clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Two O’Clock Number: 8

So far this season, Flyers goalies have had two settings: “acceptable” and “really bad”. (Plus, it’s the return of the Two O’Clock Number!)

Kate Frese / SB Nation

8 — the number of quality starts the Flyers have received from their two goaltenders through their first 11 games this year.

What’s a “quality start”? As defined by Rob Vollman in the 2013 Hockey Abstract (via NHLNumbers):

If the starting goalie stopped at least a league average number of shots, which was typically 91.3% prior to 2009–10 and 91.7% since then, or if he played at least as well as a replacement-level goalie (88.5%) while allowing two goals or fewer, we defined that as a Quality Start.

To summarize: if a goalie starts a game and ends it with a single-game save percentage that’s higher than the league-average save percentage, OR if he gives up two or fewer goals in a game in which he otherwise doesn’t face many shots, he gets a quality start.

In layman’s terms, you can kind of use the question of “did the goalie register a quality start?” as a stand-in for “did the goalie give his team a good chance to win the game?” or “did the goalie do his part?”. Because in general, if the goalie does an above-average job of stopping pucks and/or holds his opponents to two goals or fewer, it’s tough to say he didn’t do his part to get the team a win.

And that’s something that both of the Flyers’ goalies have managed to do in most of their games so far this season. In seven starts in the orange and black, Brian Elliott has posted a quality start five times; meanwhile, Michal Neuvirth has done the same in three of his four appearances this October.

In sum, that’s eight out of 11 appearances in which you could say that the Flyers’ goalie, by at least one definition, did his job. And that ratio stacks up pretty well to those that most other teams are sporting so far this season:

Quality Start Percentage By Team

Team Games Quality Starts QS %
Team Games Quality Starts QS %
LAK 11 9 81.82%
ANA 11 9 81.82%
VGK 9 7 77.78%
STL 12 9 75.00%
PHI 11 8 72.73%
VAN 10 7 70.00%
SJS 10 7 70.00%
CGY 12 8 66.67%
WPG 10 6 60.00%
NJD 10 6 60.00%
TBL 12 7 58.33%
CHI 12 7 58.33%
WSH 12 7 58.33%
DAL 11 6 54.55%
COL 11 6 54.55%
CBJ 11 6 54.55%
NSH 11 6 54.55%
DET 12 6 50.00%
NYR 10 5 50.00%
CAR 10 5 50.00%
FLA 10 5 50.00%
PIT 13 6 46.15%
TOR 11 5 45.45%
NYI 11 5 45.45%
OTT 11 5 45.45%
BOS 9 4 44.44%
MIN 9 4 44.44%
EDM 10 4 40.00%
BUF 12 4 33.33%
ARI 10 3 30.00%
MTL 10 3 30.00%
League Average 10.77 5.97 55.43%

(For further reference: in 2016-17, goalies registered quality starts in about 53.4 percent of their starts.)

In a season where the Flyers are currently 24th in the NHL in team-wide save percentage, it’s almost hard to believe they can be towards the top of any sort of goaltending-based leaderboard. Of course, this doesn’t tell the whole story of the up-and-down month that the Flyers have had in net. Nor does it mean that we should expect that things are definitely going to be fine in net going forward.

First, to answer the question of “how can our goalies look good by any measure when it seems like they’ve just been so bad so far this season?”: because when they don’t look good, they’ve looked really bad. Every time.

To introduce another new term to this post, the aptly-named “Really Bad Start” can be described as follows (via hockey-reference):

Really Bad Starts (RBS) is another stat coined by Vollman that is "awarded" whenever a goalie has a save percentage in a game less than 85%. A team only has a 10% chance of winning when the goalie has save percentage that low.

So a RBS is what your goalie is given when he ... y’know ... plays really badly. Stopping fewer than 85 percent of your shots means giving up a goal on at least one out of every seven or so shots that you face, which is no way to win a hockey game.

It’s also what’s happened to the Flyers in every game where they didn’t register a quality start — all three of them. You probably remember them, but just in case:

Three really bad starts have the Flyers tied for third in the NHL in really bad start count, though six other teams (Nashville, Vancouver, Columbus, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Edmonton) have also tallied three of these unenviable prizes in the early-going. Only Arizona (with five) and the Rangers (four) have more.

So purely from a “did he stop the puck?” perspective (for now, we’ll ignore shot quality against, soft goals, etc.), the Flyers’ goalies have either been “solid enough” or “intolerably bad” in every one of the team’s games so far. That makes them somewhat unique among most NHL teams; so far, only one other team (Vancouver) has notched either a quality start or a really bad start in every game they’ve played. To say that the team has received boom-or-bust goaltending in October would be pretty accurate.

With that all said, if the Flyers’ goalies (in particular, Elliott, who is rocking a cool .885 save percentage through seven games) can’t do a better job of stopping pucks on the whole (their team save percentage of .900 is 24th in the NHL), can we expect them to keep pulling together quality starts? Probably not.

NHLNumbers’ DragLikePull found last year that plain old save percentage correlates with future quality start percentage better than actual quality start percentage does, and that over time a player’s quality start percentage tends to more or less line up with his save percentage. In other words, there’s not a real ability to string together quality starts that’s well out of line with a player’s save percentage.

Which is to say that, though the Flyers’ goaltending has managed to keep them in most games, that’s not likely to continue if they keep letting the other team score on one out of every 10 shots, the way they have so far. The Flyers’ best chance at staying in games this year by way of their goaltending is to see their overall level of play improve, not to expect that they’ll stay close in three-quarters of their games and give up a ton of goals in the other quarter.

So, in sum:

  • The Flyers’ goalies have managed to keep them in most of their games this year — eight out of their first 11, in fact. That’s a pretty good rate relative to the rest of the league.
  • But in the three games where they weren’t at least solid, they’ve totally bombed, in such ways that make it nearly impossible for the Flyers to win games.
  • All in all, if the Flyers’ goalies (namely, Elliott) can’t stop more pucks than they have been, chances are they’re not going to continue to keep the Flyers in as many games as they have so far.

Got all that? Now let’s hope that Brian Elliott can build off his excellent effort on Saturday in Toronto, and at the same time Michal Neuvirth can prove that his rough game in Ottawa last Thursday was more of an aberration than his otherwise-strong start has been.