On Monday, December 7th, the Montreal Canadiens beat the Philadelphia Flyers 3-1. What was unusual about the game was that there were only 28 shots recorded by both teams combined, 15 by the Flyers and 13 by the Habs. The high number of blocked and missed shots by both teams resulted in the lowest combined shot total in a game since the lockout.
Shots against vary from team to team and impact an individual goalie’s statistics, even though all indications are that goalies have little control over the number of shots they face. For example, Florida has allowed the most shots against in the league this season at 35.1 per game, which is 45% higher than the 24.2 shots per game against Chicago. (Note: It appears that rinks around the league do not record shots in exactly the same way, which likely impacts the results presented here.)
This means that some goalies get used to seeing a lot more rubber than others. Neither Carey Price nor Brian Boucher, the two starters in the Habs-Flyers game, are accustomed to such light workloads. That was the first game in Price’s career that he played a full game and faced 18 shots against or fewer, while Boucher has only faced 18 shots against or less in one other game in the past three seasons (a game earlier this year against Atlanta).
If we define a low shot game as when the goalie plays the entire game and faces 18 shots against or fewer, here are the goalies with the most low shot games over the past three seasons (2007-08, 2008-09, and 2009-10):
Rank Player Low Shot Games
1. Evgeni Nabokov 20
2. Miikka Kiprusoff 14
3. Marty Turco 10
4. Chris Osgood 9
4. Cristobal Huet 9
4. Dominik Hasek 9
7. Cam Ward 7
7. Henrik Lundqvist 7
7. Roberto Luongo 7
10. Fredrik Norrena 6
10. Martin Brodeur 6
10. Pascal Leclaire 6
10. Rick DiPietro 6
Nabokov is the clear leader by this category, which is perhaps not surprising since he is the starting goalie on the team with the most wins over this timespan.
Here are the stats in those games for the top 6 goalies on the list:
Player Record GAA SV% SO
Evgeni Nabokov 12-6-2 1.99 .872, 2
Miikka Kiprusoff 9-5-0 1.65 .898, 1
Chis Osgood 8-1-0 1.44 .908, 2
Cristobal Huet 8-1-0 1.66 .901, 1
Dominik Hasek 8-1-0 1.77 .886, 1
Marty Turco 5-5-0 2.22 .872, 0
Having a light workload appears to help a goalie rack up wins, shutouts and an impressive GAA, but apparently it doesn’t help save percentages, since Osgood was the only one with a save percentage close to league average.
The overall record for all goalies in low shot games was 127-71-12. The average GAA was 1.82 while the average save percentage was .888. The goalies also combined for 26 shutouts in 210 games.
The evidence suggests that there are three main reasons that cause one goalie to face an unusually low number of shots:
1. The goalie plays on the superior team, which dominates puck possession and heavily outshoots their opponent
Often one team allowed fewer shots because their shooters did a great job of keeping the puck in the offensive zone. The average number of shots faced by the opposite goalie in these games was 32.2 shots per 60, nearly double the 16.2 average of the goalies involved in the low shot games. That is why goalies from the San Jose Sharks, Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks placed high on the list and have so many easy nights.
2. The goalie’s team falls behind on the scoreboard, and the other team plays a more defensive style to hold onto the lead
Here are the combined low shot numbers again, broken down by wins and losses:
In wins: 1.35 GAA, .916 save percentage
In losses: 2.87 GAA, .826 save percentage
It is not surprising that winning teams tend to have higher save percentages, but this save percentage split is much larger than normal (this year goalies have averaged .939 in all wins and .873 in all losses). Even though these teams outshot their opponents by a 2-to-1 margin on average, they still lost 40% of the time. This indicates that often a goalie does not have a low save percentage because of a low shot total, but rather that he has a low shot total because of a low save percentage. That is, the other team scored a few goals to get out in front, and then became more concerned with holding onto their lead than in chasing insurance goals.
3. Both teams play a low-event game
It is unusual that both teams have a very low shot total, but it occasionally happens when a team comes into a game with the strategy of keeping the game close by reducing scoring chances and blocking a lot of shots.
These numbers show how playing in games with lower than average shot totals have an impact on goalie stats. Goalies on teams that are good at preventing shots will post lower GAA numbers, and probably also high win and shutout totals. Interestingly, the evidence also suggests that facing a low number of shots tends to result in a lower save percentage. There are several possible explanations for this. One is that the ratio of power play shots to even strength shots may be higher, since a dominant team can prevent shots through puck possession at 5 on 5 but will not be able to control the puck while shorthanded. Another theory is that goaltenders perform better when they see more shots against, although there is some evidence to contradict that one. Or perhaps it is a result of shot quality, as the team with fewer possessions takes more of their shots off of the rush. In any event, shots against need to be taken into consideration when evaluating goalies.
Philip Myrland is an author of Puck Prospectus and runs the statistical hockey website Brodeur Is A Fraud. You can contact him at BrodeurIsAFraud@Inbox.com.
Philip Myrland is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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