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Is Goaltending Becoming Overrated?

It’s always been an important part of the game, but teams are proving there are many ways to win in the NHL right now.

Having a star goaltender in the crease is never a terrible thing in the NHL playoffs, but this year, it may not be giving teams as much of an advantage as you’d think. In the first round, many of the best goalies in the league were eliminated. Not all of them played their best, but some did everything they could do, and it still wasn’t enough. To dig deeper, let’s look at this season’s goaltending numbers.  

The Stats

First, we’ll use regular season numbers. In terms of save percentage, the top 8 starters in order that made playoffs this season were Linus Ullmark, Filip Gustavsson, Ilya Sorokin, Connor Hellebuyck, Jake Oettinger, Ilya Samsonov, Alexandar Georgiev and Igor Shesterkin. Of those eight, only two made it past the first round and neither one was in the top four. Of course, not everyone played up to their regular season statistics, but it does go to show that even if a goalie has a great regular season, nothing is guaranteed to continue in the playoffs. 

The playoff numbers also prove that even with elite goaltending, you can still lose quickly. Of the goalies that started at least three games in the first round, only Akira Schmid had a higher save percentage and lower GAA than Ilya Sorokin and Igor Shesterkin. After seven games, Shesterkin had a 1.96 GAA and an SVP of .931. On the flip side, both Ilya Samsonov and Stuart Skinner moved on with GAAs higher than 3.25 and SVPs lower than .900.

Is it a Trend?

Obviously, matchups have a lot to do with this. However, the simple numbers are proving just how unpredictable this year’s postseason has been. There’s also no one way of getting deep into the playoffs anymore. Some teams like Edmonton and Toronto rely heavily on their scoring and offense, while others like Carolina are great at shutting teams down and keeping goals to a minimum. In recent times, Andrei Vasilevskiy has made a great case for the importance of goaltending on a Stanley Cup run. However, goalies who put up very similar statistics in the first round didn’t even make it past their first series this year. It seems like right now, for most teams, NOT having terrible goaltending is more important than having GREAT goaltending.

After Colorado won last season with Darcy Kuemper in net, it seems like the pendulum is beginning to swing in the playoffs as goals become increasingly frequent in today’s NHL, making goaltending ever so slightly less of a factor. In fact, in the last ten years, Kuemper’s 2022 playoff save percentage of .902 was the lowest by nine points for a Stanley Cup winning goalie, with only two other instances of a percentage less than .922. With so much hockey still to play in this year’s postseason, it’ll be fascinating to see which trends persist and which goaltender ends up lifting the Stanley Cup in June.

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