The 2023 NHL Trade Deadline has come and gone and now the final push for the playoffs is underway. The goaltending landscape barely changed with the biggest move probably being Jonathan Quick ending up with the Vegas Golden Knights while Joonas Korpisalo got a change in scenery going from Columbus to Los Angeles.
As for other goalies in the league, most remained with their teams past the deadline. How do things look now in the goals saved above expected front? Here’s the latest update with goalie performances on the season.
Goals saved above expected
If you’ve seen these plots before, please feel free to scroll right down and start checking out the visualisations. Otherwise, here’s a quick explainer on how to read the GSAx charts.
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. All data is from NaturalStatTrick.com.
Season-to-date goals saved above expected plots up to March 7, 2023
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 their own data point; the fewer shots, the darker.
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.
The scales account for different maximum and minimum GSAx values, but as above, all four divisions are scaled together to make the season-to-date comparisons easier. The scale spans -30.0 to 40.0 GSAx. This is the biggest span so far this season, and it also signals that the between the NHL’s very best goalie and the worst, there’s been an differential of nearly 70 goals—one goalie has saved nearly 40 extra goals while another has let in nearly 30 more.
Pacific Division goaltenders
Right away the Pacific Division is seen skewed towards the left hand side of the chart. No goalie in the division has been particularly good. Stuart Skinner has been the division’s best goalie for pretty much the entire season, but he hasn’t elevated himself to be in the same conversation as better goalies in other divisions.
A fairly large number of goalies float right around the expected mark as well, but this is also due to limited gameplay. As seen by several goalies with basically black data markers, their shots against is minimal. This includes Quick with the Golden Knights, Joey Daccord with the Kraken, Korpisalo with the Kings, and one of the season’s best stories, Matt Berlin coming into a game with the Oilers.
One goalie who stands out as well is John Gibson. He’s been all over the place this season, at times being among the worst in the Pacific, but he’s battled his way back to saving as many shots as expected now, and he does so as the goalie to face the most shots in the entire league, having already eclipsed the 1,600-shot mark.
However, the Pacific is also home to some of the league’s worst goalies this season. The worst overall GSAx in the league belongs to Spencer Martin as he’s the only goalie to be south of -25.0, but he’s closely followed by Jack Campbell and Kaapo Kahkonen.
Overall, goaltending has not been the Pacific’s forte whatsoever and is a large reason why the Western Conference playoff race is wide open. Most teams have used tandems (or more) as no single goalie has stood out as bonafide elite starters.
Central Division goaltenders
In stark contrast to the Pacific, some of the league’s best goalies hail from the Central Division. This includes Connor Hellebuyck, Juuse Saros, Jake Oettinger, and Filip Gustavsson.
It’s interesting to note the Gustavsson has been so good as of late that he’s propelled himself past the 20 GSAx threshold while facing fewer shots than this counterparts. He’s simply saving everything that comes his way.
Other goalies in the division are closer to expected. However, where the Pacific was skewed left, the Central is skewed to the right. The worst goalies in the Central aren’t faring as badly at all.
Metropolitan Division goaltenders
Ilya Sorokin‘s season has put him so far ahead of the competition in GSAx. He’s on the cusp of the 40 GSAx threshold and no one else is close. Interesting in the Metropolitan Division, most other goalies are performing right around expected other than for the outlier of Sorokin in the positive direction and Elvis Merzlikins in the negative direction.
Aside from those two goalies, the Metro has the tightest range for the rest of its goalies compared to the other three divisions. It’s quite fascinating just how much better Sorokin has been compared to his peers not just in the Metro but in the league.
Atlantic Division goaltenders
This year’s likely Vezina winner is none other than Linus Ullmark. His impressive record is a sight to behold and he’s really the only goalie giving Sorokin a run for the GSAx lead.
The spread in the Atlantic is fairly standard overall. No other goalies are as good as Ullmark, but no goalies are particularly doing that bad either. For goalies with high GSAx totals, more often their data markers are bright and near the top of the league. That’s not the case with Ullmark as he’s faced fewer than 1,200 shots—about 75% of the league leader in shots faced. That’s a testament to Boston’s defensive system as they’ve simply dominated all aspects of the game.
The Atlantic also mirrors the Pacific in an unexpected way and it’s goalie usage. Most teams have relied on more tandems than not. With the exception of the Tampa Bay Lightning having Andrei Vasilevskiy start the bulk of their games (to no one’s surprise), all other goalies have seen lighter workloads and are far away from the league’s busiest.
Crunch time in the crease
Every team in the league now has 20 games or fewer before their regular season campaigns conclude. The playoff races are as tight as ever and some of the teams that make the postseason will have strong goaltending performances to thank while others the crash out of the playoffs might have the bulk of the blame put onto their goalies too.
We’ll see where things end up come April, it’s time to buckle up.
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