Saturday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins was a tedious waste, as poor Chris C. was obligated to document. The Capitals were shut out, lost for now their grasp for the division lead, and were generally pretty miserable.
But at least we learned something from the experience. We know now, once for all, who should be Washington’s starting goalie for the playoffs.
Ilya Samsonov isn’t responsible for last night’s loss — a goalie who receives no goal support never could be — but he allowed three goals in the defeat, landing him at a .902 all-situation save percentage. That’s just a slight bit below Vitek Vanecek‘s .908, and that’s just one reason why, if I were coach, I would hand the starting goalie title to I-sincerely-could-not-care-less-and-it-profoundly-does-not-matter.
These two guys are the same goalie in two different bodies.
The line graphs below show the difference between how many goals opponents “should” score against them and how many they actually scored. Blue is Samsonov, and red is Vanecek. The lower the line goes, the worse the goalies are doing relative to expectations.
Vanecek sits 9.3 goals below expected; Samsonov 10.0 below. There’s hardly daylight between them, and that’s not just a function of how much ice time Vanecek has seen.
Here, using Moneypuck data, is similar data, but now it’s for all NHL goalies broken down by rate, rather than cumulative totals. I’ve labeled Vanecek and Samsonov.
They’re the two fellows in the undifferentiated cohort of goalies I’d collectively call “not good, but at least they’re not Carter Hart.” (You can guess which bar is Hart’s).
There have been some differences in Vanecek’s and Samsonov’s playing contexts, but I don’t think they are very important. The heatmaps below from HockeyViz show where opponents shoot against the goalies. Left is Vanecek, right is Samsonov, top row is five-on-five, bottom row is penalty kill. The blue and orange blobs mean opponents shoot more frequently from that location compared to league average.
The most important takeaway from these graphs is that the Caps team defense has been really good this season overall. The team needs to examine why they allow so many odd-man rushes, but perhaps those rushes stick in our craws only because they result in goals way more often than they should. I’m not sure about that point, and I’d like to understand better how the team might be playing differently in different score situations, though my guess right now is “not very differently at all.”
Because Washington is getting vastly different performances from their goalies based on the score. Washington has the league’s fourth best save percentage (93.8) when the score is tied, but they have the second worst save percentage (88.3) when they leading by one goal.
That difference could be an accident of small sample sizes, or a suggestion of the unreliability of two young goalies, or a hint that the team is making ill-advised tactical changes.
To me, for now, maybe it’s reason to be encouraged. While each goalie has squandered his opportunity to seize the undisputed starting role, they’ve also both put up sterling performances during five-on-five play in tie-game situations (.933 for Samsonov, .942 for Vanecek). Goaltending in a playoff series ultimately contains some big chunk of unfathomable random chance. That lucky or unlucky chunk will prove to be way bigger than whatever perceived difference there is between these goalies right now. Maybe one will end up being a hall-of-famer and the other will be playing overseas in a few years, but we don’t know nearly enough to guess at which one is which today.
You might say there are no good choices here. Maybe it’s just the the sun is shining and the birds are chirping and the immune systems are learning about new spike proteins, but maybe there are no bad choices either.
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