Special teams play is an important factor to take into account in hockey statistical analysis, because hockey is a different game depending on how many skaters are on each side. Not surprisingly, a goalie's job gets much more difficult when his team takes a penalty. With one fewer defender the opposition has the time and space to set up in the offensive zone and move the puck around to create quality scoring chances. Power play shots are among the most dangerous shots a goalie faces, particularly when the team is playing two men short. Here are the average GAA and save percentage numbers for goalies this year in different situations:
5 on 5: 2.39 GAA, .917 save %
4 on 5: 6.71 GAA, .870 save %
3 on 4: 16.05 GAA, .819 save %
3 on 5: 19.07 GAA, .819 save %
These numbers show that it pays off to avoid taking penalties. As broadcasters will tell you, a goalie is the team's most important penalty killer. However, the goalie has little impact on the number of penalty kill shots he faces. That number is determined by how often his team takes a penalty, and how good they are at killing off the ones that they take. As the numbers above show, a great goalie playing shorthanded is much more likely to give up a goal than a mediocre goalie playing with five skaters on each side.
Discipline varies from team to team. So far this season New Jersey has faced the fewest opposing power plays with 95, while Anaheim has already had to kill off a league-leading 159. Not surprisingly, the Ducks have allowed a lot more goals against than the Devils on the PK (33 to 18), even though they aren't too far behind in terms of PK success rate (81.0% for New Jersey, 79.2% for Anaheim).
To illustrate the impact on goalies, here is a breakdown of the percentage of shots faced at each game state for the primary goaltenders on the two teams:
Martin Brodeur: 84.1% EV, 12.9% PK, 3.0% PP
J.S. Giguere: 75.7% EV, 21.4% PK, 2.9% PP
Jonas Hiller: 76.8% EV, 21.5% PK, 1.7% PP
One out of every 4.5 shots against Hiller this season came while his team was shorthanded. For Brodeur, just 1 out of every 7.8 shots against was during a dangerous penalty kill scenario.
The Devils have been not only been good at avoiding penalties, but also above average at preventing shots against while playing shorthanded. This means that of all the starting goalies in the league Brodeur has faced the lowest percentage of his shots while his team was shorthanded. However, there are other goalies that have had the similar advantage of playing on a disciplined team. Here are the top 10 this year in goalies with the lowest percentage of shots faced on the penalty kill (min. 10 GP):
1. Martin Brodeur, NJ: 12.9%
2. Chris Osgood, DET: 13.3%
3. Jose Theodore, WSH: 14.8%
4. Dan Ellis, NSH: 14.8%
5. Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, EDM: 14.9%
6. Ryan Miller, BUF: 15.2%
7. Marc-Andre Fleury, PIT: 15.3%
8. Tomas Vokoun, FLA: 15.5%
9. Scott Clemmensen, FLA: 15.6%
10. Mike Smith, TBL: 16.0%
And at the other end of the scale, here are the goalies that have faced the highest percentage of shorthanded shots:
1. Mathieu Garon, CBJ: 26.5%
2. Cam Ward, CAR: 26.0%
3. Pascal Leclaire, OTT: 25.5%
4. Antero Niittymaki, TBL: 24.8%
5. Brian Elliott, OTT: 23.1%
6. Johan Hedberg, ATL: 22.7%
7. Miikka Kiprusoff, CGY: 22.2%
8. Ty Conklin, STL: 22.1%
9. J.S. Giguere, ANA: 21.5%
10. Jonas Hiller, ANA: 21.4%
Calgary is the only top team to have a goalie on the second list while several of the league’s best squads appear on the first one, including both defending Stanley Cup finalists. Some fantasy leagues award points for penalty minutes, but in real life taking penalties is clearly a detriment. The correlation coefficient this year between times shorthanded per game and winning percentage is -0.55.
It is interesting to see a Tampa Bay goalie appear on both lists. For some reason the team has been much more disciplined with Smith in net. Despite this disadvantage Niittymaki has been the better goaltender, with a .921 save percentage compared to Smith’s .897.
Having already discussed Anaheim’s problem of taking penalties, it is not surprising to see both Ducks goalies make the top 10. Giguere and Hiller have not only faced a lot of opposing power plays, but their undisciplined teammates have often put even more pressure on them by forcing them to defend 5-on-3s and 4-on-3s, where the average shooting percentage more than doubles compared to 5-on-5 play. A lightly penalized team rarely takes two at the same time while a heavily penalized is much more likely to get called twice in quick succession, which really compounds the positive or negative effects of team discipline.
Fewest 5-on-3 and 4-on-3 shots against:
1. New Jersey, 2
2. Washington, 5
3. Vancouver, 7
3. Chicago, 7
3. Los Angeles, 7
Most 5-on-3 and 4-on-3 shots against:
1. Anaheim, 33
2. Montreal, 27
3. Calgary, 26
4. Atlanta, 25
5. Florida, 22
5. Tampa Bay, 22
Anaheim has given up six goals already this year in those situations, while Montreal has been scored on seven times. In contrast, New Jersey and Vancouver have yet to allow a single goal. That is partly because those two teams have very good goaltenders, but it is mostly because they were rarely put in that difficult position.
Special team factors make up much of the differences in shot quality between goaltenders around the league. For example, a goalie who has a league average save percentage in every game situation would be expected to have a save percentage of about .913 playing for the New Jersey Devils and .908 playing for the Anaheim Ducks from special teams factors alone, assuming no other shot quality effects. A great goalie can help a penalty kill, but the best strategy to help the goalie’s statistics and to improve the team’s chances of winning the game is to avoid getting whistled in the first place.
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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