The PHF’s Holiday Break presents us with an ideal opportunity to reflect on one of the more underappreciated stories of the 2021-22 season thus far: the dominance of goaltenders across the league.
The league-wide save percentage at the break is an impressive .919. Heading into the 2021-22 season, the all-time average for all PHF goalies was .906. To add even more context to those numbers, there have been only 13 instances of a goalie finishing a PHF/NWHL season with at least a .920 after having at least five starts. So, the Toronto Six may be on top of the standings but the first few months of the season have belonged to the league’s netminders.
Let’s start things off by looking at the data I’ve been tracking as part of my ongoing work with Their Hockey Counts. Included below is a breakdown of GA by strength, SA60, GSAA (goals saved above average), team PK%, games started, and more. Context is everything for evaluating the performance of goaltenders, so I tried to provide as many key points of data as I could.
2021-22 PHF Goalie Data at Holiday Break
|Goalie||TM||GS||GPI||MINd||W||L||OT/SOL||SA||SV||GA||Tm PK%||EV GA||PP GA||SH GA||SO||Sv%||GAA||SA60||GSAA||GSAA/60|
It’s important to note that not all shots are created equal, which of course means that all saves are also not created equal. However, the public data we for evaluating goalies is limited to all situations and is all about quantity and not quality. So, judging just by quality, we can get a sense for how difficult things have been for each goaltender. Even though it is an imperfect metric to measure a goalie’s workload, SA60 (all situations) adds a lot of context to the performance of goalies around the league. It provides some essential context for a stat like save percentage.
No PHF goalies have worked harder than Amanda Leveille of the Minnesota Whitecaps and Carly Jackson of the Buffalo Beauts. Leveille has faced an average of 39.17 SA60 in just under 480 minutes of action. Jackson’s average workload is 34.48 SA60, which is actually less than Sonjia Shelly of the Riveters (34.88) but Jackson has one more start to her name, so she gets the nod here as the true workhorse.
On the other end of the spectrum is Toronto’s Elaine Chuli, who has faced an average of 24.0 SA60 — that’s 15 fewer shots faced per hour than Leveille. We can also include Abbie Ives of the Whale in this conversation. Ives has faced an average of 24.63 SA60, which is in the same neighborhood as Chuli but her other stats are a clear step below. Something else that connects Chuli and Ives is that they are first and second in the league in wins. Facing fewer shots and winning more games than their peers?
I wonder if those things might be related. If I trusted the league’s blocked shot data more, I would have tried to include KSt (Steady) data here to paint a rough picture of shot share in all situations.
Powerless power plays?
When it comes to power plays there’s the Toronto Six and then there’s everyone else. And, well, everyone else has been pretty bad.
The Six lead the league with a potent 24.9 success rate on the power play. No other team in the PHF is north of 12 percent. The league-wide success rate on the advantage this season is 11.18 — so, the Whale are above league average with an 11.4 PP%. That’s pretty wild and exceptionally low.
So, what’s the deal? Without having access to more data, it looks like the power plays of the U.S. teams may be struggling because goaltending across the league has been so strong and a few teams — Boston and Minnesota are at the top of this list — have had unsustainably slow starts. The Pride are too good and too dangerous to have a 5.7 PP%. That number can only go up from here and the same is true of the Whitecaps’ woeful 4.3 PP%.
Whatever the cause is, it should definitely be taken into consideration when we look at the goalie data at the break. This is a bit of a chicken or the egg situation. Are power plays struggling because goalies have been so good so early or are slow starts for most teams’ power plays one explanation for goalies kicking butt and taking names around the league?
This is one of those questions I would love to ask someone who understands goaltending and/or systems better than I do. It would also help a lot to have xG data for power plays around the league to get a better grasp on what goalies are doing (or what skaters aren’t doing) to impact these numbers. Are shooters unlucky? Or do goalies just have their number this year? Call me a goalie guy, but I give the benefit of the doubt to the goalies here.
Frontrunners for Goaltender of the Year
Right now, the favorite for the PHF’s 2022 Goaltender of the Year has to be Elaine Chuli. Rounding out my top three are Leveille and Jackson.
I give the nod to Jackson over Katie Burt of the Boston Pride based on her performance relative to the performance of her team and her peers. To be clear, Burt’s boxcar stats are better, but there is more pressure on CJ to perform just to keep her team in games, let alone put them in a position to win. Going by the eye test, it’s also pretty clear that Jackson faces more high-danger shots at evens than Burt by a comfortable margin. With all of that said, I wouldn’t hold it against anyone who picks Burt over CJ for Goaltender of the Year.
When we take all of the public data into consideration the best performance, in my opinion, to date has to be Leveille. She’s playing for a team that is, on average, being out-shot by 13 shots a game. With all of that pressure to perform, Leveille has a .927 Sv% and has allowed just three goals while her team has been shorthanded. For reference, her career save percentage before this year was .922 — so her numbers are actually UP despite the avalanche she’s facing every game. She’s been superhuman
Leveille would have my vote for Goaltender of the Year if the media voted today but I think Chuli would win the award. Why? She’s undefeated in seven starts, has a .952 Sv%, and leads the league in wins (7) and shutouts (2). Chuli has also yet to surrender a power-play goal this year. Those achievements are so good that they are frankly hard to believe. She hasn’t had to be brilliant, but there’s no denying that she’s decided to go ahead and do it anyway.