Photo: Bruce Bennett
On Sunday, Joe Micheletti of NBC Sports reported a quote from George McPhee that has been making the rounds. Except it’s not really a quote actually– just hearsay. According to Micheletti, GMGM said that the Washington Capitals would have ten more standings points if only they had better goaltending this season. McPhee declined to elaborate on that little piece of apocrypha on Monday, and the team didn’t get back to us when we asked about its veracity.
Katie Carrera of the Washington Post ran a wonderful piece about it on Monday. My favorite part was this quote by Braden Holtby:
“I think if we pay any attention to comments like that it brings the team apart.”
For perspective: That is a goalie talking about his employer, whose words might tear the team apart.
So… that’s not good.
I would like to set Braden’s mind at ease. If George McPhee actually said that (and I’m not sure he did), he’d be categorically wrong.
Let’s start with this. The NHL average save percentage in all situations this season is .910 (4,496 goals on 50,203 shots). The Capitals have a .912. That is unequivocally above average. It’s not up for debate. I will slash your tires if you come at me with this again.
CORRECTION 2PM: The above data include empty-net goals, which makes it imprecise. The average save percentage is actually .913, and the Caps have a .9128. So they are actually below average. By two goals every ten thousand shots. That’s enough for me to say a) they are NOT unequivocally above average; b) it IS up for debate; and c) I will NOT slash your tires if you come at me with this again.
And yet, head coach Adam Oates more or less ditto’d his boss’s alleged quote. Oates told Carrera, “I think definitely there’s 10 more points out there that we’ve wasted.”
And he’s basically right. We can probably find five games the Caps would’ve won if they had better goaltending on those nights. December 23rd’s home game against Bruce Boudreau and the Ducks was a close one, and one or two extra saves from Grubauer (.897 Sv% on 29 shots) would’ve done the trick. Same thing on January 15th, when Neuvirth saved .892 of 37 shots in a heartbreaking, one-goal loss to the Penguins. And on December 21st, the Devils beat the Caps in overtime when Holtby put up a .865 on 37 shots. And there’s also the Canadiens on November 11th, the Hurricanes on October 10th, and the Canucks on October 28th. I could do this all day.
Except that would be stupid. I can’t just pick the examples that push my agenda and ignore everything else. [Insert your own political joke here.]
We can do better. Rob Vollman of Hockey Abstract adopted the idea of quality starts from baseball. He figured out how good a goalie has to be to give his team a good chance of winning a game. Based on that standard, I count thirty quality starts from the Caps this season– more than half their games. We’d expect the Caps to win 75% of those games or better– between 22 and 23– but in reality they won just 18. The Capitals wasted 12 quality starts from their goaltenders, costing them about 8 standings points more than expected.
|Goalie||Total Starts||Quality Starts||Wasted Starts||Bailed Out|
And when the Caps goaltenders aren’t putting up quality starts, the team isn’t even winning the 25% of games we’d expect them to win despite low save percentages. Instead of 7 or 8 bailouts (i.e. winning despite a non-quality start), the Caps have just 6.
That tells us what we already knew: the problem isn’t in net.
Let’s do a silly and totally informal thought experiment.
In real life, the Caps have won 25 of their 56 games for a 44.6% win percentage.
Let’s pretend they got exactly league-average goaltending in every game. Now they’d win just 21 games for a 37.5% win percentage.
Now let’s get really stupid and say both teams had league-average goaltending. Now the Caps would win just 19 games for a 33.9% win percentage.
That’s a bunch of fuzzy math and faulty logic, but it serves as an object lesson for a few points:
- You can’t cherrypick games that goaltending has blown.
- Caps goaltending has won more games than they’ve lost.
- Getting outshot is a bigger problem than goaltending.
So for the hundredth time: no, bad goaltending is not the problem in Washington. Maybe having three goaltenders was a problem for a while, but that’s over now. The real problem lies– as it ever has– on the other 189 feet of ice, particularly where John Erskine, Connor Carrick, and Tyson Strachan are skating.