Monday, January 4, 2010

Olympic Goaltending

The provisional Olympic rosters have been announced, and here are the goaltenders for each country (listed in alphabetical order):

Canada: Martin Brodeur, Marc-Andre Fleury, Roberto Luongo
Russia: Ilya Bryzgalov, Evgeni Nabokov, Semyon Varlamov
Sweden: Jonas Gustavsson, Stefan Liv, Henrik Lundqvist
United States: Ryan Miller, Jon Quick, Tim Thomas
Finland: Niklas Backstrom, Miikka Kiprusoff, Antero Niittymaki
Czech Republic: Ondrej Pavelec, Jakub Stepanek, Tomas Vokoun
Slovakia: Peter Budaj, Jaroslav Halak, Rostislav Stana
Switzerland: Martin Gerber, Jonas Hiller, Tobias Stephan
Germany: Dennis Endras, Thomas Greiss, Dimitri Patzold
Norway: Pål Grotnes, Andre Lysenstøen, Ruben Smith
Latvia: Edgars Masalskis, Ervins Mustukovs, Sergejs Naumovs
Belarus: Vitali Koval, Maxim Malyutin, Andrei Mezin

No real surprises among any of the top countries, at least among the guys who are actually going to be on the ice in Vancouver. Canada's top three picks were pretty obvious. Finland had some options with the top-level goalies they have available (e.g. Pekka Rinne, Tuukka Rask), but going with a tandem of Kiprusoff/Backstrom wasn't too surprising. Sweden could have picked one of their other experienced NHL goalies as their #2 or #3, someone like Johan Hedberg, but I expect Lundqvist will play nearly every game and certainly every game of consequence. Similarly it could be argued that Craig Anderson has been better than Jon Quick, but it really doesn't matter to anyone other than those two guys since the Americans' #3 goalie will be stuck behind last year's Vezina winner and this year's Vezina frontrunner.

Assuming Halak and Hiller get the majority of the starts for Slovakia and Switzerland, all of the top 8 countries have above-average NHL puckstoppers. I looked at the save percentages for the expected starters or starting tandems over the last three seasons plus this one so far (save percentages are adjusted for game situation, using factors of 80% for EV SV% and 20% for PK SV%):

1. Jonas Hiller, SUI .921
2. Niklas Backstrom, FIN .921
3. Roberto Luongo, CAN .921
4. Tomas Vokoun, CZE .920
5. Martin Brodeur, CAN .920
6. Tim Thomas, USA .919
7. Henrik Lundqvist, SWE .917
8. Jaroslav Halak, SVK .917
9. Evgeni Nabokov, RUS .914
10. Ryan Miller, USA .914
11. Miikka Kiprusoff, FIN .913
12. Ilya Bryzgalov, RUS .913

However, the bottom four goalies on that list have all been very good so far this year. In fact, if we rank the same goalies by their performance this year, we get an almost inverted list:

1. Ryan Miller, USA .932
2. Evgeni Nabokov, RUS .928
3. Ilya Bryzgalov, RUS .928
4. Miikka Kiprusoff, FIN .928
5. Jaroslav Halak, SVK .924
6. Henrik Lundqvist, SWE .921
7. Tomas Vokoun, CZE .921
8. Roberto Luongo, CAN .919
9. Tim Thomas, USA .917
10. Martin Brodeur, CAN .917
11. Jonas Hiller, SUI .914
12. Niklas Backstrom, FIN .910

Combining both metrics by taking the average of the two, to get a mix of a goalie's track record and their current level of play, we see how close the goaltending probably is (numbers are for the highest-ranked goalie only from each country):

1. USA .923
2. Russia .921
3. Czech Republic .921
4. Slovakia .921
5. Finland .921
6. Canada .920
7. Sweden .919
8. Switzerland .918

I don't necessarily agree with that exact order, I'm especially skeptical as to whether the Russian goalies can maintain their hot starts, but I think the general point is fairly clear that none of the top countries can expect to have much of a goaltending edge in Vancouver. The U.S. team might have a slight advantage if Ryan Miller can maintain his outstanding play so far this season, but over a short tournament that's still probably an expected difference of a goal or two saved compared to everyone else. Hockey games are usually decided by the skaters anyway, but that should be even more true at these Olympics where everyone has a more than capable backstop. It is certainly possible that some goalies will get hot or cold and end up deciding a key game in February, but at the moment it's little more than a guess as to which goalies that might be, if any. To borrow a quote from the movie The Incredibles: "When everyone's super, no one will be."

(Just a little postscript for Canadian fans, Marc-Andre Fleury's numbers are .911 over the past 3+ seasons and .903 this year. He may impress the type of crowd that ranks goalies entirely based on playoff wins and team success, but I certainly hope Canada doesn't entertain any thoughts of actually putting Fleury into a game.)


Derick said...

Who do you think should start, Luongo or Brodeur? I'm going to guess you'd prefer Luongo, and I would as well. But I think Luongo's superiority over Brodeur isn't as wide as Brodeur's over Fleury.

There's really no arguement against Luongo's clutch play. His team has always just been awful. His average playoff save percentage is better than Brodeur or Fleury have put up once. Luongo's save percentage in the 2007 playoffs was .941. I did the math (inspired by your idea of being able to do this), with the shots against per game (36 to 38, I forget what it was exactly) and goals scored by Vancouver that playoffs (1.75 per game), and his save percentage would have had to have been .952 just to get an even goal differential. That would have been the highest of all-time I believe. Higher than Giguere in 2003, which was .945.

Who do you think would deserve the Vezina if it were awarded today? I know Miller's the favorite, but I'm tempted to say Bryzgalov. Iirc, the top-50 points getters in each of their divisions is as follows.

Pacific: Thornton, Marleau, Heatley, Getzlaf, Perry, Richards, Ericksson, Kopitar

Northeast: Plekanec

Might be the best waiver pick up of all time.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

I'd prefer Luongo, but only slightly over Brodeur. They're close enough that in a short tournament there's really no significant difference between them, and Canada's fine with either of them.

Miller is my Vezina pick, although Bryzgalov is certainly a contender. The divisional argument is a fair point, Miller is 7-1-3, 1.70, .944 against his division this year. Miller also has faced a much lower percentage of his shots on the PK. However, last year Phoenix led the league by at least one measure of shot quality, and they've probably been at least as good this year under Tippett.

I think that all that still adds up to an edge for Miller, but then again I've seen a lot more of Miller than Bryzgalov this year, which probably factors a bit into my choice.

Bruce said...

It won't surprise you to learn that my choice would be Brodeur. Luongo might have a marginal advantage as a stopper, but Brodeur has a large edge as a sweeper. If anything that skill might be more important on a team that isn't overly familiar with each other.