Can These NHL Teams Overcome Goaltending Issues In Time For Playoffs?

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Goaltending is a highly unpredictable position in hockey, with many variables that can impact a goaltender’s performance, including playing style, team defense, and luck.

 

While traditional statistics such as Goals Against Average (GAA) and Save Percentage (Sv%) provide some insight into a goaltender’s play, they do not account for these factors and may not provide a complete picture of their performance. There’s still room for improvement, but newer metrics such as goals saved above expected, have emerged to provide a more comprehensive look at a goaltender’s performance.

Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx) is a metric that measures a goaltender’s performance by calculating the number of goals they have prevented compared to what would be expected based on the quality and quantity of shots they faced i.e., xGA – GA. 

This article uses GSAx to analyze three goaltenders that bettors might have some concerns about as they get set to lead their teams into the NHL playoffs.

Jake Oettinger

Jake Oettinger stood on his head in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2022, and that carried over into the regular season as only four goaltenders (Sorokin, Saros, Ullmark and Hellebuyck) had a better GSAx than Oettinger through the first four months of the regular season. February and March have not been easy for Oettinger, though, and he ranks among the bottom-10 goaltenders in GSAx over his last 15 games.

On the surface, this isn’t the first time Oettinger has had a tough stretch this season, as he posted an .891 save percentage in the month of November. However, his GSAx (-0.59) suggests that his play resembled that of a league average goaltender over the course of those eight games and that isn’t the case here. Oettinger has allowed approximately six goals above expected over the last two months.

Now, the Stars have been good on offense, so this hasn’t resulted in a losing record, but Oettinger has positioned himself as the Star’s backbone and it’s hard to imagine the team going far in the playoffs if he isn’t on the top of his game. Dallas has 10 regular season games remaining and could end up finding themselves playing a team like the Avalanche in the first round if they don’t hold onto top spot in the Central Division.

Why I’m not worried: Oettinger hasn’t been terrible. He’s only played a handful of bad games. He just hasn’t been a world beater. However, he forth one of his best performances of the season in the Stars’ 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday. Pittsburgh, who was on the second half of a back-to-back, registered 42 shots, but Oettinger saved 40 and, in the process, saved his team approximately three goals above expected according to Evolving Hockey. If the Stars lose in the playoffs, it will likely be because they don’t have enough Star power. No pun intended.

Vitek Vanecek

New Jersey has shown that they can be a great regular season team, but the playoffs are a different beast and their status as a contender will put to the test once they begin. Through the lens of expected goals, the Devils are one of the best defensive teams in the NHL, ranking second in expected goals against over the last two months. Only the Hurricanes have been better. However, when you look at the other top teams in the Eastern Conference, The Devils’ goaltending just doesn’t match up.

Vitek Vanecek was great to start the year, ranking 10th in GSAx (14.33) and posting a .923 save percentage, but since the start of February, the 27-year-old has posted the seventh-worst mark (-5.52) in that category. The Devils are a good team, but when matched up against the other top teams in the Eastern Conference, they’re just 9-10 year-to-date. If Vanecek’s game is off in the playoffs, they might not be able to make up the difference.

Why I’m worried: Vanecek had 77 NHL games under his belt heading into this season and his underlying metrics were not good (-10.34 GSAx) overall. That started to mean less as the sample size grew for Vanecek this season and he continued to buck the trend, but as his play seemingly reverts, confidence in his abilities continues to dwindle.

Tristan Jarry

After a stellar campaign, Penguins’ goaltender Tristan Jarry missed the last month of the 2021-22 regular season with a broken foot. When he returned, the Penguins were in a fight for their playoff lives in Game 7 versus the New York Rangers. Jarry started that game and allowed four goals in the loss. This season, he showed signs of greatness ranking among the top-15 goalies in GSAx throughout the first four months of the regular season, but once again, his availability was impacted by injuries, and he only played 27 games.

Since returning, Jarry has gone 5-7 straight up with an .876 save percentage and ranks second-worst in GSAx behind only Oilers’ goaltender Jack Campbell. Jarry has cost his team approximately 10 goals more than what an average goaltender would have during that stretch (if you take GSAx at face value) and now it looks like the 27-year-old is out again with a lower body injury after missing Thursday’s game versus Dallas.

Why I’m worried: Jarry is a good goaltender, but it seems the hip injury that has been plaguing him is worse than the Penguins are letting on. Pittsburgh hasn’t solidified themselves as a playoff team, but – even if they do make it – they might have to give up on putting their hopes on Jarry, who is might not be 100 percent again this season.