The Detroit Red Wings ought not to be too down on themselves; they aren’t the first team to lose a playoff series running into a hot goaltender, and they certainly won’t the be the last. For a brief indicator of just how good Rinne played this series, take into account that, in Game 5 last night, when the Nashville Predators eliminated the Red Wings, Rinne allowed one goal on 21 shots faced at even strength.
Obviously, he stopped 20 of them, which actually dropped his even strength save percentage total from .962 to a mere .960, which probably isn’t the highest in a series history, but it is the highest among playoff goaltenders who played a full round since the lockout.
Where do the best rank? Among goaltenders who won the Stanley Cup, Tim Thomas put up a .949 in last season. Somehow, Chris Osgood in 2008 had a .945, which was slightly higher than J-S Giguere’s .944 a season prior. Cam Ward won a Conn Smythe and a Stanley Cup double in 2006, putting up a .937 even strength save percentage, and two goalies who were carried by their teams to the championship, Antti Niemi in 2010 and Marc-André Fleury in 2009, had .918 and .914, respectively.
Of course, those goaltenders all had the unfortunate disadvantage of having to play more games. Rinne has been great, for sure, but there’s no chance that he maintains a .960 through the entire playoffs. That’s unimaginable. Ditto Jonathan Quick’s .955 and Braden Holtby’s .946. Simply put, too much can happen over the course of so many games, and one bad start will bring you from a .960 back to a territory normally occupied for human goalkeepers.
To get over this hurdle, I created a simple formula last year that I think ought to be rolled out, something I use to compare goaltenders over different periods of time. Cam Ward’s .937 save percentage in 2006, for example, could be considered better than Osgood’s .945 in 2008. In 2006, the average even strength save percentage among playoff goaltenders was .921, in 2008, it was .927. Who knows what causes this (maybe it’s just worse goaltenders) but we’re looking for a goalie’s overall value to his team.
By looking at what an average goaltender would stop that year, and comparing it to how many pucks were actually stopped, you get a solid + or – figure for goals given up. The average goaltender in 2011 would have stopped 92.1% of the 690 shots faced by Tim Thomas, which is 635. Thomas stopped 655, which makes him about 20 goals better than the average goalie.
This corrects save percentage for both era and games played. A save in 2009, when the average save percentage at even strength was .919, is more valuable than this season where the average is .921. Here’s the chart, for both regular season and playoffs:
For anybody wondering how Antti Niemi and Marc-André Fleury were ever able to win Stanley Cups, well, that happened in years where not many goalies were making lots of saves in the postseason.
Who knows why? Defensive scheming, smaller pucks, better goaltending or a season-long anomaly? Overall save percentage has been on a slow rise since 2006, and in the playoffs it’s a lot more fluid.
This allows us to better rank Rinne, as he stands right now. I call it “SOAG” (Saves Over Average Goalie) which is easy enough to say out loud. I’m sure this has been done several times throughout history, and I’m not really trying to re-invent the wheel or rank goaltenders all-time. I’m just looking for a bit of perspective in where Rinne’s playoffs so far fits in the grand-scheme.
Rinne is 20th on the list, tied with Cristobal Huet in 2006 who was also 5 goals better than the average goalie. Not too many goaltenders who have played so few games appear in the top 25 of overall SOAG, because many goalies who were this good in a single series usually moved on. Exceptions are Marty Turco from 2007, whose Dallas Stars lost in a low-scoring series with the Vancouver Canucks, Huet, and Ryan Miller from 2010.
Now, if Pekka Rinne regresses and sees 126 more shots at his even strength save percentage for this season (.928), his SOAG will increase from 5 to 6. What I like about doing this is that it accounts for regression. A goalie with more games played has a chance to accumulate a higher SOAG. This is why I think Mike Smith is a better Vezina Trophy candidate than Jaroslav Halak. Halak had a .938 save percentage to Smith’s .936, but Smith faced about 800 more shots, accounting for a big difference in overall value. We don’t have to take “minimum starts, minimum shots faced” when ranking goaltenders, and can simply plug in the totals.
Anyway, here are the SOAG scores from the postseason thus far:
Actually, mostly I wanted to post these to show just how low Ilya Bryzgalov ranks.
Note that these probably aren’t a good indicator of how good a goalie is, it just showcases how valuable they’ve been to their team. For curious minds, here were the best goalies in SOAG from the regular season: