Despite what has appeared to be a solid string of performances in net for the Carolina Hurricanes over the past three games, goaltending metrics peg Petr Mrazek as one of the worst goaltenders thus far in these playoffs. Here’s a chart showing playoff goalies and their Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA) through the first two games of the postseason. (Note: Mrazek’s GSAA jumped up to -1.77 after Monday’s shutout win, but that’s still third worst in the NHL).
Results vs expectation— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) April 14, 2019
It's impossible to say it enough: Lehner has put together an unbelievably incredible season for NYI. pic.twitter.com/48zA8QaYAa
The eye test has told me that Mrazek has been good, but not necessarily great. He appeared a little jumpy early in the series — the same could be said for the entire team. I really don’t think that anyone would argue that he’s been significantly below average through the first three games. Without his heroics, the team certainly doesn’t get to overtime in Game 2. That’s exactly the level of play that is required and expected of a goaltender in the postseason. It seems like he shook off the early postseason nerves relatively quickly, and has only gotten better as the series has progressed.
I think it’s fair to say that the first goal of the series was a savable shot. Nicklas Backstrom streaked into the offensive zone and snapped a quick wrist shot from above the slot that beat Mrazek to glove side. The shot was somewhat unexpected and definitely a good one from an elite top line center, but probably savable. We can probably chalk it up to nerves, a screening defensemen, and a really great shot from Backstrom.
Another goal that Mrazek will want back is the game winning one-timer in overtime of Game 2 from just above the dot off the stick of Brooks Orpik. I don’t think this goal was necessarily his fault — the Caps made a great play all around and Brett Pesce was providing a nearly perfect screen with his feet in the blue paint as Mrazek tried to track the pass. But it’s ultimately a shot from a non-scoring defensemen from a medium danger area and probably one that Mrazek saves more often than not.
Other than those two shots, I think that Mrazek has been lights out in this playoff series.
Situations like these — when the eye test and goaltending metrics tell two different stories — generally spawn a debate about the validity of the statistics. They shouldn’t. Numbers aren’t the whole story, and they certainly don’t replace the eye test. The two should work in unison to give us a better understanding of the game.
The most compelling argument for the discrepancy between the eye test and Mrazek’s underlying numbers in this series is the statistical anomaly that is the Washington Capitals. When you have a wealth of top end finishing talent like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and T.J. Oshie (honorable mention goes to offensive superstar Brooks Orpik), you don’t need to generate tons of shots in order to score goals. The Capitals’ 10.5% shooting percentage was best in the NHL during the regular season, while their Shots Per Game and Shot Attempts Percentage were 22nd and 18th in the league, respectively.
The truth is that the Capitals aren’t a perpetually lucky team, and Mrazek isn’t playing poorly this series. The Caps are just that good at finishing their scoring chances. It certainly helps to have some of the best forwards in the league who have been making it happen for years. Compile that with the fact that the Capitals have a “been there before” swagger about them that was most evident early on the series (see the Oshie karate kick goal), and what you get is a goaltender who is playing his tail off with subpar metrics.