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Philipp Grubauer has played a little over five games of NHL hockey this season, and he’s been spectacular. Sporting a .940 save percentage, Grubi has been relied on to field a lot of pucks– 184 to be precise. Meanwhile, as Braden Holtby has struggled all December, there’s an understandable tendency to rank Grubauer above Holtby and dub him the team’s number-one goalie.
This would be unwise. In just six games of hockey, a .940 tell us very little. And in just six games of hockey, even the best goaltender in the world can look like a bum.
And yet, this is what we’ve been seeing in our comments:
Marc: Sell Hole-by now at the highest price
James: Holtby looking like [fecal expletive] the last 4 starts
John: Holtby is horrendous all of a sudden. Time to go with Grubauer and Neuvy as backup. Trade Holtby.
Mike: Holtby is plying like crap. No two ways about it. I think he knows he is not on Team Canada and that has screwed with his head.
“Braden LOLtby“: [Ed. note: I don't think that's his real name.] holtby sucks but everyone always defends him
Josh: Holtby is struggling. It’s not about him having a bad game here or there, he’s starting to string together bad ones and it’s worrying me. Hope he can get back to his usual self soon.
Myan: On a side note, Holtby looks shaky.
It’s indisputable that Braden Holtby has played poorly in the last couple weeks, but that doesn’t mean he’s not an above-average goalie, which we’re increasingly certain he is. On the other hand, Grubauer’s great performance through six games– while fantastic– is not necessarily indicative of him being a great goaltender in the long run.
The problem is that six games is just way too small of a sample to give us any perspective into the goalie’s skill. It’s like we’re ants crawling around the rim of a chandelier. We see so little of it that we can’t even tell we’re going in circles.
That’s how, through six games, Grubauer seems like a Vezina winner and Braden Holtby seems like a buyout victim. But that doesn’t mean either is actually the case. You could find streaks like that in any goalie’s career.
For the record, here are Braden’s and Philip’s save percentages and the shots they’ve faced in their last six games:
|Player||Sv% L6||SA L6|
That may look damning for Braden, but only until we account for the crazy amount of volatility in a goalie’s save percentage. Even though 150-200 shots sounds like a lot, there’s a whole lot of noise in there.
Here’s Holtby’s entire career in six-game bursts, with a green line to identify beyond-Vezina-level goaltending at .940 and a red line for anything under .890.
It’s up and down. Holtby spends much of his time nearer the green than the red. Though we have to admit that what’s happening right now might be one of his worst streaks ever.
For comparison’s sake, let’s think of a good goalie with a reputation of consistency. I chose Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers. He’s got the same career save percentage as Holtby (.920), but with way more shots faced (15,010) over almost a decade of NHL action.
Again, a whole lot of up and down, with a bunch of spikes below that red line.
That tells us that even a consensus all-star goalie can and will play poorly sometimes. Braden Holtby’s bad month therefore signifies very little. It doesn’t mean he’s not the franchise goalie, and it doesn’t mean he won’t turn it around imminently. Because all goalies are streaky– that’s just the nature of the game.
Here’s how Holtby’s and Lundqvist’s save percentages in those tiny little 6-game samples break down.
They cluster around .910 to .930– where the difference between an average goalie and a great one is determined.
And though Lundqvist has played many more games, he and Holtby have spent similar portions of their careers in the extremes:
|Player||% Above .940||% Below .890|
Holtby has a slightly larger standard deviation overall, and he’s toiled slightly longer below the red line, but not by much.
We should look forward to Philipp Grubauer’s NHL career. Scouting reports treat him kindly, and he’s done pretty well in Hershey, but we have no justification for ranking him above Braden Holtby. Not until he gets some more reps at least.
In the meantime, let’s hope Holtby’s long December ends soon.