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Evaluating Corey Crawford’s Goaltending

By Melissa Peterson
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There seems to be an inordinate amount of polarized views when it comes to goaltending. After every loss, the question of “Would a goalie change have made a difference here?” seems to be the one on everyone’s mind.

We touched on Corey Crawford’s goaltending a bit in the post Evaluating the Blackhawks’ Penalty Kill before, but we’re going to take a more in-depth look at just how Crawford’s performance ranks amongst current NHL goalies, and what that means specifically for the Blackhawks.

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Crawford is a starting goaltender, which means that he plays in more games and faces a larger amount of shots than non-starting goaltenders in the league. What this translates to is that we really need to compare him to other starting goaltenders, rather than just all goaltenders as a whole. And here’s why: Facing a lesser amount of shots makes goals have a larger impact on your save percentage. So, if you face ten shots and allow one goal, your save percentage is at 90.0%, whereas if you face 5 shots and allow one goal, your save percentage drops to 80.0%. Although this seems like a disadvantage to those facing less shots, it actually cuts both ways when measuring because results on a smaller scale are not always reproducible on a larger one. A couple of bad bounces can really impact your save percentage, but a lower amount of event rates can also shelter you from experiencing those bad bounces. When evaluating a goaltender’s performance, you must always keep consistency in mind.

In order to establish starting goaltenders, I started the minimum TOI for the season at 1200 minutes. This narrowed the results to 29 goaltenders (See chart under Resources for full list and stats used in this post). Amongst those 29, for overall save percentage, Crawford ranks 15th at 92.32% (Pekka Rinne of Nashville Predators ranks first at 94.27%, Mike Smith of the Arizona Coyotes ranks twenty-ninth at 89.82%).

But, as we know, this save percentage accounts for an average over three distinct zones of the ice. So again, we have to break Crawford’s save percentages down by three areas on the ice: The High-Danger Area, the Medium-Danger area and the Low-Danger Area (See chart below under Resources for area designation and how they’re defined).

LOW-DANGER AREA

Crawford ranks second amongst goaltenders in the Low-danger area with a save percentage of 98.53% (Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens is the only goaltender with a higher save percentage at 98.70%; Ben Scrivens of the Edmonton Oilers ranks twenty-ninth at 95.58%).

Chart courtesy war-on-ice.com | Current as of 9 February 2015

This chart gives us a better look at event rates rather than just strict save percentage. What you can tell from this chart is that Crawford faces a much lower event rate in the Low-Danger goal area (approximately 334 saves) than Price, which makes Price’s save percentage all the more indicative of his skill.

MEDIUM-DANGER AREA

Crawford ranks eighteenth amongst goaltenders in the Medium-danger area with a save percentage of 92.73% (Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins ranks first with a save percentage of 95.81%; Devan Dubnyk of the Minnesota Wild ranks twenty-ninth at 89.29%).

Chart courtesy war-on-ice.com | Current as of 9 February 2015

Again, this chart provides context into the event rate for these areas. Crawford, although hard to see, ranks at 16 goals and approximately 204 saves. Rask faces the highest event rate, which makes his save percentage for this area quite impressive.

HIGH-DANGER AREA

Crawford ranks twentieth amongst goaltenders in the High-danger area with a save percentage of 82.98% (Devan Dubnyk of the Minnesota Wild ranks first with a save percentage of 89.38%; Mike Smith of the Arizona Coyotes ranks twenty-ninth at 77.39%).

Chart courtesy war-on-ice.com | Current as of 9 February 2015

Again, this chart provides context into the event rate for these areas. Crawford, although hard to see again, ranks at 40 goals and approximately 195 saves. Dubnyk actually faces some of the lowest amounts of shots in this area which makes his save percentage a little inflated. In comparison, Jaroslav Halak of the New York Islanders, who ranks second at 87.45%, faces the largest event rate in this area.

CONCLUSION

So what does this all mean? Based on some of these rankings, it would look like Crawford is, at best, average amongst starting goaltenders.

To really understand these rankings, however, we need to look at Crawford specifically in how he plays for the Blackhawks. For this season, Crawford has faced 42.7% of his SOG coming from the Low-danger area (339 SA), so this save percentage would carry the most weight, which is great because it is his highest save percentage. His second most eventful area is the High-danger area, which 29.6% of his SOG originate from (235 SA), and the least eventful is the Medium-danger area at 27.7% (220 SA).

Why does this matter? Because this is the area from which most shots are taken against him, it can be assumed that the Blackhawks’ skaters are successful at breaking up plays in areas closer to the net that typically carry higher success rates (This is proven when you look at Scott Darling and Antti Raanta‘s SA rates as well, where Darling faced 42.5% from the Low-danger area, 29.3% from Medium-danger and 28.2% from High-danger and Raanta faced 48.2% from Low-danger, 22.8% from Medium-danger and 29.0% from High-danger). When evaluating Blackhawks goaltending (and really all goaltending selections for teams) it is important that, when selecting a goaltender, they be concerned primarily with the area(s) they will face the most shots against from’s save percentage(s) instead of strictly overall save percentage.

What this means is that for the Blackhawks’ style of play specifically, Crawford is perfectly suitable to be in the net. In fact, when you take a look at goaltenders who face a similar percentage of their shots on goal from the low-danger area as Crawford as well as a similar percentage from the High-danger area (Jonas Hiller of the Anaheim Ducks and Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Redwings), neither have a higher save percentage in the Low-danger area, while both have a better one for the High-danger.

But when you look at how this difference would play out over 1010 Shots on Goal Against (approximately 35 games at 29 SA/60 mins, which is the amount Crawford has started in this season and his average shots faced per game) using ratios of 43% Low-danger, 28% Medium-danger, and 30% High-danger, Howard would have 80 GA (12 Low-danger, 18 Medium-danger and 50 High danger), Crawford would have 77 GA (6 Low-danger, 20 Medium-danger and 51 High-danger), and Hiller would have 75 GA (13 Low-danger, 19 Medium-danger and 43 High-danger). Hiller’s is the only save percentage difference that would give him the slight edge over Crawford.


Resources

Goaltenders with 1200+ mins for the 2014-2015 Season | Stats courtesy war-on-ice and based on even-strength (5-on-5)  play

(1) Goal Zones as defined by war-on-ice

Sources

Stats and charts courtesy of war-on-ice.com

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