Round 1 of the 2022 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs concluded in epic fashion, involving a Johnny Gaudreau Game 7 overtime goal to send the Calgary Flames into the second round. In an opening round that required a total of five Game 7s to solve, the quest for Stanley Cup was filled with truly incredible storylines in the first two weeks of the playoffs.
The goaltending showdown
One storyline that caught the attention of the whole league was the goaltending that the Dallas Stars had throughout the series. Jake Oettinger stole headline after headline with his otherworldly goaltending. He frustrated the Flames and their fans alike, and as soon as the series ended, his performance was finally appreciated by the Flames and their fans alike.
Oettinger put up some of the best goaltending numbers to open the playoffs ever, and he did it as a rookie goaltender. At 23 years old, the 2017 first-round draft pick put together an all-time playoff performance.
Due to Oettinger’s insane spotlight, the goaltender on the other end of the ice oft avoided being the centre of attention. Jacob Markstrom simply went to work, did his job, and quietly set the Flames’ franchise record for best save percentage in a single series with a final percentage of 0.943, well above Miikka Kiprusoff‘s previous mark of 0.929 set back in 2007.
The Flames and Stars had the lowest-scoring series as well, with the Stars coming in second last and Flames third last for goals for. The only team with fewer goals were the Nashville Predators, who scored nine goals over their four-game exit. Incredibly, that’s a rate of 2.25 goals per game which was still higher than both the Flames and Stars’ rates of 2.14 and 2.00, respectively.
To say it was a series where goaltending meant everything is an extreme understatement.
Just how good were the goaltenders in the Flames versus Stars matchup? Let’s break it down by visualising goals saved above expected (GSAx).
Visualising goals saved above expected
To compare the performances of Oettinger and Markstrom, other goaltenders who appeared in seven games in the first round were also included in the following visualisations. Out of the five series that required seven games to solve, a total of seven goaltenders played in all possible games.
This list extends to include Mike Smith and Jonathan Quick in the Edmonton Oilers versus Los Angeles Kings series, Jack Campbell and Andrei Vasilevskiy in the Toronto Maples versus Tampa Bay Lightning series, and Igor Shesterkin who played all seven games for the New York Rangers in their series with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
One way to assess the impact of a goalie over a series is to plot their cumulative GSAx over the course of a series. This gives a clear understanding of whether they stole games, had bad games, or inconsistently switched back and forth between the two.
Round 1 goals saved above expected at 5v5
To read the following plots, the more a goaltender sees their GSAx increase over a series, the better their goaltending. For every shot on goal, an expected goal value is assigned, and over a game, the overall GSAx shows how much more or less saving a goaltender did compared to expected based on available information on every single shot.
Expected goal data was obtained from NaturalStatTrick.com at 5v5 and at all situations. The plots were created using R and ggplot2, with inspiration from data visualisation designer Cédric Scherer (@CedScherer), including bits of published code directly adapted for the hockey data.
Without further ado, let’s see how Oettinger and Markstrom did at 5v5.
The simple way to put it is Oettinger was the best goaltender at 5v5 throughout the playoffs. Looking at his line, a visually noticeable increase was seen in every single game except for Game 4. The flat line going from Game 4 to 5 suggests that his worst 5v5 outing was still at an expected level.
Every other goaltender had a decrease in at least one game, but not Oettinger. He finished with a whopping 8.67 GSAx at 5v5, saving on average more than extra goal per game. In the lowest-scoring matchup of the playoffs, that’s the difference maker right there.
Markstrom on the other hand, was right there with him. He was one of the most consistent goalies in the first round and if not for an individual stumble at 5v5 in Game 6, he might have finished second instead of third in GSAx.
Only Quick had a better series and that was largely due to an incredible individual effort in Game 7, but the Kings gave Quick zero run support.
Round 1 goals saved above expected at all situations
Yes, you’ve probably heard this already, but Oettinger was the best goaltender at all situations too—and it wasn’t even close. Few words can describe just how good Oettinger was, but “astronomical” comes to mind. The series between Calgary and Dallas consisted of a whole lot of non-5v5 play, and across all his minutes, he ended with an insane 14.34 GSAx over seven games. The quick math shows he saved more than two extra goals per game!
For even more context, not a single game in the series between the Flames and Stars finished with more than a two-goal difference for either team (excluding empty net goals). That suggests that every game that Dallas won required Oettinger to stand on his head and there wasn’t a single instance where he got any extra goal support.
Even looking at his plot, he nearly reached 10 GSAx after four games, and that mark was not reached by any other goaltender at any point in the first round.
Again, turning to Markstrom, his isolated results were highly commendable, and that type of performance would win series more often than not—posting 6.14 GSAx over seven games is no easy task. However, it’s the fact that Oettinger saved more goals above expected than the next two best goaltenders combined that really blows the metric right out of the water.
Golden age goaltending
Goal scoring was up in the opening round of the playoffs as a whole, but the stellar goaltending of both Oettinger and Markstrom turned their series into a string of low-scoring, tightly defended games.
For Markstrom, he gets to move on and continue in the playoffs knowing he was a major reason the Flames won the series; for Oettinger, he goes home knowing he might have put together one of the best seven-game goaltending performances of all-time.