Last week, I took a look at how Fleury performed while the opposing team was on the power play this past season. Seeing that Fleury's power play save percentage was well above average (as well as a new career high), I'm now going to turn to Fleury's performance at even strength. The sample I'm using for this analysis was the same one I used in my last analysis. I'm hoping to find an explanation in this data that answers the question: What happened to Flower this year?
You can clearly see that Fleury's even strength save percentage was well below the mean (about 1.5 standard deviations), and only the play (or lack thereof) of Jeff Deslauriers and Brian Elliot kept him from being last. It's obvious at this point that Fleury's even strength save percentage was the culprit behind his sub-par performance this season. But one of the issues that needs to be addressed is the play of the defense in front of Fleury this year, or more succinctly, shot quality.
There are some who believe that the skaters in front of a goalie have a negligible effect on the quality of the shots he faces; others have provided convincing evidence that shot quality exists, can be measured, and is significant. One way to measure shot quality is to look at the characteristics of shots a goalie has faced (such as shot distance, shot type, and manpower situation, among others). Then you use those factors to come up with the number of expected goals against, according to league averages. You can then compare expected goals against and actual goals against to get a measure of shot quality.
But since I have some time on my hands, I decided to try a different strategy. I went back and used the videos on the Penguins' website to re-watch all of Fleury's even strength goals against this year. My goal was to find out how many "soft" goals Fleury gave up and how many "normal" goals Fleury gave up. After agonizing over the definition of a soft and normal goal, I settled on using the definition of a scoring chance. From the guys over at Copper and Blue, a scoring chance is defined as a clear play directed toward the opposing net from a dangerous scoring area - loosely defined as the top of the circle and in and inside the faceoff dots. I didn't count a wrap-around as a scoring chance. For those who are visual people, I've outlined the scoring chance area in this diagram:
|# of Goals|
|No Chance Goals||29|
Whew! That's a lot to digest. While one could spend hours combing through all of this, I'm only going to analyze the percentage of goals in which Fleury was at fault. By my count, Fleury was not responsible for 95 goals (chance + no chance with mitigation) and responsible for 31goals (no chance without mitigation + rebound negation). So Fleury was not responsible for 75.4% of scores and was at fault for 24.6% of goals. Also of note is that 77% of even strength goals scored were in the chance area and 23% were outside the chance area.
After playing around with this data for a bit, I realized that this would be much easier if I had a reference point to compare Fleury's numbers to. I wanted to repeat the process for a different goalie who played close to the same number of games as Fleury. I settled on Ilya Bryzgalov, who started 69 games and finished this season with a .920 total save percentage, a .928 even strength save percentage, and a Vezina trophy nomination. After repeating the above process for Bryzgalov, I came to these figures:
|# of Goals|
|No chance w/o mititgation||24|
|No chance w/ mitigation||4|
Finishing up the math, Bryzgalov was at fault for 31% of ES goals (34 goals) and was not at fault for 69% (76 goals). The first thing that sticks out from this analysis is that Fleury was a fault for a smaller percentage of his team's even strength goals than Bryzgalov. Bryzgalov's total save percentage is higher than Fleury's because of the difference in shot volume, but strictly in terms of ES goals against, this point of view paints Fleury in a better light. Another way to look at it is to compare "soft" goals per 100 ES shots against for each goalie. With 31 "soft" even strength goals and 1,383 even strength shots against, Fleury gave up 2.24 "soft" goals per 100 ES shots against. For Bryzgalov, he gave up 34 "soft" goals over 1,529 even strength shots against, or 2.22 soft goals per 100 even strength shots against. Fleury clearly wasn't burdening his team with an extreme percentage of "soft" goals this season. There's a case to be made that he was just as focused at even strength as Bryzgalov was.
This analysis also doesn't paint the Pens' defense in a positive light. The defense was not the victim of a goaltender letting in a lot of soft goals, as Fleury was on par with Ilya Bryzgalov. What did happen is that the Pens gave up more even strength goals over fewer shots compared to the Coyotes, which looks like a below average defense giving up high quality shots. A thought experiment provides further proof. In terms of even strength goals against, the Penguins were 22nd in the NHL, giving up a total of 161 even strength goals, while the Coyotes were first at 131 ES goals against. Now imagine that the Pens' defense becomes average. The 15th ranked team allowed 148 goals, 13 fewer than the Penguins. With 13 fewer even strength goals against, Fleury's ES save percentage jumps to .918 and his total save percentage climbs to .913, only .001 away from last year's .912 total save percentage.
Without repeating too much, it doesn't look like Fleury had an awful year. If fact, it doesn't even look like he had a below average year. His power play save percentage was a new career high, and it was well above average among starting goalies this year. While his even strength save percentage was very low, it seems to be more of a product of the defense in front of him. Fleury was no less focused at even strength than Vezina nominee Ilya Bryzgalov, and had the team in front of him played even average defense, his save percentage would be right where it was last year.
I think it's important to remember that Fleury's path to success hasn't been without obstacles that would have hampered a lot of other people. As an impressionable 19 year old goalie, Fleury played 21 games behind an absolutely terrible Penguins team. Instead of letting that experience destroy his confidence and stall his development, he battled on. Though many doubted him, he eventually was able to hoist Lord Stanley's fabled trophy above his head on June 12, 2009. And for those who say he was a below average goalie riding shotgun on a talented team, here's Fleury's stat line in the four Stanley Cup Final wins last year: 118 SA, .949 SV%, 1.50 GAA. Possibly the scariest part is that Fleury hasn't reached his peak yet. When that time comes, I really hope that Marc-Andre Fleury is still wearing a Penguins uniform.