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Unconventional Wisdom - Is Fleury Elite?

Recent defensive breakdowns, high scoring games, and narrow victories have brought concerns about the Penguins goaltending situation back into the limelight. Is there a cause for concern going into the playoffs?

Derek Leung

It was just a couple weeks ago that we took a look at the Pittsburgh Penguins goaltenders to see how they had been progressing so far this season. At the time, Marc-Andre Fleury had been on an unprecedented pace and the Pens seemed nigh unstoppable. However, recent struggles and defensive breakdowns have led to some high scoring games and some narrow victories, and even a couple of heart breaking defeats. So this has led quite a few people to start analyzing the Penguins goaltending and going into panic mode despite the fact that we are barely halfway through the season.

So I figured I would give it a go and see how our goaltending really is shaping up so far this season. I attempted to find some interesting Advanced Stats for goaltenders, but there doesn't seem to be much out there geared specifically towards goalies, but I will still go ahead and share what I have found.

Standard Metrics

The standard metrics recorded by the NHL are ones we are all familiar with. At the end of the year when they determine who wins what awards the cutoff for Goaltending stats is a minimum of 25 games played. If we pro-rate that to the number of games played this season, the lowest being 46, then we want to find out where Fleury ranks amongst goaltenders who have started at least 14 games this season.

With a 27-10-1 record Fleury currently leads the NHL in Wins, with 3 more than the #2 Antti Niemi who has even played an additional 2 games more than Fleury has. Most of the players below Fleury have played less games than he has, only Niemi and Mike Smith have played more often, so there is some need to expand upon that.

If we convert the record in Points Percent we find Fleury has earned 55 Points out of a possible 78 for a 70.5%. That is quite impressive, but it actually drops him down to #8 out of 46 goaltenders who have played at least 14 games this season. He is behind Antti Raanta, Brian Elliott, Jonas Hiller, Josh Harding, Jonas Gustavsson, Ben Bishop, and Semyon Varlamov. Still quite impressive considering he has played over twice as many games as Raanta, Elliott, and Gustavsson.

The NHL also tracks Goals Against Average, of which Fleury is currently at a 2.26 GAA, which puts him at #11 out of the 46 goaltenders who have started at least 14 games. He falls behind Harding, Bishop, Elliott, Cory Schneider, Jonathan Quick, Ben Scrivens, Tuukka Rask, Eddie Lack, Roberto Luongo, and Raanta.

Of course Goals Against and Wins are more of a team stat, win or lose it has more to do with how the team playing around them performs rather than their own ability. Which is why we have seen some high scoring games in recent weeks as the team struggles to regain their defensive identity.

So how about we look at Save Percent, the one stat that is directly influenced by the goaltender himself. Fleury has stopped 966 of 1053 shots for a .917 Sv%. This puts him at #15 out of the 46 goaltenders who have started at least 14 games. That puts him behind Bishop, Harding, Varlamov, Rask, Scrivens, Ryan Miller, Jonathan Bernier, Carey Price, Robin Lehner, Elliott, Schneider, Justin Peters, Luongo, and Lack. Of course the fact that only 4 of those have had a heavier workload and faced more shots against than Fleury has does help paint a picture of the underlying issues inherent in the team's defensive breakdowns.

Based on the standard metrics, no Fleury is not elite. But he is above average, being in the top 1/4 or top 1/3 of the league in any of the given categories. He isn't going to be bringing home the Vezina, but he has performed quite admirably and better than what the majority of players would be capable of in his situation.

Expanded Metrics

There are also a number of ways at looking at the Standard Stats from a different light. Hockey-Reference, for example, gives us Goals Allowed Percent, which is a comparison of his GAA to the current league average. Fleury has 4% fewer Goals Against than the league average, putting him at #15 out of 46 goaltenders who have started at least 14 games

They also have a Goals Saved Above Average, a comparison of Sv% to league average based on the number of shots faced. Fleury then has a Sv% that is 3.58% better than the league average. This once again puts him at #15 out of 46 goaltenders who have started at least 14 games

Then we have the situational statistics. At 5-on-5 Fleury has a 2.14 GAA, which is now #17 out of 46 goaltenders who have started at least 14 games. At 5-on-5 Fleury also has a .919 Sv%. This drops him to #32 out of 46 goaltenders who have started at least 14 games. So these numbers start to make Fleury look a little less impressive.

In 5-on-5 Close situations Fleury has a 2.01 GAA, which is still #17 out of 46 goaltenders who have started at least 14 games. At 5-on-5 Close he also has a .926 Sv%, which is #19 out of 46 goaltenders who have started at least 14 games. It is encouraging to see that his numbers improve from full game standard stats, to 5-on-5 stats, to 5-on-5 Close stats. He is still not the best in the league, but he is better than most and hovering in the top 1/3 to top 1/2 of the league range.

Advanced Metrics

Perhaps the most popular is Hockey Prospectus' Goals vs Threshold, a stats which attempts to compare the player with what an average replacement level player would give the team. In Goaltender Goals vs Threshold, Fleury is an 8.2 GGvT, which puts his at #11 out of 46 goaltenders who have started at least 14 games. Then for Defensive Goals vs Threshold, Fleury has a 1.0 DGvT, which is #3 out of 46 goaltenders who have started at least 14 games. His Shootout Goals vs Threshold, Fleury has a 3.4 SGvT, which is #1 in the entire NHL. And then his overall combined GvT of 12.6 puts Fleury at #7 out of 46 goaltenders who have started at least 14 games.

The GvT numbers suggest that, for this season at least, there are only 6 goaltenders in the league who the Pens could acquire that would be an improvement over Fleury: Bishop, Rask, Price, Miller, Harding, and Varlamov. That puts him in pretty elite company, and while he won't be bringing home the Vezina, being one of the top 10 goaltenders in the league is still rather impressive.

Hockey-Reference instead does Point Shares, an attempt to equate the player's contributions with the number of Points their team has earned this season. For Goalie Point Shares, Fleury has 6.8 GPS, which puts him at #9 in the NHL. This puts him behind some of the same names we saw on GvT: Varlamov, Miller, Price, Bernier, Bishop, Rask, Kari Lehtonen, and Smith. Again, not going to be bringing home the Vezina, but being amongst the Top 10 in the NHL is nothing to scoff at. His GPS is even good enough that he comes in at #19 in overall PS, with fellow Pens teammates Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, and Matt Niskanen ahead of him at #1, #10, and #18.

HockeyAnalysis has their own metric, which for goaltenders only exists as Hockey Analysis Rating Defense. In 5-on-5 situations, Fleury has a 4.6 HARD, which means that there are 4.6% fewer goals scored when he is on the ice than there are when he is not. That puts him at #19 out of our 46 goaltenders that have started at least 14 games this season.However, if we look at 5-on-5 Close situations then Fleury's HARD improves to a 15.7, which is now #9 our of our 46 goaltenders who have started at least 14 games. And if we take it further and look to 5-on-5 Close Zone Start Adjusted data his 15.2 HARD is now #7 out of our 46 goaltenders who have started at least 14 games.

It is also interesting to note that Fleury's PDO is currently an even 100.0. That would scream that he is playing exactly up to his current ability if we were to base his performance solely on the league average. However, we can look at Fleury individually and see that over the past 6 seasons his personal average PDO is actually 101.0. Its not a huge change, just 1% lower than average, but it does indicate that there is certainly a chance that we will see him improve even more as the season progresses.

The Future

If the rotation continues as it has been, with Jeff Zatkoff only playing on back-to-backs, then Fleury will finish the season with 67 games played. At a 70.5 Points% then we can expect a team record high 47 Wins.