as well. Craig Anderson, Marcus Hogberg, and Anders Nilsson have all put up poor numbers throughout the season.

The Senators have the second highest goals against total so far this year with 243, and that’s largely due to none of the goaltenders playing good hockey at all.

Detroit Red Wings

Lastly, we arrive at the Red Wings. Already eliminated from the playoffs, the Red Wings sport the worst goal differential of -122 compared to Ottawa’s 30th place goal differential of -52. The Red Wings have let in a whopping 267 goals this season already.

Strangely enough, Jonathan Bernier is a net positive GSAx goalie, and he’s seen the bulk of the gameplay. Calvin Pickard and Eric Comrie weren’t as successful, but they were far from worst. That honour was reserved for Jimmy Howard.

Howard had a brutal -26.9 GSAx in 27 appearances. Only Devan Dubnyk had a worse GSAx of -27.5, but at least Dubnyk had 30 games played. Howard literally managed to average one extra goal against than expected per game.

The Red Wings have a long list of problems to sort out. Best of luck to them.


GSAx is extremely useful in evaluating goaltenders as it directly address the types of shots a goaltender sees. Some teams rely on good goaltending and others are sank by it. GSAx is a good way to make it obvious which teams are which.

Using it allows readily made comparisons that hold more gravitas than just using goals against average or goals saved above average. By accounting for shot qualities, individual performances are isolated and goalies can be fairly compared.

Don’t forget to check out the Western Conference goalies as well:

Evaluating NHL goaltenders with goals saved above expected — Western Conference

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