The best unexpected goalies in the NHL so far this season

They say that when you have goaltending, it’s 50% of your team, but when you don’t have it, it’s 100% of your team.

Goaltending is the most important position in hockey, and teams like the Ottawa Senators and Vancouver Canucks are showing how nearly impossible it is to win games with terrible goaltending.

With the condensed schedule and players going into non-roster status every day, it’s more important than ever to have solid goaltending. Let’s take a look at the best performing goalies who came out of nowhere, and if they can continue their success.

Several goaltending specific statistics will be used in this analysis, and a brief synopsis of what they mean are below.

  1. Quality starts (QS): Starts with SV% > average SV% for the year, or at least .885 in games with 20 or fewer shots against. Developed by Rob Vollman in Hockey Abstract.
  2. Quality start percentage (QS%): QS/Games started. >60% is considered good, <50% is considered bad, and 53% is league average. Also from Rob Vollman.
  3. Really bad starts (RBS): Starts with a SV% below .850. Also from Rob Vollman.
  4. Goals saved above average (GSAA): Total goals a goalie has prevented given his SV% and shots faced compared to the league average SV% on the same number of shots. Minimum four shots faced per team game is needed to qualify.
  5. High danger save percentage (HDSV%): Percentage of high danger chances saved.

Kevin Lankinen – Chicago Blackhawks

GoalieGPRecordGAASV%SO
Kevin Lankinen84-1-32.32.9280

Kevin Lankinen has been a revelation for the Blackhawks. Most expected Colin Delia and Malcolm Subban to duke it out for the starting job, but Lankinen has shown up in a big way.

Starting the most games for Chicago so far, anybody who scooped up Lankinen in fantasy is thrilled with that decision so far. With just one regulation loss in his record, Lankinen has an incredible 2.32 GAA and .928 SV%, numbers that a solid number one NHL goalie would sport.

GoalieQSQS%RBSGSAAHDSV%
Kevin Lankinen675.0%16.49.855

Looking deeper, it appears that Lankinen is the real deal, at least so far. Of his eight starts, six have been quality starts for a 75% QS%, and just one really bad start to date. Those are great numbers that show he’s been consistently good, not streaky with more good than bad.

He’s saved 6.49 goals above average which is the third most in the NHL behind only Philipp Grubauer and Andrei Vasilevskiy. So far, Lankinen is performing well above an average goalie and is nothing short of elite thus far. In terms of stopping difficult shots, Lankinen’s .855 HDSV% is eighth in the NHL among all goalies with at least five starts, a clear area of excellence for him, but perhaps something that could regress as the season progresses.

In any case, Lankinen has been an elite goalie, and has done everything to deserve the crease in Chicago. He won’t be giving up the starting job any time soon.

Chris Driedger- Florida Panthers

GoalieGPRecordGAASV%SO
Chris Driedger43-0-11.72.9420

It’s hard to see what’s happened with Sergei Bobrovsky in Florida since he signed his mega deal there two summers ago. While Bobrovsky has started the same number of games as Chris Driedger this season, Driedger has vastly outperformed Bobrovsky, and looks to have the inside track in keeping the starting job, or at least being the 1A.

Driedger has not lost a single game in regulation so far, and has a sparkling 1.72 GAA and .942 SV%. His most recent start was a 24 save victory against the Nashville Predators. He’s clearly showing that his solid 2019-20 season was no fluke, and is continuing the strong play this year.

GoalieQSQS%RBSGSAAHDSV%
Chris Driedger4100%04.54.842

Driedger’s underlying numbers are also absolutely incredible. With four quality starts in four games played, his 100% QS% ties him with seven goalies at the top of the NHL; Driedger is the only one with four games played this season, though.

His 4.54 GSAA puts him sixth in the NHL, a very impressive number considering four of the five goalies ahead of him have played an average of nine games, almost twice what Driedger has. He’s been standing on his head every single night for the Panthers, and Driedger has played a huge part in their dazzling record thus far. His .842 HDSV% ranks 20th in the league overall, so there’s no real concern in this number taking a significant nosedive any time soon. In fact, it’s lower than the .870 HDSV% he put up in 12 starts last season.

Driedger is legit. If Bobrovsky can be the same reliable goalie he was in Columbus, the Panthers might have the best goaltending tandem in the NHL.

Vitek Vanecek – Washington Capitals

GoalieGPRecordGAASV%SO
Vitek Vanecek95-2-22.95.9110

Like Lankinen, Vitek Vanecek seemingly came out of nowhere this season. The goaltending tandem in Washington was supposed to be Ilya Samsonov and Henrik Lundqvist, but health took both out of the lineup which opened the door for Vanecek.

So far, Vanecek has been a saviour in the Capitals’ crease. If it weren’t for his solid play, the Caps would be in much worse shape in the ultra competitive East Division, and he’s earned his 5-2-2 record. Along with a 2.95 GAA and .911 SV%, Vanecek has done everything he’s been asked to do in the crease.

GoalieQSQS%RBSGSAAHDSV%
Vitek Vanecek444.4%12.47.775

Unfortunately, Vanecek’s underlying numbers don’t paint as pretty a picture. Of his nine games played, just four were quality starts, good for a 44% QS%. If we know that ~53% is average, Vanecek is performing well below league average in this category. He also has one really bad start, a 5-4 OT loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in his second game of the season.

The most uninspiring statistic is his HDSV%. At just .775, he rankes 38th in the NHL in this area. So far unable to stop the tough shots at the rate a number one goalie should, this points to Vanecek running into issues as the season goes on.

Cal petersen – Los Angeles Kings

GoalieGPRecordGAASV%SO
Cal Petersen51-3-02.16.9350

It’s probably safe to say that the Jonathan Quick era in Los Angeles is over. He was penciled in as the starter before the season started, but Cal Petersen has won the starting job and is providing good goaltending for the terrible Kings.

He only has one win over four starts (his fifth game was a relief appearance last night), but he has a very impressive 2.16 GAA and .935 SV%. These are number one goalie level stats, he just has the misfortune of playing for a really bad team. Luck of the draw.

GoalieQSQS%RBSGSAAHDSV%
Cal Petersen250.0%04.92.906

Digging deeper, Petersen is deserving of his excellent numbers. While he has just two quality starts and a 50% quality starts percentage, he doesn’t have any really bad starts so far. He’s been the best goalie in LA by a long shot, and is providing the best goaltending he can. With 4.92 goals saved above average, he ranks fifth in the NHL, just ahead of Driedger. With just five games under his belt, this is very, very good.

His .906 HDSV% is also nothing short of incredible. That’s good for sixth in the NHL, and the only goalie ahead of him that has played in more games than him is Carey Price; not bad company to keep.

Expect Petersen to get the lion’s share of starts for the Kings, and because they get to play the Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, and Arizona Coyotes so much this season, he should finish with strong numbers across the board. He’s clearly the goalie of the future in LA.

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