Sports

There’s some historic goaltending going on in the NHL right now


Igor Shesterkin

Igor Shesterkin
Photo: Getty Images

The NHL would love for you to believe that Toronto’s 10-7 win/what-have-ya over Detroit on Saturday — and to a much lesser extent the hapless Devils and Hawks hurling themselves at each other to the tune of an 8-5 scoreline on Friday — as evidence that it’s goal-apalooza on the ice these days. The reality is that scoring is just about where it was two seasons ago in the last normal season (or thereabouts), and not much up from three seasons ago.

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Historic goaltending seasons don’t really raise the pulse for fans nearly as much, but there is some ridiculous shit going on between the pipes on Broadway, in Raleigh, and even St. Louis right now.

ABC started its slate of Saturday afternoon broadcasts of NHL games this past weekend, and it was no surprise that it started with the Rangers, the league’s biggest markets, facing the Penguins, who still have perhaps the most recognizable name in the game in Sidney Crosby. But the league’s biggest star right now, likely to take home both the Vezina and Hart trophies (best goalie and league MVP), wears blue and is goalie Igor Shesterkin.

Shesterkin took the loss on Saturday, but he can’t really be blamed when he gave up only one goal. Which is a thing he’s been doing a lot of this campaign. Shesterkin has a .941 save-percentage on the season, which would tie the highest mark for any goalie this century. And all the other goalies to achieve that mark were not carrying a starter’s load. To find the highest mark from a goalie who was taking most of a team’s minutes in net, Ben Bishop’s .934 in 2018-2019 is the best you can do, followed by Carey Price’s .933 in 2015.

Shesterkin’s 1.95 goals-against average, should he carry it out for the rest of the season, would be the fifth-lowest this century, and only the fifth sub-2.00 GAA in the past 10 years.

But where Shesterkin has really separated himself is making up for what his teammates leave him to do. We’ve been over how the Rangers aren’t all that good at anything, at least at even strength, but are bailed out by Shesterkin. Defensively, the Rangers aren’t good at all. They’re 25th in attempts-against at evens, and 23rd in expected goals against, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.

But none of it matters, as Shesterkin has saved them 31 goals above expected, according to MoneyPuck.com. He’s only started 34 games, which means just about every time he just steps on the ice, the Rangers are up 1-0. MoneyPuck has stats going back to 2008-2009, and only five goalies have saved over 30 goals above expected for a season. And all of those were over a full season. Shesterkin is only just past halfway through this one, and looks a sure bet to break through the 40-goals saved above expected for the first time. The highest mark so far was Tim Thomas in 2010-2011 with 39.5.

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However, in that category and in overall excellence, Shesterkin is not alone. Freddy Andersen, free from his Maple Leaf-colored shackles, has also saved 30 goals above expected in 38 starts for the Hurricanes. Andersen also has a .930 save percentage. The Canes limit attempts against (5th in Corsi against) but give up prime chances a lot thanks to their go-go system (20th in expected goals). Thanks to Andersen it doesn’t matter, as the Canes have the best teamwide goals-against in the league.

Not to be outdone, Ville Husso for the Blues has been nearly as stupid good as Shesterkin and Andersen, but he’s been splitting starts with Jordan Binnington. He’s saved 17 goals above average in just 20 appearances, and is rocking a .935 save-percentage for the year. It is likely that Husso will eventually usurp Binnington as the starter before the playoffs, which will have the Avs, Flames, and Knights shitting chickens at the thought of beating him four out of seven.

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The NHL has tried and tried to get away from this the past few years. But it might be in yet another “Year Of The Goalie.”

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