Consistency is what I would consider to be the biggest factor separating good goalies from very good goalies in the NHL. The two measures that I value most are save percentage and percentage of quality starts (QS). A QS is a game above the league average in save percentage (90.8 currently), or a game with fewer than 20 shots and a save percentage above 88.5. Another useful stat is RBS (really bad start), which is a start resulting in a save percentage under 85.0.
In a lot of cases, goaltenders are the victims or the beneficiaries of the team playing in front of them on a nightly basis, but a quality start takes that into account a little more than wins or goals against average (GAA). For example, 41 saves on 45 shots, resulting in a loss and a GAA of 4.00 (assuming 60 minutes), would be considered a quality start this season as the save percentage is 91.1. Conversely, 17 saves on 20 shots, resulting in a win and a GAA of 3.00, would be a borderline really bad start at 85.0 save percentage.
In my opinion, over time, QS tells the story of consistency fairly well without getting into some other more advanced stats. The current league average for QS percentage is 50.6 in 2019-2020 and 49.8 over the past five seasons. The league average for RBS this season is 17.1 percent currently, while over the past five seasons it is 15.7.
League leaders in QS going back to 2016-2017 were Sergei Bobrovsky at 66.7 percent, Pekka Rinne at 66.1 percent in 2017-2018, and Frederik Andersen at 70 percent in 2018-2019. Here are the current leaders (min 13 GP) in 2019-2020:
Darcy Kuemper is leading with 84 percent QS after his first 25 games, while Thatcher Demko, Tristan Jarry and Jaroslav Halak are all above 70 percent. There is a very good chance that most of these goalies will be below 70 percent by the end of the season, although Kuemper has a good chance to duplicate what Andersen did last year. Jordan Binnington has picked up pretty much where he left off after last season and has a higher quality start percentage than last year (65.6), which is no small feat.
Here are the top ten most consistent goalies since 2015-2016 (min 100 GP) according to QS:
Frederik Andersen is the only goalie above 60 percent QS since October 2015 at 60.5 percent. Antti Raanta is the only goalie on this list who has not had a prolonged starting role in the NHL as Darcy Kuemper has been outstanding the past two seasons. Look for Raanta to be more than a backup in the next few years if he can maintain this level with more starts. The current injury to Kuemper is an opportunity for Raanta to show Arizona and other interested teams what he can do.
Looking at RBS this season and focusing on starts of 15 or more, we can see that anything above the league average of 17.1 percent might indicate some consistency issues. Here are the goalies currently struggling the most:
Looking at Aaron Dell, Mike Smith, Pekka Rinne, Carter Hutton, Jimmy Howard, and Martin Jones, it is hardly surprising to see any of these names at the top of this list. They have all had well-documented difficulties this season and most of them have played or are playing themselves out of their starting roles and perhaps out of the NHL sooner than later.
Concerning names on this list for me are Matt Murray, Carey Price, and Braden Holtby. Murray has lost his starting job to Tristan Jarry for now, and the future will largely depend on what Jarry does moving forward (although it will be difficult for him to sustain his current form). Price is having his second sub-par season in the past three and is slated to make $10.5 million AAV until 2025-2026, which has to be a huge concern in Montreal moving forward. Holtby is still the starter in Washington, but is starting to give up some starts to Ilya Samsonov, and it is just a matter of time until Samsonov takes over as Holtby is an unrestricted free agent after this season. He’s not doing himself any favors if he hopes to sign for big money in the summer.
RBS is not a great indicator of future success in the net, as we can see from the worst of the bunch in 2018-2019:
The bottom ten who collectively played 314 games last season have played only 103 halfway through 2019-2020. Only Jake Allen has turned things around this season out of the ten goalies listed, but he is also in a backup role after beginning 2018-2019 as a starter.
Here are the bottom ten goalies for consistency since October 2015 (min 100 games):
I consider goaltending to be the most difficult position to play in the NHL, as it is heavily scrutinized on a goal-by-goal basis and you are only as good as your last save. It is a high-pressure position, and the difference between being an NHL starting goalie or backup comes down to consistency 100% of the time. There are not many goalies who can remain starters in the NHL for ten years or more. As a result, I tend to be a goalie apologist more than a fierce critic.
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