Comparing Michael Leighton to Eastern Conference Goalies

With Ray Emery's status still unknown - he hasn't been skating - and Paul Holmgren publicly showing confidence in Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher, I thought it interesting to look at how these two stack up compared to the rest of the Eastern Conference's netminders.

As mentioned in the comments in a previous thread, there aren't too many advanced stats for goalies.  There's very little information out there on shot location and difficulty, but save percentage isn't a bad place to start.  The preferred method of comparison, however, is a goalie's even-strength save percentage. 

Using only even-strength save percentage eliminates each team's largely varied penalty killing abilities and discipline issues.  Further, it eliminates any breakdowns created while a team is on the man-advantage. 

It isn't perfect, but even-strength save percentage is a better indicator of a goalie's individual performance. 

With that, jump to see how Leighton stacks up.

Some may notice (and complain) that I only looked at half of the league, but this was mainly for playoff implications.  Because it appears that Leighton will carry the load for the Flyers the rest of the season - and possibly into the playoffs - the comparison should show whether goaltender is the weakest link of this team.

If you want to check league-wide comparisons, all these stats were acquired from NHL.com. 


Michael Leighton

#49 / Goalie / Philadelphia Flyers

6-3

186

May 19, 1981



GP MIN W L EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2009 - Michael Leighton 25 1365 13 7 62 2.73 655 593 .905 1


First, these stats include Leighton's games with Carolina and Philadelphia.  Below are just those with Philadelphia.


GP MIN W L EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2009 - Michael Leighton 18
1015 12 3
37
2.19 491
454
.925 1

Clearly, his stats with Philadelphia are much better.  But what are they in comparison with the rest of the East?

The minimum sample is 15 games started.  Yes it's small - very small - but it's the minimum required to fit Leighton in.  Maybe that means these numbers don't tell a whole lot - maybe that's true - but it's what we have.

Team Name GS GAA Sv% ESS%
FLA (12) Tomas Vokoun 50 2.36 0.931 0.943
BOS (7) Tuukka Rask 25 2.08 0.928 0.935
WAS (1) Semyon Varlamov 15 2.44 0.916 0.935
MTL (8) Jaroslav Halak 29 2.56 0.923 0.933
BUF (5) Ryan Miller 51 2.16 0.930 0.932
PHI (6) Ray Emery 29 2.64 0.905 0.930
NYR (10) Henrik Lundqvist 53 2.41 0.920 0.929
TBL (9) Antero Niittymaki 32 2.55 0.917 0.927
PHI (6) Michael Leighton 17 2.19 0.925 0.926
NJD (2) Martin Brodeur 57 2.32 0.915 0.925
WAS (1) Michal Neuvirth 16 2.75 0.914 0.922
NYI (13) Martin Biron 17 3.24 0.899 0.922
ATL (11) Johan Hedberg 27 2.56 0.916 0.921
WAS (1) Jose Theodore 31 2.94 0.906 0.921
CAR (14) Cam Ward 40 2.74 0.913 0.919
MTL (8) Carey Price 34 2.81 0.911 0.919
BOS (7) Tim Thomas 35 2.52 0.915 0.915
NYI (13) Dwayne Roloson 38 2.86 0.908 0.915
PIT (4) Marc-Andre Fleury 49 2.65 0.908 0.913
TBL (9) Mike Smith 29 2.97 0.903 0.911
OTT (3) Brian Elliott 35 2.59 0.910 0.910
TOR (15) Jonas Gustavsson 29 3.07 0.898 0.906
ATL (11) Ondrej Pavelec 33 3.45 0.902 0.905
OTT (3) Pascal Leclaire 25 3.07 0.890 0.892

In full disclosure, Leighton's combined even-strength save percentage is .906.  This is largely because he had a .848 number in Carolina.

There are a few surprising things in this chart. 

  • The Ottawa Senators are surviving with some pretty poor goaltending.  Currently leading the Northeast division, they have two of the four worst even-strength goalies.  
  • Marc-Andre Fleury is not having a good year.  At all.  Last year, he was at .922.  This year, he's sixth-worst in the East.
  • Tim Thomas is being severely out-played by Tuukka Rask and for those looking for a worse contract than Danny Briere, look at him.  Thomas is 35 years old and signed to a 4 year, $20 million contract.  Now Boston has a $5 million backup.
  • Despite outplaying Carey Price, Jaroslav Halak only recently began earning more playing time.  Entering the Olympic break, Halak has started 9 of the Canadiens' past 12 games.  With both becoming Restricted Free Agents this offseason, it will definitely be interesting what they command on the market.
  • A great example of why these numbers are better indicators of performance is the Islanders' crease.  Martin Biron ranks third in both save percentage and goals against average on the team, yet he leads in both even-strength save percentage and even-strength goals against per 60.
  • Everyone knows how good Ryan Miller and Henrik Lundqvist are (if you could have any goalie in the league, it would likely be Miller, Lundqvist, or Luongo) but Tomas Vokoun is vastly underrated.  He's currently leading the league in save percentage and 11th in goals against average, but if Florida never took a penalty, they would only need to score 2 goals a game to win.  That's ridiculous.

Conclusion

Looking at Michael Leighton's career numbers, or his combined Carolina and Philadelphia numbers, the Flyers would be in trouble.  But what he has done since coming over to Philadelphia is fantastic.  He is 9th in the Eastern conference with his even-strength save percentage, and 6th counting only playoff teams.  He's behind Ray Emery, but he's ahead of Martin Brodeur, Cam Ward, and Marc-Andre Fleury.  Two of those are on Team Canada.

If Leighton keeps playing like he has been, the Flyers don't need to worry about their goaltending this season.  The problem is, can Leighton keep this up?  Nothing has shown that he can, but the only two times he's played 10 games or more, he's put up even-strength save percentages of .909 (2003-04, Chicago) and .915 (2008-09, Carolina).  He plays better the more he plays, so maybe it isn't a surprise that he's having a career year.

As long as he continues this play, the Flyers are fine.  Hopefully he continues this play.

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