In a year where some of the most prolific goalies in the NHL have struggled, Saturday was a good day to celebrate some of them getting back on track, and one who has been on fire for the last month.
Saturday’s action featured a plethora of shutouts from top-name goaltenders who fell significantly in our recent midseason updated rankings of the 31 NHL starting goalies. Let’s take a look at each one individually.
Marc-Andre Fleury has been struggling somewhat this season, though he’s improved in recent weeks. The .907 save percentage (SV%) and 2.86 goals-against average (GAA) with which he entered Saturday are a far cry from the numbers that have landed him in the top five of Vezina Trophy voting each of his two seasons with the Vegas Golden Knights so far. But he can still put together flawless performances from time to time.
Fleury didn’t have the busiest night of work, as he faced only 19 shots from the struggling Nashville Predators. He faced only four high danger chances, and the Predators mustered just 1.24 expected goals (xG). Still, a shutout is a shutout, and this is Fleury’s 59th, which brings him into a tie with Evgeni Nabokov for 18th all time.
Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens is considered by many the best goaltender in the world. But his numbers haven’t reflected that this season, nor has he been earning the massive contract the Canadiens gave him in July 2017. His numbers closely resembled Fleury’s entering Saturday: a .909 SV% and a 2.80 GAA.
On paper, the contest was a statistical anomaly in many ways. Price’s opponents, the Florida Panthers got six opportunities on the power play. They took 14 shots with the man advantage and 29 shots overall. Even so, they had just seven high danger chances and 1.82 xG.
With the 29-save performance, Price grabbed his 47th career shutout, breaking a tie with the legendary Ken Dryden and moving into sole possession of third place in Canadiens’ history. It will be a while before he catches either Jacques Plante (58) or George Hainsworth (75). Still, he is making a case to be numbered among the greatest Canadiens goalies in history.
The King of Broadway is in the final act of his career, and Henrik Lundqvist’s numbers are beginning to reflect it. His .907 SV% and 3.18 GAA on the season entering Saturday are far removed from his .918 SV% and 2.43 GAA across his career. Fast approaching 38, and with Igor Shesterkin and Alexander Georgiev (if he isn’t traded) breathing down his neck, his time as the New York Rangers’ starter may be dwindling. But he’s still capable of pulling a trick or two.
On Saturday, Lundqvist pulled the enviable position of starting in net against the feckless Detroit Red Wings. Even though the squad from the Motor City managed 33 shots, 12 high danger chances, and 3.09 xG, the Rangers won the game 1-0 thanks to Lundqvist’s perfect performance.
Lundqvist’s no-no was his first shutout in two seasons, but the 64th of his career. He needs just two more to catch Patrick Roy for 15th all time. He is the career leader in practically every Rangers goaltending category, including shutouts, where he’s now passed Ed Giacomin by 15.
He may not have had as storied a career as the other three discussed here, but Curtis McElhinney (36) joined these senior circuit netminders in flawless performances on Saturday. He made 30 saves against the San Jose Sharks, who had 11 high danger chances and 2.82 xG. It was a great performance, but he might not have been the Lightning goaltender who made the most headlines yesterday.
Vasilevskiy Honored With Third Star
Andrei Vasilevskiy had a faltering start to the 2019-20 campaign. After the Tampa Bay Lightning were shockingly swept out of the playoffs at the conclusion of one of the most dominant regular seasons in recent memory, the entire team struggled to find their form in the early going this season. But they’ve certainly found it now.
The month of January was kind to the entire team, but especially Vasilevskiy, who had a 9-0-1 record in 10 games. The 25-year-old native of Tyumen, Russia, who is as elite and consistent a goalie as any in the NHL, had a .948 SV% and a 1.58 GAA in the month, along with two shutouts. It was enough for the NHL to name him its third star of the month of January.
Vasilevskiy now leads the league in wins with 26 and has lifted his SV% and GAA to .917 and 2.55, respectively. He also has 9.71 goals saved above average. With just over two months in the season, he seems to stand a strong chance to earn his second consecutive Vezina Trophy.
The “Battle” of Alberta
The feud between the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers, popularly known as the Battle of Alberta, has become a battle in more ways than once in recent weeks. After an initial fracas between Matthew Tkachuk of the Flames and Zach Kassian of the Oilers, the past few meetings have been increasingly heated.
In Saturday’s contest, tensions boiled over. A line brawl ensued, and Flames goaltender Cam Talbot got involved with the action near his net. Oilers goaltender Mike Smith did not appreciate this and skated out to center ice. Talbot saw the challenge and recognized what was in the offing: a goalie fight.
To heighten the irony and drama of the clash, but goalies are on one-year contracts after extended stretches as the starter for the opposing team. But NHL players represent the colors they wear now, not the colors they wear longest, and both goalies answered the bell. Consensus suggests Smith won the skirmish, and the Oilers certainly won the game, trouncing the Flames by a score of 8-3.
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Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.