As the netminder-centric narratives that arose at the start of the 2022-23 schedule continue to unfold throughout November, there’s no better time for an update on all things goalies.
At the mid-point mark in the second month of the NHL season, these are the goaltending stories that matter the most throughout each division at the moment.
NHL Stat Leaders
With a group of over 40 goalies having already accumulated six games played or more thus far, that offers a logical minimum when looking at whose starts can be justifiably compared.
Based on that sample size, these are the names that currently lead the NHL in wins (W), goals-against average (GAA), save percentage (SV%), shutouts (SO), and goals saved above expected per 60 (GSAx/60).
W: Linus Ullmark (11)
GAA: Jake Oettinger (1.80)
SV%: Jake Oettinger (.938)
SO: Three-way tie* (2)
GSAx/60: Carter Hart (1.545)
*Ville Husso, Logan Thompson, Connor Hellebuyck
Unsurprisingly, strong play between their pipes has helped those anticipated to dominate the Atlantic Division make good on that presumption thus far.
Knight Making His Case as Florida’s No. 1
Despite having been selected 13th overall by the Florida Panthers in 2019, Spencer Knight had to know that their net belonged to Sergei Bobrovsky when the club signed the former Vezina Trophy winner to a seven-year deal shortly after that very draft.
“He gives you a chance to win every night,” Tallon said. “He’s durable, and he’s a very good player. He’s a student of the game. Nobody works harder. So it’ll be interesting to see guys like [center Aleksander] Barkov and Bobrovsky working off the ice like that. It will be a great example for our young players to follow.”
That said, though, a backseat to Bobrovsky wasn’t going to stop Knight from performing when given the chance. Having already impressed enough through the 36 games played in 2020-21 and 2021-22 to earn himself a $4.5 million per year extension beginning in 2023-24, Knight isn’t done elevating. So much so that, even when considering the over $9 million variance between their paycheques in 2022-23, Knight is making a strong case to be prioritized over Bobrovsky the rest of the way.
As the Panthers struggle to maintain their status as contenders in the Atlantic, Knight is currently their only goalie with a winning record. Combine that with the fact that his .922 SV%, 2.31 GAA, and 0.390 GSAx/60 are all far superior to the numbers Bobrovsky has accumulated, and it’s a no-brainer for Florida to speed up the 21-year-old’s promotion.
Källgren Answered the Maple Leafs’ Call
It was one thing for the Toronto Maple Leafs to learn that Matt Murray would be sidelined early on in the season, as they knew they had Ilya Samsonov there as a capable part of their 1A/1B duo and he delivered as such. But, then Samsonov went down, leaving the club with a replacement tandem of Erik Källgren and Keith Petruzzelli.
Heading into 2022-23, the pair had collectively played 14 NHL contests — all by Källgren. Yet, Maple Leafs’ management refrained from overreacting and Källgren deserves kudos for his efforts. He’s gone 3-1-1 since stepping in for Samsonov and owns a .918 SV% at even strength on the year. With Murray’s return now imminent, Källgren will drop into a backup role and Petruzzelli’s debut will be further delayed.
You need not look much further than the Metropolitan Division‘s goaltending performances, whether surprising for the right reasons or otherwise, to see why the standings are seemingly flipped in a few regards.
Vanecek’s Play Propelling New Jersey’s Plan
Trading for Vitek Vanecek was an offseason move designed to reshape the New Jersey Devils’ goaltending strategy and the transaction is already paying dividends. That the Washington Capitals were so quick to give up on him is working to New Jersey’s advantage.
New Jersey concluded 2021-22 near the bottom of the Metropolitan, with the fourth-highest number of goals against in the NHL. Their young lineup still had some experience to accumulate before they could be taken more seriously. Heading into 2022-23, though, 27-year-old Vanecek was determined to speed up their timeline.
Already averaging career-bests across the board this season, Vanecek only lost one of his first seven starts. Though his .909 SV% may not be elite, his 2.33 GAA has him among the league’s best. Ultimately, the Devils are winning with him in net, whereas they didn’t do much of that without him. If they maintain the top spot in the Metropolitan, expect Vanecek’s metrics to continue improving along the way.
Islanders Relevant Again Thanks to Sorokin
The 2021-22 New York Islanders started competing far too late into the schedule for it to matter and an 11-game losing streak early on in the year didn’t help. Meanwhile, despite barely playing above .500 as a collective, Ilya Sorokin put together a pretty impressive sophomore campaign that included a .925 SV%, 2.40 GAA, and seven shutouts. To further the fact that he wasn’t the issue on Long Island, Sorokin set out to find another gear in 2022-23.
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Well beyond being referred to as New York’s goalie of the future, Sorokin is already riding a .932 SV%, 2.17 GAA, and 0.912 GSAx/60. Even if the Islanders drop off in offensive output, onlookers should feel confident that their goaltender’s proven star power will guide them back into the playoffs after missing out last year.
As some star netminders in the Central Division stumbled out of the gate in 2022-23, others have stepped up in meaningful fashion following last year’s struggles.
Hellebuyck Helping Jets Soar Up the Standings
As a recent Vezina recipient, Connor Hellebuyck earning a .910 SV% and 2.97 GAA for the 2021-22 Winnipeg Jets just wasn’t good enough. Some of the worst stats he’s seen, neither number ranked him anywhere near the league’s top goalies. In direct alignment was his club’s mediocre results, which had them on the outside looking in last postseason.
Fast forward to 2022-23 and, while few predicted that the Jets would rise through the ranks so quickly, Hellebuyck’s play has them skyrocketing. All the way up to the division’s top spot, in fact.
It’s not just his 2.08 GAA or .935 SV%, either. The 29-year-old has already compiled a cumulative GSAx of 10.5, which is second-best in the NHL. Given the type of workload that Hellebuyck welcomes, if he can maintain the pattern of performances that has him 7-3-1 thus far then there’s no telling how much further Winnipeg will climb through the Central.
Arizona Enjoying Vejmelka’s Sophomore Success
From a lowly 25-win campaign in 2021-22 to sharing a home rink with a local college in 2022-23, it’s safe to say that Arizona Coyotes fans are desperate for a more optimistic spotlight to shine over their team. Good thing for them, Karel Vejmelka is signed through 2024-25.
Vejmelka’s stat line from last season does more to illustrate his team’s struggles than his own. One of six goalies Arizona started in 2021-22, it’s relevant to note that he was the only netminder to earn a shutout. A feat he’s already reached in 2022-23.
Although the Coyotes currently find themselves battling near the basement of the division, witnessing performances in net that have earned Vejmelka a top-five ranking with his 0.780 GSAx/60 should provide supporters with some solace. Additionally, the 26-year-old’s .910 SV% is well ahead of the mark he achieved last year, illustrating a more ideal trendline for Arizona.
It’s been impossible to ignore how impactful goaltending has been in shaping the Pacific Division thus far through 2022-23, whether any respective performance has helped or hindered.
Jones Dilutes Seattle’s Goaltending Drama
Simply stated, the Seattle Kraken didn’t have a very good inaugural season. The excitement around their rink wasn’t enough to improve their on-ice results and it didn’t help that their tandem of Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger collectively earned a .894 SV%, 3.06 GAA, and -35.3 GSAx.
With Grubauer’s metrics having weighed down the duo so heavily in 2021-22, it could have been Driedger’s net heading into 2022-23 had he not been injured and forced out of action for the foreseeable future following knee surgery. A reality that helped justify the franchise taking a flyer on 33-year-old Martin Jones.
It would have seemed as though Jones’ best days were behind him, having not seen a SV% north of .900 or a GAA south of 2.94 since 2017-18. Yet, what he’s accomplishing early on in 2022-23 with the Kraken suggests otherwise. Already averaging a 2.38 GAA, .909 SV%, and 0.518 GSAx/60, it’s no wonder Seattle is finally starting to see what it feels like to win some games.
Stolarz’s Stock Rising in Anaheim
Although John Gibson had earned his place among the NHL’s best when he was at the top of his game, he hasn’t been back there in some time. The benefit of the doubt has kept his name relevant, as his Anaheim Ducks have struggled alongside him. However, despite being known as a backup, Anthony Stolarz isn’t letting nostalgia get in the way of stealing starts from Gibson.
It’s not that Stolarz’s .896 SV% or 3.74 GAA should impress, but that both are better than what the Ducks’ starter has set means something. He’s also 2-2-0, which looks a lot better than Gibson’s record of 2-8-1. If Anaheim wants to stay even remotely competitive this year, perhaps they should prioritize playing their only goalie who doesn’t own a negative GSAx/60.
More NHL Netminder News & Notes
If you weren’t already impressed by the career that Marc-André Fleury has put together, that he has now earned his 72nd career shutout should help. What’s more, he’s now the only goalie to blank 28 of the league’s 32 franchises.
As Fleury continues to work on his Hall of Fame application, fellow netminder and former opponent Roberto Luongo is now officially a member. Luongo’s career stat line includes 489 wins, along with a .919 SV%, 2.52 GAA, 77 shutouts, and a Jennings Trophy. Based on that summary, Fleury’s three Stanley Cups, Vezina Trophy, and over 500 wins and counting alone should be enough to receive his invite whenever he calls it a career.
Whether or not any of Fleury’s current counterparts will do enough to earn a spot alongside him and Luongo in Toronto is yet to be seen. But if those who have enjoyed a hot start to 2022-23 can maintain their momentum through the months to come, that’s certainly a step in the right direction.
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