Behind the Numbers:"Playoff Goaltending"

[Mgmt Note: Please welcome another Dan to the NM fold. DanStatMan1 has kindly agreed to jump on board and keep an eye on the stats world for Vancouver fans. If you have Corsi, Fenwick or PDO questions or concerns, Dan's the man. Welcome to the aslyum Dan, you get free cookies at noon]

As the Canucks approach the playoffs its time to start our series analyzing what it take to win the cup? First up, what many feel is the most important position - "Goaltending"? There is no question that Roberto Luongo is a lighting rod in Vancouver. He has taken a large portion of the blame for past Canuck playoff failures. It is time to look behind the numbers to see if these criticisms are justified.

The only fair and reasonable way to evaluate a player`s performance is against the best of their peers. Evaluating goaltending is always a tricky business. Using basic win - loss stats is problematic.. Save % is the most common measurement, however, each individual game performance is obviously more important in the playoffs. So, I decided on using Quality Starts, Non-Quality Starts, and Blow-ups as these advanced stats evaluate the performance of the goalie in each game,and gives us familiar win loss totals, but still use save% as their foundation.

Quality Starts (QS):(created by Hockey : It is a concept borrowed from Baseball and used for pitchers. A goalie gets a Quality Start if he posts an above average median save % of .913 or allows 2 goals or less. Teams win approx. 75% of these games. It can be considered a win (W)

Non-Quality Start (NQS): Any game that is not a Quality Start. Teams win approx. 25% of these games. It can be considered a Loss (L)

Blow ups (BU): Really bad games ,.850 or lower sve. percentage or games in which the goalie lets in 5 goals or more and does not face at least 40 shots.Teams only win 15% of these games.

Quality Start % (QS%): Quality Start divided by total number of starts.

Okay, lets see how Luongo stacks up against the best goaltending during the playoffs since the Lockout:

Top Goalies Quality Starts % QS(W) NQS (L) Blow ups (BU)
Actual W%
Actual (W-L) Diff. (+/-)
T. Thomas 70% 30 13 4
60% 26-17 (+10%)
C. Osgood 68% 28 13
71% 29-12 (-3%)
R. Luongo 62% 36 22 13
32-27 (+8%)
R. Miller 57% 27 20 6
53% 25-22
C. Ward 56% 23 18 3
23-18 ( 0%)
M. Fleury 54% 37 32 12
41-28 (- 5%)
H. Lundquvist 51% 18 17 8
(+ 8%)
A. Niemi
50% 20 20 10
24-19 (-12%)
M Brodeur
49% 18 19 3
15-22 ( + 8%)
Top Goalies (ave.) 57% 26 19 7 55%
26-21 (+ 2%)

We do see that Thomas and Osgood are the clear leaders in performance. It is important to note that even with Quality Starts goaltending performance is still impacted by team defence. For example, Thomas and Osgood both had the benefit of playing behind Norris trophy winning defencemen - N. Lidstrom and Z. Chara. Yes, Luongo does have a high Blow up %. However, he is still a solid third with over 60% (QS), an above average performance when rated against the best goalies. QS% is an improvement over straightforward wins and losses.

Next, we will borrow another stat from baseball - runs support. Of course, we will call it goal support - to refer to the goals a goalie gets by his team. This is to see the contribution of the offense when a goalie is playing. We will also add the stat Bailouts to indicate the number of times a team wins or bailouts the goalie when they do not register a quality start.

Top Goalies Goal Support Team Bailouts
C. Osgood 3.3 15%
A. Niemi 3.2 20%
T. Thomas 3.2 9%
M. Fleury 3 16%
R. Miller 2.9 9%
C. Ward 2.7 8%
R. Luongo 2.55 7%
M. Brodeur 2.5 9%
H. Lundqvist 2.4 9%
Top Goalies (ave) 2.9 7%

Which team would you prefer to play behind? - We can clearly see that for the top goalies, it has not been an even playing field. As an aside, we can see why Chris Osgood was not chosen for the Canadian Olympic team even by his own coach Mike Babcock, and why I feel he should not be considered for the hall of fame. Vancouver`s numbers are especially surprising since Vancouver has been a top offensive team for much of Luongo`s playoff career. In fact, these stats show us that, Luongo (like Brodeur and Lundqvist) has had a far heavier load to carry. This is never brought up when criticizing his playoff performance. And, in addition to the fewer goals and lowest bailouts, Luongo has had the increased pressure of knowing his margin of error has been much finer than most other top goalies.

Let's attempt to put the results of the two tables together and calculate an Expected Win %. of each goalie. This is the method I choose to use. I took the goalie`s (QS) record and multiplied by the W% of each category. Expected Win% = Quality Start *.75 +(Non-Quality Start - Blow-ups)*.25+Blow-ups*.15. For example, Luongo (36)*.75, (9) *.25 + (13)*.15 = 31.2 expected wins / 58games= 54%. I also took Pythagorean W% of each team with an average goalie. 2.76 goals against is the average goals against of all playoff games since the lockout. For example, Van. Goal support 2.55^2 / (2.55^2+2.76^2) = 46%

Top Goalies Expected W% Pythag. W%( ave. goalie)
(+/-) % ave.
R. Luongo 54% 46% (+ 8%)
H. Lundqvist 48% 42%
M. Brodeur 49% 45% (+4%)
C. Ward 52% 49% (+3%)
T. Thomas
59% 57% (+2%)
C. Osgood
59% 59% (+0%)
R. Miller
52% 53% (-1%)
M. Fleury 50% 54% (-4%)
A. Niemi 48% 58% (-10%)

Not surprisingly, we again see Thomas and Osgood have performed the best, each posting an impressive 59% Expected Win%. However, we see that their performance was not really needed by their team, when compared to expected results with an average goalie. Luongo, on the other hand, is again a solid third. This analysis does seem to confirm as far as value to his team, Luongo is the leader. We also see the benefit of advanced Hockey stats (ADS) analysis as it really helps to explain why Vancovuer fans and media care so much about the performance of Luongo. They have too! Perhaps fans are intuitively aware just how much is required and needed of Luongo by his team to perform at a high level, when compared to other top goalies.

In addition, its interesting that Fleury and Niemi are both Stanley Cup winners and this fact is often used to justify that they are top performers.Yet, even with their team success, this analysis seems to show that they have actually `hurt` their team and performed below what could be expected by an average goalie with their team. San Jose has suffered this year because of Niemni, and his erratic play and it will be interesting to see how Fleury performs behind one of this year's Cup favorites, the Penguins. In any event, both netminders have been extremely fortunate or lucky to have played with the elite goal scoring teams they have.

We can also perform the same analysis with individual seasons looking at what type of playoff goalie performance is needed to win the cup!

Cup winners Quality Starts % QS(W) NQS (L)
Anaheim 07 67% 14 7
Detroit 08 67% 16 8
Boston 11 67% 17 8
Carolina 06 56% 14 11
Vancovuver 11 56% 14 11
Pittsburgh 09 54% 14 12
Chicago 10 50% 11 11

Once again, we notice that Luongo`s performance last year was solid. and, good enough to win the cup on other cup worthy teams. We again notice the benefit of team defence as the top three teams, Anaheim, Detroit, and Boston have Norris Trophy defenders with Anaheim having had the luxury of two studs! - (Pronger, Neidermayer).

Let`s check out the Cup winners offensive support:

Cup winners Goal Support Team Bailouts 4+ Goal Games
Chicago 10 3.5 6 9
Pittsburgh 09 3.3 4 9
Detroit 08
3.3 3 8
Boston 11 3.2 3 10
Carolina 06 2.9 3 9
Anaheim 07 2.8 3 5
Vancouver 11 2.3 2 3
(ave) 2.7 3.7


The evidence is overwhelming! Luongo should sue for non-support! Vancouver`s offense was well below average. Given it`s the playoffs, and Vancouver`s cup starved hockey market, It is no wonder that Luongo has felt extreme pressure in playoff games. Oh ya! if only the Canucks manage to score 4 goals in one more game... game seven...?...Argh!

Finally, let`s look at Expected Wins of cup winners with an average Goalie.

Cup winners Expected W% (QS) Expected Wins (ave. goalie) Wins (+/-)Ave.
Vancouver 11 13 wins
10.5 wins
(2.5) wins
Anaheim 07 13.5 12 (+1.5)
Detroit 08
14 13 (+1)
Boston 11 14.5 14.5 (0)
Carolina 06 13 13 (0)
Pittsburgh 09 13 14 (-1)
Chicago 10 10.5 13.5 (-3)
(ave.) 12 13 (.5)


There is no question that Tim Thomas played the best in last years playoffs, and has has the best playoff career. However, as far as value to his team, Luongo is most valuable! This is true even with his high blow-up%. This is a stat he must improve. Or, knowing this tendency coach A.V. ought to pull Luongo quicker, in games that he is obviously having `one of those nights` (i.e. after two quick bad goals). He has been very unlucky to have had very low goal support in his playoff career, and therefore has received unfair criticism.The objective analysis shows that Luongo has been an elite performer in the playoffs when measured against his peers and not some other mythical scale! He has played well enough for the team to win the cup.

Moving forward, we have established Luongo's elite performance in the past but we still need to evaluate the decision, who to start this year? We will look at the current goalie controversy - Luongo vs. Schniender?- in the next post. Also, it is clear that the Canucks have relied on their goaltending much more than other elite teams during the playoffs..For Canuck fans, this will have to change if we are to hoist the trophy. I will look behind the numbers, to see how other important key elements of the game (i.e., goal scoring, team defense, special teams, coaching, intangibles) are in order to determine what it takes to win the cup. .As always, any feedback, comments,criticisms or disagreements are welcomed and encouraged!

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