Goalies are by far the single most important part of any hockey game. They are similar to starting pitchers in their importance in the outcome of a game. A hot goalie can salvage a lousy performance by a team, while a lousy outing can destroy great offensive play by the team. Because goalies are so important to a team it only makes sense that they are important to handicappers as well. In fact, a handicapper who is good at evaluating goalies and determining how they are likely to play has a strong chance of making a profit. Here are five factors to consider when trying to evaluate NHL goaltenders:
How consistent are they? – If a goalie is good enough to earn a spot on an NHL roster then they are good enough to get a shutout in an NHL game if everything goes their way. That’s not that impressive. What’s impressive, though, is if a goalie can consistently perform at a high level in the best hockey league in the world. If a goalie isn’t consistent,though – good performances followed by bad ones in random order – then it’s a pretty good sign that he isn’t a high caliber player. At the very least he’s not in a situation that fits him well and is allowing him to thrive.
Save percentage over goals against – The most common statistic used to evaluate goalies is goals against average. Just like ERA in baseball or the quarterback rating, though, it’s a stat with too many issues to really be useful for bettors. The goals against average relies not just on the goalie and his skill but on the team around him as well. If the team is defensively oriented then the goalie will face fewer shots and few of those shots will be high quality ones. That means that the goals against average is likely to be relatively low – even if the goalie isn’t great. On the other hand, if the team is lousy on defense then the goalie will face a lot of shots, and will likely have a higher goals against average no matter how good they are. What you need is a stat that more accurately reflects their performance removed from their team’s performance. There are some advanced stats that can do a very good job of this, but the simple way to get a decent idea of how a goalie is performing is by looking at their save percentage. A save percentage ignores the number of shots they face per game. It just looks as the number of shots they have faced on the season and the number of those that they have saved. It allows you to compare the effectiveness of goalies regardless of their team and system – much like the yards per attempt allows you to do in football.
What’s their recent form? – Goaltender is a position in which the recent performance is more important than the long term reputation of a player. Bettors will often be seduced by that reputation, though. That means that it can be possible to find interesting opportunities for profit if the recent form is significantly better or worse than people have come to expect from that player.
Who is playing in front of them? – It is certainly easier for a goalie to perform well if he has defensive help in front of him. Goalies can often be helpless if opposing players are left untouched in front of them, or if power plays are able to establish themselves at will. It’s important, then, to get a sense of how good the defense is in front of them, how well they are currently playing, how healthy they are, and the types of teams that they excel against and struggle with. You also want to look at whether the team plays as well in front of a backup goalie as they do for a starter – a surprising number of teams don’t.
How much do they play? – Some goalies are at their best when they face a very heavy workload, and would happily play 70 games a year. They don’t mind playing back to back games, and seem to get stronger as the playoffs approach. Other goalies need their rest, and start to expose their cracks if they are relied on too much in a short time. It’s important to get a sense of how a goalie handles action and whether they are getting enough or too much. Too much rest can be a concern as well if a guy doesn’t shake rust off quickly and play at a high level whether they played two days or two weeks earlier.