(Title inspired by the wonderful folks at The Good Phight)
Since the Flyers lost in a shootout to the Washington Capitals last night, there has been a lot of talk about how the Flyers goalies are "not good enough" and they need to call up current Phantoms goalie Michael Leighton because only god saves more than Michael Leighton and he is better than the two knuckleheads named the Flyers currently have in goal. Does this sound about right to everyone?
Well, it is true that this is what a lot of people have been saying, but the claims they make that Leighton is the better goaltender are completely false and are frustratingly misinformed. Before we get into statistics, though, let me just say that anybody judging a goalie over a single game and a shootout is being completely absurd. Shootouts are like spinning a roulette wheel. In Game 82 against the Rangers, the Flyers got lucky and the roulette wheel came up an orange number. Last night, the Flyers got unlucky and it came up a white number. Also, why are people saying Brian Boucher "sucks at shootouts" and therefore the Flyers need to recall Michael Leighton for the playoffs because of it? Stop me if I am stating the obvious, but there are no shootouts in the playoffs. Okay, so the people who make that jump are probably in the minority of those screaming for Leighton, but still, people look at the past few games that Boosh and Bob played and all of a sudden believe Michael Leighton is a god who saves more than Bernie Parent. Or whatever it is he and his five-hole are being called these days
Let's take a look at even strength save percentages this year, shall we: Why ESS%? Because it is one of, if not the most informing stats about a goalkeeper that we have. Goals against average is much too dependent on the play of other players on the ice, and save percentage factors in shots and goals given up while short-handed or on the power play, where the defense is set much differently than normal, in addition to being up or down a man. All numbers taken and derived from data on NHL.com
Brian Boucher, career ESS%: .911
Brian Boucher, since start of 2008-2009 season ESS%: .918
Brian Boucher, 2010-2011 ESS%: .921
Sergei Bobrovsky, 2010-2011 (also career) ESS%: .921
Brian Boucher and Sergei Bobrovsky, combined 2010-2011 ESS%: .921
Michael Leighton, career ESS%: .908
Michael Leighton, since start of 2008-2009 season ESS%: .908
Michael Leighton, 2009-2010 season with Flyers (because 1 game in 2010-2011 is insufficient to say anything): .916
What does this say? Well, it says what the title says, "Michael Leighton is not very good at hockey." He is a career .908 ES% goalie who has not outperformed Brian Boucher and Sergei Bobrovsky by any stretch of the imagination. If you go by career, numbers, Boucher is a better goalie than Leighton. If you go since 2008, Boucher is a better goalie than Leighton. If you go for the small sample sizes, Brian Boucher's most recent season with the Flyers is better than Michael Leighton's most recent season with the Flyers. Boosh has admittedly played better than his career numbers the past 3 years, but look at Leighton. His career ESS% is .908. His ESS% since 2008 is .908. But in the 2nd half of the 2009-2010 season he is at .916. Whoa. Holy playing way above your true talent level, Batman! And even Leighton playing above his true talent level has not eclipsed the numbers that Brian Boucher and Sergei Bobrovsky have put up this year. And while Brian Boucher has been playing above his career numbers as well, he has consistently been playing better than his career average the past three years, while Leighton's high numbers come in only a 5-month span. The goalie with the consistently higher numbers over the past few years is always going to be a better gamble than the goalie who had decently high numbers for a five-month span.
Brian Boucher is not a great goaltender. Sergei Bobrovsky is a rookie. While none of the two can considered a slam dunk between the pipes, one thing is for certain: They are both certainly better and more capable of playing Flyers' goaltender in the playoffs than Michael freaking Leighton and his five hole, the ghost of which still haunts the Wells Fargo Center to this day.
For those that want to play around with data, I have Bob's, Boosh's and Leighton's, shots faced, shots saved, and ESS% numbers by year in this handy-dandy spreadsheet I made.