The NHL season is young, with the majority of teams now playing somewhere between three to four games. When the calendar still shows October, some of the best early stories every season comes from goaltending performances.
There’s goalies like Jake Oettinger of the Dallas Stars, who hasn’t skipped a beat since his heroic Round 1 efforts in the 2022 playoffs; or Carter Hart, who’s played a large role in the Philadelphia Flyers remaining undefeated through three games; all the way to the likes of Thatcher Demko, Kaapo Kahkonen, Jack Campbell, and Marc-Andre Fleury, who’ve all been factors in why their teams picked up losses.
Goals saved above expected as of October 18, 2022
One way to objectively compare goaltenders is to evaluate their goals saved above expected (GSAx). For every shot, there’s an assigned expected goal (xG) value, and as a goaltender makes or doesn’t make saves based on expected values, the difference between their xG against and their actual goals against will start varying compared to other goaltenders.
With the randomness of goaltending seemingly happening not just season over season but at times even week over week, we can plot every goaltender’s GSAx to see how they stack up compared to the rest of the league. Using data visualisation, comparing goaltenders can be done quickly with a lot of context in each chart.
So here are this season’s first batch of GSAx plots for every goaltender in every division. The idea is that this will become a weekly series to look at changes in season performances as well as look at which goaltenders have the best performances per week.
Game cutoffs will be every Tuesday night, to capture the additional slate of games typically played on Tuesdays, for no other reason than to have the most data available in a timely, yet weekly manner. Data is from NaturalStatTrick.com.
So without further ado, let’s take a look at the first set of plots, starting with the two 2022 NHL Global Series games played in the Czech Republic on October 7 and 8 through to Tuesday night’s games ending on October 18.
Goals saved above expected plots
The plots are split into each division, and then teams are ranked in order of the highest total team GSAx to the lowest. Each goaltender will then sit along the x-axis based on their GSAx totals. The colour of each goaltender is determined based on total shots against compared to the whole league (as opposed to per division)—the more shots a goaltender faces, the brighter and yellower their point; the fewer shots, the darker and bluer.
Similarly to the shots against colour being league-wide, the x-axis per plot is also scaled league-wide, based on the two individual goaltenders with the highest and lowest GSAx. This makes visual comparisons between the four plots a bit easier.
Pacific Division goaltenders
So far, the Pacific Division has been one of the worst divisions in terms of GSAx. Five teams have both their goaltenders in the negative range.
The Calgary Flames with Jacob Markstrom and Daniel Vladar performing fairly close to expected, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but they’re both on the negative side of the scale.
The trio of the Anaheim Ducks, Seattle Kraken, and Vancouver Cancks, who have John Gibson, Philipp Grubauer, and Demko, respectively, are all seeing themselves on the lower end of GSAx.
The winless San Jose Sharks have Kahkonen on the low GSAx end, but James Reimer has been both busy and good. Alas, it just hasn’t been in the numbers for them to get into the win column.
The Edmonton Oilers are seeing a tale of two goaltenders with Campbell playing poorly while Stuart Skinner is having a good start.
Only the Vegas Golden Knights have their goaltenders both clocking in positively, led by Calgary-product Logan Thompson.
Central Division goaltenders
The Central Division sees a sparser plot, mostly driven by four teams only playing one goaltender so far. Oettinger leads the entire league with the most GSAx with exactly 5.00, and he’s followed distantly by former Vezina winner Connor Hellebuyck as well as Alex Stalock.
Both Juuse Saros and Karel Vejmelka have been busy goaltenders, none more busy than the latter. Vejmelka had the most shots against at 123, and has managed to be just a smidge under breakeven GSAx.
The Central not only has the best GSAx performance, but also the worst.
The Minnesota Wild have two of the worst goaltenders in the league right now, with Fleury being dead last, already clocking in -6.44 GSAx (and is the only goaltender below -5.00), and Filip Gustavsson isn’t far behind.
Metropolitan Division goaltenders
The Metropolitan Division has a mix of good and bad. Hart has been the busiest goaltender in the division (to the discredit of the Flyers’ shot suppression), but he’s also been the best. Ilya Sorokin is not far behind in terms of GSAx, but his workload has been much lighter.
Vitek Vanecek has quite a low GSAx coupled with being one of the least busy goaltenders, seeing only 22 shots thus far.
The New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins have uncannily similar goaltending, with Igor Shesterkin and Tristan Jarry being busier, yet both uuder 1.00 GSAx, whille Jaroslav Halak and Casey DeSmith are both ever so slightly above 0.00 GSAx. Can’t get parallels closer than that.
Atlantic Division goaltenders
Some of the strongest goaltending so far has come from the Atlantic, with four teams seeing their tandems all display positive GSAx.
The busiest goaltender in the division has been Anton Forsberg, and he’s the goaltender that is the closest to 0.00 GSAx in the whole league with a -0.05.
While Toronto has had goaltending issues, both with regards to injuries and GSAx, they aren’t last in the division. Instead, Boston’s Jeremy Swayman finds himself alone in the division with the lowest GSAx of -4.46.
League-wide notes on GSAx
The New York Islanders have the highest GSAx in the league with the tandem of Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov combining for 5.21 GSAx, while the Wild are well below that mark with the leage’s lowest -10.18 GSAx.
Since Forsberg has been the Senators’ only starter, Ottawa thus has the most expected goaltending outcome. If looking at tandems, it’d be the Oilers’ Campbell and Skinner whose contrasting performances balance out the most, nearly reaching breakeven at 0.44 GSAx.
Expectations on goaltending
Again, while the season is still young, goaltending stories definitely steal headlines very early on. From some fans and pundits already beating on the Oettinger-for-Vezina drums, to others who are in disbelief of Fleury’s collapse in Minnesota, there’s no shortage of both early analysis and early banter.
We’ll see how goaltending transpires throughout the season, so stay tuned for more!
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