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Goaltending may have cost Philadelphia Flyers playoff spot in 2014-15

Steve Mason has been a brick wall this season. But where could the Flyers be if they had even average goaltending behind him?

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Mason has been one of the few bright spots on this sad, forgettable Flyers season.

Without their starting goaltender, the Flyers would have been out of playoff race long before late February and would be sitting pretty with a chance at Connor McDavid. With him -- injuries and all -- the Flyers were able to hang onto a slimmer of hope for the playoffs until it was crushed with a devastating loss in Boston three weeks ago.

It's made me wonder: where would the Flyers be with a healthy Steve Mason, or even an average backup goaltender?

Mason vs. his backups

Shots Saves Goals Allowed Save Percentage
Steve Mason 1,277 1,181 96 0.925
Ray Emery 706 630 76 0.892
Rob Zepp 223 198 25 0.888

Mason has been the best goaltender on the team this season by far. It can even be argued that he has been one of the top five goalies in the league, behind Carey Price, Pekka Rinne and a few others.

The black line represents the average backup goaltender save percentage of 0.910.

The average backup goaltender save percentage was calculated by subtracting the 30 goaltenders that started their team's season openers from the league average.

Mason is sitting pretty with a save percentage of .925, a personal best. It is no surprise that Ray Emery and Rob Zepp are far behind. Emery has compiled a .892 save percentage this season, 14 points under his career save percentage of .906 and 11 points down from last season's in similar usage. Zepp was an unknown coming into the season, and it almost would have been better if it stayed that way. Despite a decent save percentage (.915) in the AHL, his transition to the NHL level left him dazed and confused with a .888 save percentage.

Both Emery and Zepp are over 30 points below Mason this season. That is 30 more goals allowed per 1,000 shots on average, or three more allowed per 100 shots. With NHL teams averaging around 30 shots per game, that is about one goal per game that Emery and Zepp are allowing more than Mason. Those goals are crucial.

However, no goalie can play every game, and goalies are significantly worse in back-to-back situations. But it would be nice for the Flyers to have a capable backup that could go in there and get the job done at a replacement level. Even an average backup goalie with a .910 save percentage is about 15 percentage points better than Emery and Zepp. That is one goal per 75 shots, which can sometimes make or break a team.

What if ... ?

The chart above displays goals allowed per 929 shots, which is the number of shots that Emery and Zepp have combined to face this season. Emery has let in 76 goals this season, while Zepp has allowed 25. This total of 101 goals is unacceptable.

Based off of the league average, a team would allow 84 goals per 929 shots if they had the typical, middle-of-the-pack backup goalie. That is 17 goals less than what the Flyers surrendered with Emery and Zepp. The Flyers' backup tandem has started 32 games this season, so that is just over one goal for every two starts.

Mason missed 18 games and parts of two more this season due to injury. A healthy Mason at a .925 clip for those 18 games combined with an average backup at .910 calculates to a .918 save percentage using weighted averages. The Flyers would have allowed just 76 goals, 25 goals less than Emery and Zepp in their 32 starts. That extra goal allowed in about three out of every four starts is huge for a fringe team.

Goal differential and playoff hopes

While goal differential isn't the best stat to look at on the whole, I thought it applied a bit here.

The Flyers currently sit 24th in the league with a goal differential of negative61-23. This could partially largely be placed on the offense, or lack thereof, this season, but that is another story for another day.  Currently all teams holding a playoff position have a positive goal differential, which makes sense. We knew the Flyers would never be Arizona (-91) or Buffalo (-106) bad, or Tampa Bay (+50) good, but sitting in the middle of the pack is okay as long as you're on the right side of the equator.

With their backup tandem of Ray and Rob the Flyers are at negative 23. However, as discussed above, an average goalie would have stopped 17 more shots, resulting in a goal differential of just negative-six. A negative-six goal differential would place the Flyers at 20th in the league, right in the thick of things. With Boston sitting at plus-3 holding on to that second wild card spot, it makes you wonder what could have been.

Now lets take it a step further. A healthy Mason combined with an average NHL backup would have allowed 25 fewer goals than Emery and Zepp. That drastically changes the goal differential from a negative-23 to a plus-two. A goal differential of plus two would jump the Flyers up from 24th in the league to 19th. It would put them just behind Boston at plus 3 and within spitting distance of the top 50 percentile.

What happens next season?

This season is over. Kaput. Done for. But we still need to look at next season. The recent developments with Steve Mason and Craig Berube are worrisome, but hopefully won't impact the goalie's future in Philadelphia.

The training staff, management and hopefully new coach also need to be more wary and cautious with injuries to Mason, who now has a pretty lengthy list of ailments he's worked through in his career.

One of the Flyers' main focus this offseason should be to find a solid backup goaltender that can play the occasional game here and there, as well as somebody who would be able to step in and hold down the fort for a week or two in case of a Mason injury. There aren't that many available this offseason, but here are a few that I would consider going after.

Current Team Current Cap Hit Save Percentage
Karri Ramo CGY 2,900,000 0.913
Michal Neuvirth NYI 2,600,000 0.915
Jonas Gustavsson DET 1,850,000 0.911
Jonas Enroth DAL 1,250,000 0.900
Thomas Greiss PIT 1,000,000 0.912
Anders Lindback BUF 925,000 0.903

All of these guys should be relatively affordable and could fill the role left open by Emery. The first few guys might be a bit pricey but I have my eye on Thomas Greiss.

Greiss was a guy that I wanted the Flyers to potentially get last year before they re-signed Emery. Two seasons ago he started 20 games for the Coyotes and posted a .920 save percentage. Maybe he'll want to play on the right side of the Pennsylvania rivalry next season.