Over the course of the season, one of the most hotly debated topics has been the performance of the Carolina Hurricanes’ goalie tandem of Cam Ward and Scott Darling. A brief trip to the stats page of NHL.com will tell you that both goalies are currently posting a Save Percentage below the league average of .913.
But does that really tell the whole story?
The problem with a statistic like SV% is that it essentially assumes that every goalie in the NHL is handling the same shot quality night in and night out. It does nothing to account for the fact that some NHL teams are significantly better defensively than others — and similarly, some offenses are booming while others are anemic.
The Canes’ goalie play through the first half of this season has been somewhat of an enigma. Both Darling and Ward have shown flashes of brilliance, but their play has ultimately been defined by streakiness and inconsistency.
In order to compare the play of Ward and Darling to the rest of the goalies in the NHL, it is necessary to essentially normalize the Save Percentage statistic. A good way to do this is to use a statistic called Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA). This metric has a few easy steps:
- Multiply the number one minus the league-wide average in SV% by the number of shots the goaltender faced in an arbitrary time period.
- Take the result and subtract the total number of goals scored on him in that time period.
You are left with GSAA. Here’s the formula for more clarity:
GSAA = [Shots against x (1 – league-average save percentage)] – goals allowed
This statistic is evaluated on the basis of zero, meaning that a GSAA of zero is considered to be exactly the league average, while anything above or below is better or worse than average respectively. We wanted to use this statistic to compare the tricky play of the Hurricanes goaltender tandem to a league benchmark. Based on “the eye test”, I’d say that the two have stolen at least a few points this season, and they’ve likewise let a few wins slip away with poor play. So let’s see how they did in every game this season based on GSAA.
To determine how many points the goalies “won or lost” for us over the course of the season, I compared their GSAA to the outcome of the game in question, based on a study done by our SBN cohorts at Anaheim Calling earlier this season. I determined my end cases based on win or loss and the goalies performance with respect to the league average.
If the Hurricanes won and:
- The goalie’s rounded GSAA was greater than the game’s goal differential, the goalie receives 2 points.
- The goalie’s rounded GSAA was equal to the goal differential, the goalie receives 1 point.
- The goalie’s rounded GSAA was less than the goal differential (including a negative GSAA), the goalie receives 0 points.
If the Hurricanes lost in overtime and:
- The goalie’s GSAA was greater than 0.5, the goalie receives 1 point.
- The goalie’s GSAA was between -0.5 and 0.5, the goalie receives 0 points.
- The goalie’s GSAA was less than -0.5, the goalie receives -1 points.
If the Hurricanes lost in regulation and:
- The goalie’s rounded GSAA was greater than the goal differential, the goalie receives 0 points.
- The goalie’s rounded GSAA was equal to the goal differential, the goalie receives -1 point.
- The goalie’s rounded GSAA was less than the goal differential, the goalie receives -2 points.
(Note that any zero-point games are excluded from the list below, for the sake of brevity.)
October 17th vs. Edmonton Oilers: Ward GSAA: 1.97 & Canes win 5-3 — One point won
November 2nd vs. Colorado Avalanche: Ward GSAA: -2.86 & Canes lose in regulation 5-3— Two points lost
November 10th vs. Columbus Blue Jackets: Ward GSAA: 1.68 & Canes win 3-1 — Two points won (Note: an empty net goal made it a two goal game instead of a one goal game, so we calculated this as if the Canes had won 2-1)
November 24th vs. Toronto Maple Leafs: Ward GSAA: -2.42 & Canes lose in regulation 5-4 — Two points lost (Note: Darling relieved Ward after four goals were scored and let in one more, but I’m still considering this a Ward loss.)
December 7th vs. San Jose Sharks: Ward GSAA: -2.18 & Canes lose in OT 5-4 — One point lost
December 27th vs. Montreal Canadiens: Ward GSAA: 1.26 & Canes win 3-1 — One point won (Note: an empty net goal made it a two goal game instead of a one goal game.)
December 29th vs. Pittsburgh Penguins: Ward GSAA: 1.10 & Canes win 2-1 — One point won
January 2nd vs. Washington Capitals: Ward GSAA: -2.56 & Canes lose in OT 5-4 — One point lost
Ward overall point value: -1
October 21st vs. Dallas Stars: Darling GSAA: -1.77 & Canes lose in regulation 5-4 — Two points lost
October 29th vs. Anaheim Ducks: Darling GSAA: -0.93 & Canes lose in shootout 4-3 — One point lost
November 7th vs. Florida Panthers: Darling GSAA: 1.45 & Canes win 3-1 — One point won (Note: an empty net goal made it a two goal game instead of a one goal game)
November 16th vs. New York Islanders: Darling GSAA: -1.83 & Canes lose in regulation 6-4 — Two points lost (Note: an empty net goal made it a two goal game instead of a one goal game)
November 28th vs. Columbus: Darling GSAA: 1.15 & Canes lose in SO 3-2 — One point won.
December 9th vs. Los Angeles Kings: Darling GSAA: -1.55 & Canes lose in OT 3-2 — One point lost
December 11th vs. Anaheim: Darling GSAA: -0.63 & Canes lose in regulation 3-2 — One point lost
December 16th vs. Columbus: Darling GSAA: 2.26 & Canes win 2-1 — Two points won
December 30th vs. St. Louis Blues: Darling GSAA: -0.77 & Canes lose in regulation 3-2 — One point lost
Darling overall point value: -4
In this metric it is clear that Ward has been only slightly stronger in net this season. But it is necessary to note that both goaltenders are still posting a GSAA below league average, with Ward holding a -0.98 and Darling a -14.92.
Darling’s GSAA has gotten out of hand as a result of him being thrown to the wolves a bit in certain games. He was in net for four of the worst games that the Canes have played this season against Toronto and New York twice, as well as Boston last weekend. I would expect for Darling’s GSAA to increase much more throughout the season while Ward’s will likely stay about where it is.
I suspect that the exercise ended up favoring Ward more heavily as a result of the team playing a more complete game since he came into the starting goaltender role over the past three weeks. Furthermore, Ward was in the backup role for the majority of the season prior to late December, which allowed him to start against less challenging opposition until recently.
Both goaltenders have won us points with strong performances throughout this season; I maintain that the tandem has played better as a whole than any goalie platoon in recent Canes history. But the Hurricanes need sustained play at or above the league average in order to be more than an also-ran this Spring. This means that both Ward and Darling are going to need to sustain average to above average play for the remaining duration of the season. Is this an achievable goal for the tandem? I think so — but stay tuned.
* Stats from Corsica and Hockey Reference