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“Goaltending is voodoo”.
That quote comes from a member of the hockey analytics community who goes by the Twitter handle of @67Sound. It’s not far from the truth, either. Goaltending has a long and storied history – and evolution – but there is still not a lot known about the position. Well, not a lot known objectively anyway.
Here’s what can be said about goaltending:
- The best way to measure goaltending talent is 5-on-5 save percentage. It’s something some people struggle with; the notion that “this goalie saves shots more often than that goalie and that makes him better” is a mental hurdle. Some think as if goalies “who can make the timely saves” have a special talent for making saves at critical times. This “clutch” factor thought process is pervasive, and ill-informed.
- It takes a long, long time for goalies to establish a baseline that can be used. Eric Tulsky found that it can take upwards of 5000 even-strength shots to get to a reliable sample size. For reference, Henrik Lundqvist faced about 1400 5-on-5 shots last year. This means that it can take more than three full NHL seasons for a goalie’s true talent level to emerge.
- A goaltender’s overall save percentage can be at the mercy of penalty kill save percentages: Cory Schneider had a similar 5-on-5 save percentage (.9237) to Jonas Hiller (.9238) last year. Schneider’s save percentage at 5-on-4 was .9231, though, while Hiller’s was .8531. That was a big reason for the discrepancy in overall save percentages (.926 for Schneider, .911 for Hiller). These can vary wildly from year to year. Some teams (Pittsburgh) are very good at suppressing shots on the power play from year to year, others (Toronto) are not. Most, though, float somewhere in the middle.
That needed to be laid out before we analyze the focus of this article, Los Angeles starting goalie Jonathan Quick.
Quick was drafted in the third round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Like most goalies, he took a while in the minor leagues to develop, and wasn’t a full-time starter for the Kings until 2009.
Goaltenders are getting bigger and bigger. There was an article a few years ago from James Mirtle of The Globe And Mail that showed the average NHL goalie was just a shade under 6-foot-2. That makes sense: the foundation of goaltending is the “butterfly” style. That’s essentially where a goalie challenges a shooter, taking away the bottom part of the net where most goals are scored. Bigger goalies will take away more of the bottom, and more of the top once they are on their knees. The following picture, taken from the blog SoCal Goaltending, shows the discrepancy of four inches:
That’s why big goaltenders are becoming the norm. Look at the space above the shoulders and the overall space on the glove side.
The Derek Jeter of the NHL
Standing 6-foot-1, Quick is not a “small” goalie. He is below-average, though, and that forces him to play with a different style than someone like Ben Bishop who stands 6-foot-7. This bears out a lot in Quick’s performances. Go to YouTube and watch any of his highlight videos; Quick stretches his pad out with the best of them.
That brings me to the next point: Jonathan Quick might be the Derek Jeter of goaltenders. Jeter, the former shortstop for the New York Yankees, routinely made “spectacular”-looking defensive plays at shortstop. Eventually, it would come to light that Jeter was making these “spectacular” plays that other shortstops could make with relative ease, and it was because he had limited range. Could the same not be said about Jonathan Quick? Watch goalies like Carey Price and Bishop. They have their highlights, to be sure, but their size allows them to make what would be spectacular saves look routine because they have the extra length.
Quick’s highlight reel is impressive because he has to play the way he does. His size doesn’t allow him to sit in the crease and take away most of the net. He has to play at the top, or outside of, his crease. When passes go side-to-side, because of his aggressive positioning, Quick has further to go to cover the net, by at least a couple of feet. The following diagram was taken from NHL.com. It’s easy to see that a goalie playing on the goal line will have much less distance to travel going side-to-side than a goalie at the top of their crease:
The NHL is a side-to-side game in the offensive zone, now, and that makes life miserable for goalies like Quick.
All this is backed up by the numbers. Here is how Quick has done in intervals since becoming a regular in the NHL:
- From 2008-2014 (332 games): 17th out of 24 goalies in save percentage with at least 10,000 minutes played at 5-on-5.
- From 2010-2012 (130 games, Quick’s best two-season stretch of his career): 6th out of 25 goalies with at least 4000 minutes played at 5-on-5.
- From 2012-2014 (86 games, following his career-year 2011-2012): 21st out of 27 goalies with at least 3000 minutes played at 5-on-5.
- From 2009-2014 (288 games, since Quick became a regular starter): 13th out of 18 goalies with at least 10,000 minutes played at 5-on-5.
Even in Quick’s best two-year stretch (2010-2012), he still wasn’t among the top 20-percent of goaltenders in save percentage at even strength. In every other interval, he’s not even at the median.
Of course, he’s been good in the playoffs, being fourth out of 10 goalies with at least 20 games played in the last three postseasons in save percentage. That’s still not among the elite, though.
His Goals Against Average (not a goalie stat, by the way) will look good because of his team. He’s also making way too much money to ever get benched. He’s not among the elite goalies in the NHL, though. He’s not even close.
*As always, thanks to Hockey Analysis, Hockey Reference, and NHL.com for their resources.
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