Goaltending is so tough to evaluate in this league. Steve Mason was good, then terrible, then sort of good again. Roberto Luongo was a steal for the Canucks, then everyone hated him or something, and now he's buoying the Fancy Cats into the playoff race. Henrik Lundqvist had been the superb du jour for years now, but suddenly Marc-Andre Fleury is besting him by a good margin for some reason. Why is this possible? It's like if Tony Romo suddenly started hitting his tackles in the nape of the neck on every third throw while Matt Leinart threw for nine touchdowns in the same game. We think we know who is good and who is less than that, but goaltending loves to defy our accumulated assumptions over the course of a single season.
Kari Lehtonen's performance this year seems on its surface to be an unprecedented wilting, although his recent solidification in net has led the Stars on their recent tear back from the cellar. Others have noticed this aberration, and Ryan Lambert took it upon himself to figure out why a historically good goalie like Kari is having such a down year. The conclusion? Well, it's not as cut-and-dried as you might be hoping for:
Moreover, we’ve come to understand that goaltender performance can be better evaluated by way of looking at even-strength save percentage rather than the overall number, because that controls for more factors; of course a netminder is going to give up goals on a higher percentage of shots on the power play, and so forth. And by this measure, we can look and see that Lehtonen, to stick with that example, has seen his ESsv% come in at .922 so far this year. And a further breakdown shows that he’s gobbling up low- and medium-percentage chances, but getting smoked on the top-quality ones; his save percentage on high-quality shots is actually at the lowest it’s been since 2011-12, but more in line with his career numbers. For another example to explain this kind of thing: Rask’s has dropped off even more precipitously.
And here’s the thing: Lehtonen is not facing a larger number of high-quality shots on goal this year than he did last year, on a per-game basis. In fact, he’s facing fewer (5.32 per night this season versus 5.62 a season ago). Rask’s hasn’t really changed at all (4.59 to 4.6).
So what does that tell us? If we know high-percentage shots against Lehtonen are down, but a larger number is going in, then it’s not so much that the Stars are more porous now than they were last year; they’re actually tightening things up. Lehtonen just isn’t making the stops, and whether it’s just bad luck (which, again, I’d doubt because the numbers he’s posting now look very similar to his career averages), simply a matter of regression, or both, it doesn’t really matter. And again, it’s so early. Lehtonen has faced just 707 shots at even strength, meaning he has a long way to go before we can declare him washed up or a victim of bad bounces. [Puck Daddy]
Kari is missing more of the grade-A chances than last year, which certainly goes against any "he's letting in soft goals" narrative. Since save percentage doesn't even stabilize across the course of a season--which I should have taken into account before picking Colorado to defy expectations and do well again this year--it's probably a much better idea to trust our knowledge of Kari across his career than to overreact to a 30-game stretch like the Stars trotted out to begin this season.
Also, don't overlook the importance of focusing on even-strength save percentage. The penalty kill has been bad for much of this season, and that has done no favors to Lehtonen's overall numbers. Yes, your backstop has to be your best penalty killer and all that jazz, but even the best goalie in the universe needs his buddies to close down as many lanes as they can when down a man.
Is Kari on his way to a career-worst season? If the Stars hit another patch like they stumbled into earlier this year, that's a possibility. And sure, he's not 25 anymore, so it's reasonable to expect his saves on premium scoring chances to slowly decrease over time. But if you're going to bet on his save percentage, I'd probably keep an eye on his historical averages before you make your wager. Then I would not make a wager at all and instead wait to see how the rest of this year plays out, because I literally have no idea how it is going to end for either Kari or his mates. Literally, I have no idea. Literally.
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Saturday Links are GAME DAY LINKS, which means they are probably okay to read in public.
If I told you that Jason Demers was Datsyukisn in December, you might think I am a transparent hack who is clearly setting you up for some obscure fact. That is right. Demers had one of the top 10 Corsis (5v5) in the league during the Marvelous Month. [TSN]
Brett Ritchie isn't stressing out about whether he'll get game number two tonight. [DMN]
Craig Custance's ESPN Insider piece on goaltending performance takes a look at Kari Lehtonen as well. [ESPN]
Jason Comyn went to every AHL and NHL rink last year, and he said Cedar Park was his favorite venue in the American League. [THN]
Mike Ribeiro either isn't desperate to re-up with Nashville or is just playing hard to get. Nobody knows for sure. [Rinkside Report]
David Perron confirms that yes, he is looking forward to playing for a team that wins games more frequently than your turn indicator syncs up with the car in front of you at the stoplight. The Penguins acquired Perron from the Oilers yesterday for a first-rounder and that colonel from Hogan's Heroes, I think. [PHT]
My favorite note from Katie Baker's piece on Ted Leonsis at the Winter Classic: "He and Washington Nationals owner Ted Lerner have a little bit of a friendly competition, Leonsis said: They scour each other’s arenas for anything amiss and let the other one know. Recently Leonsis emailed Lerner that he’d noticed a Q-tip on the floor somewhere in Nationals Park. Soon after, Lerner wrote back: "GOT IT." [Grantland]
Ted Leonsis probably doesn't care that the Winter Classic's ratings were the worst of any Classic ever. [The Score]
Sean McIndoe says that the NHL shouldn't change a thing when it comes to review procedure for pucks off the netting. [Grantland]
In the fringes of the Wide World of Sport, there is Mississippi alligator hunting. This basically terrified me and you should not read it if you ever want to enjoy rivers again. [SB Nation]
Finally, here is a look at Brett Ritchie's first AHL goal with the Texas Stars: