Flames On-Ice Save Percentage


Previously we looked at on-ice shooting percentage, and learned why Rene Bourque’s 3 assists are different than Blake Comeau’s (and Mikael Backlund’s 1 at the time), and also why Olli Jokinen is leading the way in scoring while other veterans like Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla are falling behind.

This week we’ll take a quick look at on-ice save percentage. Just like on-ice shooting percentage the team’s even-strength save percentage with a particular player on the ice is influenced not only by the goalie himself, but by the player’s linemates, their opponents, the player’s own abilities to prevent high-quality chances, and of course luck.

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And once again, comparing one player to another is like comparing apples and oranges.  If we look instead at season-to-season changes in on-ice save percentages, then at least we’re comparing fruit.

What will it look like to us when someone is having a big increase in on-ice save percentage behind the scenes?  Chances are they will have a much improved plus/minus, and is likely being seen as playing better defensively, unless it can be explained by role, line or team changes (e.g. Blake Comeau or Lee Stempniak).  Before taking a look at the leaderboard see if you can think of a few players who might fall into this category – Olli Jokinen perhaps (-17 last year to -1)?  Rene Bourque (-17 to -3)?

Conversely, those with steep drops in on-ice save percentages will be said to be struggling defensively, and have drops in plus/minus.  For example, perhaps this would explain Mikael Backlund (+4 to -7) or Tim Jackman (+4 to -10).  Let’s see.

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Even-strength on-ice save percentage
Player          2011-12 2010-11 Diff
Mark Giordano    .927   .899    .028
Blake Comeau     .916   .892    .024
Jarome Iginla    .920   .897    .023
David Moss       .941   .920    .021
Alex Tanguay     .912   .892    .020
Olli Jokinen     .918   .900    .018
Jay Bouwmeester  .923   .913    .010
Brendan Morrison .933   .925    .008
Chris Butler     .930   .923    .007
Curtis Glencross .910   .906    .004
Rene Bourque     .911   .911    .000
Cory Sarich      .924   .924    .000
Anton Babchuk    .919   .920   -.001
Matt Stajan      .897   .904   -.007
Mikael Backlund  .903   .911   -.008
Scott Hannan     .908   .922   -.014
Tom Kostopoulos  .896   .913   -.017
Lee Stempniak    .909   .938   -.029
Tim Jackman      .883   .926   -.043
Minimum 10 GP each year

First of all it’s obvious that nearly everyone is enjoying the benefit of the team’s better over-all goaltending this year. In fact, all returning Flames have improved on-ice save percentages, with the only real exceptions of Mikael Backlund and that fourth line.

That cursed fourth line of Tim Jackman, Tom Kostopoulos and Matt Stajan have much lower on-ice save percentages – and it’s not that they were sky high the season before. Somehow opponents are scoring on 10.3% to 11.7% of their shots with that last line on the ice, but no better than 9% with anyone else other than Mikael Backlund (9.7%), Scott Hannan (9.2%) and Lee Stempniak (9.1%).

We know that last line is still playing against very weak competition, so how is this happening?  Are they playing differently, failing to block dangerous shots and scoop up rebounds, allowing shots from the inside, screening their own goalie, distracting Kipper with their cologne – what?  Is it just exceptionally poor luck?  Whatever it is, Sutter has already started splitting them up.

Oddly enough two of the three forwards legitimately facing snipers and sharpshooters – Olli Jokinen and Jarome Iginla – are among the six enjoying significantly higher on-ice save percentages, and at least in the latter’s case it has nothing to do with defensive abilities (unless Iginla’s failure to backcheck is part of his master scheme to avoid accidentally screening or deflecting a shot past Kipper).  The other Flames to enjoy big increases are Alex Tanguay, newcomer Blake Comeau, and the injured David Moss and Mark Giordano.

And poor Mikael Backlund, who is victim of a diaper double shot – a decrease in on-ice shooting percentage and a decrease in on-ice save percentage. It really is no wonder his counting stats are so poor this season, just 5 points and -7 in 26 games at time of writing.

It could be worse. Just ask Daymond Langkow, who is struggling with an atrocious .865 on-ice save percentage over in Phoenix – one of the lowest in the league.  Among the league’s best, and considering only those who face top-six opponents, are forwards Vladimir Sobotka (.963), Nick Johnson, Logan Couture, Benoit Pouliot and Brad Marchand, and defensemen Jared Spurgeon (.955), Barret Jackman, Douglas Murray, Willie Mitchell and Shea Weber.

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There’s certainly an element of skill involved in blocking shots, letting your goalie see the shots, scooping up rebounds, intercepting cross-ice passes and keeping shots to the outside – especially for defensemen, but a lot of a player’s on-ice save percentage is either a consequence of the skills of his opponents, or how hot the goalie is behind him. 

We’ll keep an eye on on-ice save percentage throughout the season, but keep it in mind when you’re watching Mikael Backlund or that snake-bit fourth line.

    • Indeed. If on-ice save percentage were truly within the abilities of a player to influence you wouldn’t see so much swing from year to year, would you?

      Especially for players facing the same quality of competition.

      And especially for defensemen, who would obviously have more control over opposing shot quality than the forwards.

      Although the defensemen do seem to have smaller swings.

  • BobB

    This is a very interesting article, unfortunately for me it raises more questions than answers.

    I really have a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea that players don’t influence sv% to a measurable degree. In fact, I pretty much outright don’t accept it for three reasons:

    1. Line matching or QComp.(if there was no increased opportunity to score, why would coaches seek line match-ups with great disparity?)

    2. Zone start ( why would coaches bury some players in the defensive zone if it didn’t decrease the % likelihood to score?)

    3. Experience (from all levels of playing goal, there are always guys who you have to survive with on the ice and more goals go in with them than others. This is especially prevalent with D pairings.)

    However, numbers like these are compelling because as you said Robert:

    “If on-ice save percentage were truly within the abilities of a player to influence you wouldn’t see so much swing from year to year, would you?”

    Certainly the goalie himself is the biggest factor in all of this, but is this a sample size thing? Look at Moss, and Morrison (two guys who play a solid two-way game) sure… there is a ‘big’ difference from one season to the next, but they’re still high compared to the norm. Coincidence?

    • Sorry I got caught up in the Cammalleri stuff and missed this, hope you check back.

      Coaches match lines and start players in different zones mostly in order to reduce the number of shots, not the quality of them.

      And yes, sample size has a great deal to do with what we’re seeing.