by Darren Hersh
The debate over the most important goalie statistic rages on in the goalie world. To many players, parents and coaches, statistics are far too important and they can get in the way of many important lessons that can be learned from hockey, such as team-work, selflessness and group goals being more important than individual goals. What I have found to be consistently true is that if the team does well as a group the individual statistics and accolades usually follow. So we will discuss how goalie statistics can be important for those who use them, but in the end statistics can be very misleading and not as informative as we sometimes believe. A friend in college once accurately described statistics in a clear way. "What statistics reveal is enticing, but what they conceal is vital! Consider the 6-foot tall man who drowned in 4 feet of water." Statistically it would seem impossible, but the key piece of missing information was that the man didn't know how to swim!
Let's take a look at individual goaltending statistics and analyze both what they reveal and what they conceal and also see how they can be used to help a goalie improve. First the easiest and probably the most looked at goalie statistic, the Goals Against Average (G.A.A.). The GAA is obtained simply by dividing the total number of goals a goalie has allowed for the season up to the present by the number of games he/she has played. For instance, if a goalie has allowed 12 goals after playing 4 full games, his/her GAA would be 3.00 (12/4=3). This statistic can get a bit more complicated if goalies play only portions of games. Then the game has to be broken down into a fraction (or decimal is easier for most people) then divide the number of goals by the fraction of games played. For instance, if we still use the above scenario of a goalie playing 4 games and allowing 12 goals, if that goalie played only two periods of the next contest and allowed 4 more goals, the GAA calculation would be as follows: If an entire game = 1, then 2/3 of that game would equal .66 (likewise 1 period equals .33). So the goalie has now played 4.66 games and has allowed 16 total goals, thus the GAA is now 16/4.66 = 3.43. Had the goalie played the entire game and allowed no more goals, the GAA would be 3.2.
So how do we "read" the GAA statistic? Well, obviously, the less goals allowed per game it is assumed that the better the goalie. However, as one my figure out, there are many variables that the GAA does not take into consideration. As an example, it doesn't account for the number of shots a goalie faces in those games. Two goalies may have a 2.5 GAA, but one goalie faces an average of 40 shots per game while the other faces 15. Obviously, the goalie who faces an average of 15 shots per game does not have to work as hard to keep the low 2.5 GAA as the other guy, so who is better? Also, the GAA does not take into consideration the number of high quality shots a goalie faces in the game. If a team is playing a very tight defensive zone system and only allows the goalie to receive shots from the perimeter of the zone from about 40-50 feet away from the goal, 30 shots in a game is still not that difficult to handle. However, if the goalie facing 15 shots has 10 of those as breakaways, then the guy or girl receiving the 30 or 40 shots may have had an easier time of it.
Given the shortcomings of the GAA, a goalie or goalie coach has to use the statistic for what it is worth. Personally, I like to give goalies a goal to achieve with the GAA. You have to give a realistically attainable goal based on the team for which they play and for the past or current GAA they already have. That goal can be adjusted from time to time. If at the beginning of the year, our goalies have a 3.00 GAA, then I want to get that down to at least 2.75 and maybe even 2.5. A quarter or half a goal per game difference can result from one or two minor adjustments, especially for junior or college level goalies. (I set this as a goalie-team aspiration, so that all the goalies on the team work together to improve as a unit. I do not want to separate the goalies as individuals, they are a team unit! No matter who is in net, they are working toward the team GAA target objective) I also want to set a GAA goal for our goalies that will have direct ramifications for the team in the long run. As a coach, you obviously are working for the team to win, so you want to develop a balance between the team GAA and the team's Goals For statistics. If you believe that on average your team will get 3 goals, then you obviously want to get a GAA below that to give your team the best chance of winning. I believe that this is where the GAA is most effective and most important. It can also be good to give your goalies a game by game GAA and say, "I know the guys will get you 3 goals this game, so 2 is your maximum tonight!"
That takes us to the goalies save percentage which many believe to be the best statistical judge of a goalie's overall performance. The save percentage is achieved by taking the number of saves a goalie makes and dividing it by the total number of shots. So for instance, a goalie makes 28 saves in a game where he/she saw 29 shots. You would divide the number of saves by the number of shots to get 28/29 = .966 or 96%. Obviously, the save percentage is a bit more informative toward the goalies performance since it shows over a long period how many saves a goalie makes based on the number of shots received. So regardless of the number of shots a goalie receives, it will still tell you if they are making saves.
An important thing never taken into account in any statistic is the number of quality shots or the number of shots that could be considered Grade A scoring attempts. Instead, all shots on goal are treated equally as potential goals. In fact, the definition of a shot on goal is if the goalie were not there, the shot would have been a goal. This is fine, but there are some shots on goal that could be stopped by people who have never skated in their lives. A better goalie statistic would be to take the grade A scoring chances and weigh them higher than poor shots on goal so that they are even more valuable. Then you could achieve a statistic that really shows how effective a goalie is. I will work on this between now and the next article.
Until then, I believe that the most important statistic for a goalie is the same as the most important stat for a team: Wins and Loses. You always want the goalie in net who gives your team the best chance to win. Most of the time it is the guy or gal who has the better GAA or the better Save Percentage. However, if both stats are equal, then I would turn to the goalie with the highest winning percentage, because that goalie has figured out how to get it done when it counts most; when the game is on the line. That may be another weighted item in your new equation. Game saving saves and big saves that occur in tied or close games. They are certainly worth more than shots that happen when the game is 7-1!