The Kind of Goaltending That Makes a Saint Swear


Every year there are a handful of teams that start out at a certain level – good, middling, bad – and are then either impelled upward by glorious goaltending or dragged downward by shoddy goaltending. A very good team can come *this* close to missing the playoffs if it sticks with Ty Conklin; a bad team can ride Semyon Varlamov all the way to the postseason.

Guess which side of that chasm the Oilers are on this year.

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The Story

We all know how this happened. The Oilers’ roster had a lot of problems and so the team opted to go with a pair of unproven starters with good short-term track records. Sometimes it works and works brilliantly, as it has for Chicago with first Antti Niemi and then Corey Crawford, or as it has for Tampa Bay with Ben Bishop. But sometimes it blows up in the face of the team trying it.

Edmonton went with two guys without long NHL track records. Here are the career numbers for both at even-strength, along with their performance this season:

  • Goalie 1A: 0.928 SV% on 1,253 career shots entering the year; 0.890 SV% on 638 shots this season
  • Goalie 1B: 0.930 SV% on 801 career shots entering the year; 0.898 SV% on 274 shots this season

Oh, whoops. I must have mixed the data up. Those numbers actually belong to Jussi Markkanen and Ty Conklin and point to the 2005-06 season. Let’s try that again, this time including Viktor Fasth and Ben Scrivens. Goalies here are ranked by their career even-strength save percentages:

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  • Conklin: 0.930 EVSV% on 801 shots prior to 2005-06; 0.898 EVSV% on 274 shots in 2005-06
  • Markkanen: 0.928 EVSV% on 1,253 shots prior to 2005-06; 0.890 EVSV% on 638 shots in 2005-06
  • Fasth: 0.925 EVSV% on 796 shots prior to 2014-15; 0.896 EVSV% on 279 shots in 2014-15
  • Scrivens: 0.923 EVSV% on 1,717 shots prior to 2014-15; 0.898 EVSV% on 586 shots in 2014-15

Two goalies, each with a solid but short-term history, are signed to provide a team with a quality tandem. Both subsequently implode. Edmonton has read this book before, though I guarantee this time the ending doesn’t involve Dwayne Roloson.


There are (at least) two big points with goalies that are really hard for people to grasp – and when I say people here I’m including myself, believe me. One is that performance tends to vary significantly year over year, and it isn’t always team related. Another is that it takes a very long time to identify an individual goalie’s true talent level.

Let’s start with variance. Goalie performance tends to fluctuate even when the team’s defence stays more or less unchanged. It’s how Corey Crawford can post a 0.917 SV% in 57 games for Chicago one year and then post a 0.903 SV% in 57 games for Chicago the next year (goalie apologists don’t typically go after Chicago’s defence because they know how implausible it sounds). It’s how Mike Smith can post a 0.930 SV% for Arizona and then drop 20 points the very next year. For that matter, it’s part of the reason Devan Dubnyk can go from being a guy with a save percentage between 0.914-0.920 for three years behind the rebuild Oilers and then suddenly collapse in Year 4.

I’m using “variance” here to capture pretty much everything we can’t account for with our current data, which is a lot. From nagging injuries to personal circumstances to goalie coaching to mental state to plain old luck (and there’s a lot more random chance than people really like to admit in hockey) there are all kinds of factors that go into a goalie’s performance beyond a) his pure ability and b) the defensive performance of the team in front of him.

Humans like simple stories that explain all those things, and a lot of times we like those simple stories so much that sometimes we make them up. The fact is that a lot of times things are going on which we don’t know about, and for outsiders the best way to handle it that I’ve seen is simply to note that performance is unpredictable game-to-game, month-to-month and year-to-year.

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The shorthand: Henrik Lundqvist can go from being a 0.888 SV% goalie in December to being a 0.938 SV% goalie in January, as he did last year. I don’t know why that happens, though I’m content to say his defence probably didn’t get 50 points better in the span of a month. Massive fluctuation is just the nature of the position, and people need to accept that.

True Talent

So why don’t we worry about those fluctuations with Lundqvist? They can be pretty bad, after all – that 0.888 SV% run last year came on 260 shots, which is three-quarters as many as Fasth has seen this year. Going back to 2011-12, from March through April Lundqvist was a 0.895 SV% goalie on 399 shots; that’s a pretty substantial chunk of the season.

We don’t worry about them because we know what Lundqvist is. He’s been a 0.920 SV% goalie on nearly 17,000 shots over his career. There have been some peaks and valleys along the way; they balance out and we know he’s quality.

It takes a lot of shots to be sure of a goaltender, though. Brian Macdonald (now employed by the Florida Panthers) did some great work on this front, and passed along his estimate of underlying talent to SBNation’s Eric Tulsky (now employed by an unknown NHL club) in a piece that ran at SBNation.

Imagine a goalie to had posted a 0.925 SV% (better than Scrivens entering this season) on 2,500 shots (more than Scrivens had faced this season) at even-strength over his career. That’s five points better than the 0.920 EVSV% league average of the last few years; even so Macdonald’s work suggests that this goalie’s true talent could fall anywhere from 0.916 to 0.932 – a gap greater than the observed difference over the last seven seasons between Lundqvist and Dan Ellis.

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Back to the Oilers


Goalies are always gambles; there’s just no getting around that. It’s extremely hard to build up the kind of sample necessary to nail down true talent and the peaks and valleys along the way are maddening. Sometimes things start badly and snowball from there and the only solution is to go out and get a new goalie because the guy between the pipes needs a long break to get his game back together.

Edmonton’s there. Watch the video:

Shot from an impossible angle somehow finds the five-hole; no pass involved.

Straight shot from outside the scoring chances area; no pass involved.

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Goalie bites so hard on the initial shot, which is blocked, that he’s in no position to stop a shot from an impossible angle; no pass involved.

Short side from the very far corner of the scoring chances area.

Those four goals, all ranging from iffy-to-terrible, are all from the last three games, two of which have been one-goal losses. The Oilers have plenty of problems, to be sure, but this is a team that of late has been average one goal per game on a non-scoring chance shot (the fourth was certainly stoppable but not nearly as odious as the first three). NHL teams lose, and lose often with that kind of goaltending.

Scrivens and Fasth can certainly be better than this; they’ve shown that repeatedly over their (short) careers. The question is whether they can rebound in Edmonton before the end of this season.

No single issue is killing Edmonton the way goaltending is. Since trading for a new guy doesn’t seem to be an option the team is interested in, the Oilers will just have to hope that one of their goalies can find his game on the other side of the Christmas break.

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  • camdog

    The only way out of this debacle is BURN and REBUILD!!!! There is tooooo much wrong with the team, whoever says patience with this team has gotten use to being a loser and has accepted it(management). There is only one thing to do, I hope know one has gotten use to Hall, Eberly, yaks, Shultz, Perron, sell for parts
    Hall to Ottawa for two players- you know the two
    Eberly to buffalo for Myers
    Yaks and one of our goalies for a good goaler
    Schultz for some up front grit with hands Boone Jenner

    The party’s on

  • Andy7190

    You know why “that happens”?

    Because save % is NOT the best indicator of the goaltender, it is more an indicator of team defence.

    Of which the Oilers have none.

    Scrivens and Fasth are fine on an average team, not #1 starters perhaps, but excellent backups.

    The Oilers are well below average.

    So far below average, you could put a prime age Dominator in there and it would not make any difference whatsoever.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    What’s really odd about this situation is, with better d’men and forwards who would back check, the Oilers goaltending tandem would be fine. Top 15 in the league I’m sure.

    What’s wrong with a losing culture and this management group, is they single out one coach or one player at a time and lay the blame at his feet when they’re feeling some pressure to do something.

    Successful teams surround themselves with numerous support staff in todays game. Here in a losing culture those support types get thrown to the wolves to protect the real heart of the problem.

    Like I’ve often mentioned before. This IS as good as it gets here in Edmonton till Lowe and MacTavish are gone. These losers know sweet puck all about winning. They were the architects who set this team up to fail going on ten years now.

  • nugeformayor

    Craig’s on it.

    On a positive note, Shultz looks like a completely different player since Eakins was fired. He must have really disliked playing for him.

    Merry Christmas

  • Poke Check

    I was one of the ones perplexed by the Oilers not grabbing Harding, but the reality is that he’s only made 2 appearances for the Iowa Wild (one of the worst teams in the AHL) since joining them in November. I’m guessing that his health issues are far from being under control.

  • Poke Check

    Today on oilers now they kept going on and on about the goaltending as though that was the only issue with this team. Is that the narrative we’re supposed to buy now?

  • Piggybacking on the Jones suggestion, I think they need to look for that potential number 1 goalie, and not one of these backups that have had stellar numbers on very good defensive teams a la (Scrivens/Fasth). Tampa Bay currently has two very good young goaltenders on their AHL affiliate in Vasilevskiy and Kristers Gudlevskis. Both of which will be buried by the lightning while Bishop is stopping pucks. I believe Vasilevskiy has the highest potential from seeing his performances at the world juniors the last 3 years, but would cost a fair amount, while Gudlevskis might be considerably cheaper and could still be a steal. By the way, for those of you that don’t remember him, he was the Latvian goalie that made 55 saves on 57 shots by Canada at the Sochi Olympics. He had an amazing tournament in general. I would be happy with either :). Get it done, T-MAC!

  • I thought Chris Boyle shed some pretty bright light on the shot quality topic. Bottom line, there are some teams that give up higher quality shots more often than others, even if they give up fewer shots overall.

    Yeah, most teams that give up fewer shots overall, also give up fewer high quality shots. But there’s really no doubt that the Oilers must give up close to the most high quality shots/60 in the league. They suck. Everyone knows it. Add to that their goalies also suck… You get McDavid/Eichel. On goes the infinibuild

  • S cottV

    Not sure I agree with the rather one sided view of goalie on the 4 examples.

    First – yeah ok, that’s the most glaring. Although Gagner could take that shot 1,000 more times and not score with Scrivens in the same position. Also – our strong side d man should have played Gagner, with the back tracking forward picking up their mid ice trailer.

    2nd – [email protected] Perron penalty to begin with. Poor pk alignment in the neutral zone, which gives up a high speed drive to the net. Ferrence tips it.

    3rd – again you couldn’t ricochet that shot off of whatever it hit, on to Coles stick, if you tried 100 more times. The back checker could have saved the day with more effort and less puck watching.

    4th – c’mon that is poor d zone coverage, all the way on the part of Leon.

    The problem is lack of team goalie support.

    It’s the run and gun culture, that requires the 2nd coming of Christ in the net.

    Christ probably isn’t re-appearing, so maybe the Oilers ought to think about changing the culture.

  • BurningSensation

    – Rolling with not one, but two, unproven starters (both over 28) who hadn’t played 25 games in a season in their pro careers was IMO a very stupid gamble to take.

    – Doing that in front of a defense corps that has Jeff Petry as it’s best player is flat out insane.

    – Best of all though is keeping Draisaitl up and expecting him to be the #2C, and burning a year of his ELC to prove he can’t do the job at age 18.

    That is some next level GM decision making right there.

  • 1979

    I agree with your assessment and I think something needs to be done to try and if not upgrade then atleast see if their isn’t another option out there who can compete with Scrivens, possibly get hot and help the team find some confidence in the second half.

    I think a couple of things should be noted though. We all talked about how Scrivens and Fasth when acquired were likely to see their save percentages plummet while playing behind the defensively challenged Oilers. Now that their numbers have taken the likely beating we all predicted we’re suddenly shocked and looking to blame them? I know you could make the argument that Scrivens and Fasth haven’t faced as many shots this year as goalies of the past but facing 40 -50 shots a game didn’t protect dubnyk from being run out of town. We all knew he was facing way too many high quality and quantity shots to succeed and yet apparently at the end of the day..he was to blame.

    I think sometimes with this team we look to blame the coach. Then when he’s fired we jump on the goalie next. As far as I’m concerned the bottom line is this team has struggled to score. Sub .900 save percentages would be troublesome if we were scoring in bunches and still losing but we can’t find the back of the net so every goal against is magnified. The pressure these goaltenders are facing is immense. I always hear people talk about how the players are forced to play more tentatively because of bad goaltending. What about goaltenders being forced to try and play for a shutout because they know they’re team can’t score? I’m not saying Scrivens or Fasth is the answer, just saying no area of the team’s game is even average so you can’t say at this point fixing one area helps them in another. They’re bad everywhere.

  • 1979

    For this year do they look at shaking it up with a farm call-up at some point? Give Fasth and Scribes a night in the press box each and run Bachman as your starter? You would need to send some others back to the farm for a couple of games.

  • 1979

    At this point though, maybe they are thinking, “What’s the worst that can happen? We draft McDavid?” Truly the worst is already happening. The players confidence is so low they may not be able to get it back playing for this team…

  • 1979

    From Friedman’s 30 thoughts 3 weeks ago:

    Something to file away for the future: What will Ottawa do in goal? The answer appears to be, “Nothing, for now.” That’s the smart move as the Senators see how things play out over 82 games. But, I think there are other clubs (Buffalo and Edmonton among them) who will consider holding assets just in case.

    The most interesting thing is Ottawa has the flexibility to deal with this on a team-by-team-basis. Does a potential trade partner prefer Craig Anderson, or Robin Lehner? Both are signed long-term, which helps their trade value. Again, anything happening this season is unlikely. But next summer? Keep an eye on it.

    This is the play in my opinion. Proven and young. I put my money on Anderson being next years starter with Scrivens as backup. Come summertime trading for a legit starter will be the GM’s number one priority.

    • Serious Gord

      The GM – who should not be MacT – has about three number one priorities. That is the discouraging thing. It’s like the oil is the titanic but it has hit three icebergs not one.

      And it was a sunny day and MAcT coild see the bergs but rather than take action and disturb the passengers and put the ship off its intended course and schedule he instead hoped that the icebergs would drift out of the way.

    • Serious Gord

      Speak for yourself.

      I was a very much against the plan both here and on the radio.

      But the unyielding hope so many fans had not even a year ago in MACT and Lowe – even after years of incompetence/arrogance and failure – was remarkable and I and a few others were heavily criticized for taking that stand.

      I think the past thirty or so games has snuffed out that false hope for many many fans.

      It’s about time.

    • camdog

      What surprises me is the advanced stats supporters were in big support of the goaltending moves, and have quickly reversed their advanced stats interpertation after 30 games.

      I personally thought the goaltending moves were lateral moves like most of Mact’s moves. When compared to other facets of the Oilers game, goaltending isn’t the number one reason why this team continously loses. The problems are deeper and symbolic of a management group that does not know what they are doing. In years where they think they have a competive team, they quickly reverse their position 30 games into the season and tell the fans we need to be patient. If they said this at game 0, I would believe them. I truely believe Lowe and Mact are shocked about how bad this team is, that’s a big problem…

  • Serious Gord

    Lundqvist couldn’t salvage this team. Oilers fans can keep telling themselves they are a solid 2c and a good goalie away, too bad they’ve been drinking kool aid for too long to think.

    The young guns are losers, the coaching is never going to teach young guys how to be pros. Give them mcdavid they still will be the in the basement, it sucks because mcdavid/eichel could be great players but they are going to end up toiling on the oilers collecting pay checks for the next 15 years.

    Watching the oilers lose is still better than anything else you can do in that dump of a city. Great fans who think take pride in supporting the management that abuses them. Saying things like “If this team was in Arizona nobody would show up, we are such great fans putting up with this”. Congratulations you keep the worst pro sports franchise in northa America running.