Even Strength Goaltending Comes With Luck

Deciphering the correlation between good goaltending and luck in hockey is not completely understood, but the best and worst teams have or lack one or both.

The game of hockey can be won and lost on the power play and the penalty kill. Being advantageous can keep a lucky team in the playoff hunt and even the best teams on the outside looking in.

With that said, the majority of a hockey game is played at even strength. Looking at team goaltending statistics at the middle point of the 2014-15 season show some interesting numbers. Looking at the top and bottom of even strength save percentage is a good start to try to determine just how important it is to team success.

Here are the top-five teams in even strength save percentage -- according to stats.hockeyanalysis.com -- their record, and their nERD, which is our metric for identifying goal differential compared to league-average teams.

Top Five5v5 Sv%PDORecordnERD
Nashville Predators94.14103.1 (1)29-9-40.61 (3)
Chicago Blackhawks93.24100.8 (11)28-13-20.88 (1)
Montreal Canadiens93.20101.9 (2)26-12-30.35 (7)
New Jersey Devils93.11100.6 (12)15-21-8-0.40 (24)
Pittsburgh Penguins93.04101.6 (3)26-10-60.61 (4)

Four of the five teams are currently in playoff spots. New Jersey is the outlier by quite a bit. How can a team stuck in the bottom of the standings do so well at even strength? New Jersey’s PDO (shooting percentage plus save percentage) is 100.6, 12th in the league. Average is considered 100.0. Anything above indicates some sense of luck. Anything below indicates an absence of luck. So, the Devils are a pretty average team at even strength.

The highest rated team in terms of PDO is the top rated team at goaltending even strength: the Nashville Predators. Their PDO is 103.1. Pekka Rinne is an MVP candidate for a reason.

Further, New Jersey lacks a penalty kill. Their 85.92 save percentage and 96.4 PDO at while on the penalty kill is middle-of-the-pack. It makes a little more sense, then, that the Devils are on the outside looking in. Cory Schneider can’t stop everything all the time.

What about the bottom five teams in even strength save percentage?

Bottom Five5v5 Sv%PDORecordnERD
Dallas Stars91.1100.4 (13)19-16-7-0.13 (21)
Carolina Hurricanes90.8996.9 (30)14-24-5-0.42 (25)
Arizona Coyotes90.8297.6 (28)16-22-4-0.85 (28)
Edmonton Oilers90.0597.2 (29)10-25-9-1.05 (29)
Minnesota Wild89.7697.6 (27)18-19-5-0.19 (23)

The clear statement here is that these five teams are not in the playoffs as of now.

Dallas is the only team considered a playoff contender (they have a 25.36 percent chance to make playoffs, per our numbers) in large part because of their elite scoring. Kari Lehtonen has had a rough season after carrying the Stars for long stretches during their run of mediocrity.

Looking at the PDO of these teams is sad to be honest. The unluckiest teams in the NHL are the four worst teams in even strength save percentage. Injuries, inconsistency and a lack of talent have plagued the teams not named the Dallas Stars.

Coming full circle, the Carolina Hurricanes are the only basement-dwelling team with an average PDO shorthanded (100.9). One could say that having a PDO around 100.0 is pretty lucky. Seven teams are at 100.0 or better, and two of them are playoff teams at this moment (Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay).

But luck is a factor in all sports. The New Jersey Devils and Dallas Stars show that a little luck can go a long way. The direction that the luck takes you is another story.