Breaking down the five best goaltender performances of the NHL’s first half

HC at Noon discussion on how journeymen Carter Hutton and Jeff Glass as well as the whole Vegas goaltending situation, has brought into question the importance of teams spending at that position.

After breaking down the top forward lines and defence pairings of the first half of the 2017-18 NHL season, it’s time to get into goaltending. When we looked at goaltending through the first quarter of the season, we narrowed things down to even strength only, as we’ve done with the skaters, and we’ll continue with that methodology here.

In order to qualify, goaltenders needed to start at least 20 games, and like before we’re looking at more than just pure save percentage to judge quality, as we want to know which performances are most sustainable, and who is contributing the most to their own shot quality.

With all that in mind, here are the top goaltenders through the first half of the season.

Be aware that in order to increase the contrast in these big numbers I started the y-axis (vertical) at 30 per cent.

With the forwards and defencemen we had three holdovers each from the first quarter making the top-five at the halfpoint, whereas with the goalies we only have two; Corey Crawford and Braden Holtby. That makes sense when you consider that the amount of data we collect for skaters is much more varied, and goaltender performance is a bit more variable.

Sergei Bobrovsky and Mike Smith finished sixth and seventh when I broke it down though, so it’s not quite as variable as it looks from the top-five.

The biggest mover from the first quarter has been Henrik Lundqvist, who at 35-years-old is posting the top high danger save percentage in the NHL. His weak spot seems to be shots from the high slot coming from his left side, where he is below league average. He kicks out rebounds at the second highest rate among this top group with 63.5% of his shots faced resulting in rebounds, but the Rangers do a great job in recovering those, and Lundqvist himself is excellent at fighting through traffic and recovering rebounds that end up in front of him in the inner slot.

Crawford gets my vote as the top goaltender in the league so far this season. I don’t think the Blackhawks are very good defensively, and Crawford boasts the second highest high danger save percentage in the league, with the lowest percentage of the shots he faces ending up in the inner slot for high danger chances against. The Blackhawks don’t do a great job picking up his rebounds, but Crawford has been brilliant at fighting to cover loose pucks that do end up in front of him. He’s been below average from the right side of the ice in the high slot, which makes sense when you look at Chicago’s right side defence. Crawford deserves so much more love than he gets.

Andrei Vasilevskiy has the top even strength save percentage in the NHL, but he’s a step behind Crawford and Lundqvist in high danger save percentage. He makes up for that gap by being excellent from the high slot on both sides, though he doesn’t face as many tough shots as most goalies do. His rebound rate is the highest of the group, but most of them aren’t very dangerous, and the Lightning are among the best in the league at recovering those rebounds.

The biggest surprise for me in this group is Pekka Rinne, who has had a pretty decent season the whole way through, but had a horrible high danger or inner slot save percentage in the first quarter, but is now in the top tier after a dynamite second quarter. Rinne faces among the lowest shot quality in the NHL, but the fact is the shots that have been getting through from the slot, he’s been stopping at excellent rates from the inner and high slot. He puts more rebounds into the high danger area than any other goalie in this group, and isn’t quite as strong at covering them up, but that hasn’t hurt him yet.

Finally we come to Holtby, who remains the mark of consistency for NHL goalies. Holtby isn’t the best in any save percentage category here, but he has the lowest rebound rate of anyone, and recovers an incredible 99% of the rebounds he does let drop in the high danger area. He isn’t perfect, but Holtby is essentially exactly what coaches want in a goaltender, he doesn’t put his team in bad situations due to his technical prowess. He’s a safe bet every single night.

If I was voting on the Vezina right now, Crawford would be my lead candidate, but with half a season left, and how crazily goaltending can fluctuate, it’s far too early to say who will be the best by April.

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