The Philadelphia Flyers might have the best goaltending in the NHL
Yep. You read that right.
Halfway through the 2015-16 NHL season, the Philadelphia Flyers find themselves in the thick of the playoff race. As we noted back in late November, the team's goaltending has been one of the major reasons why a limited Flyers squad has stayed in contention.
Rather than regress since November, the goaltending tandem of Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth has only improved, particularly at even strength. In fact, a strong case can be made that no team has received better five-on-five goaltending than the Philadelphia Flyers so far this season.
ICYMI I was up late last night and made a thing to show things: pic.twitter.com/gzXwmzaCJF— Nick Mercadante (@NMercad) January 19, 2016
Nick Mercadante, who writes for Hockey-Graphs and Blueshirt Banter, developed a metric in 2014 called five-on-five adjusted-Goals Saved Above Average per 60, or 5v5 adjGSAA/60. The full breakdown from Mercadante can be read here, but to quickly explain the statistic, 5v5 adjGSAA/60 accounts for the location of each shot that a goaltender faces at even strength, and measures the goalie's performance against each shot relative to the league average.
Essentially, it provides a more accurate description of past goaltending performance than normal 5v5 save percentage, because it accounts for the difficulty of each save. Some goalies with high save percentages may have benefited from facing a large percentage of shots from low-danger areas, while other netminders could find their unadjusted save percentages deflated because the team bled high-danger chances.
As a tandem, Mason and Neuvirth come in at a +0.358 adjGSAA per sixty minutes of 5v5 play. That means that in lieu of any penalties, the tandem stops one more goal every three games than a league-average netminder. Only Detroit even comes close, and with the performance of Petr Mrazek on Sunday night still fresh in the memories of Flyers' fans, it's easy to understand why.
How does Philadelphia rank so high in this advanced goaltending metric? After all, starter Steve Mason owns a 0.915 overall save percentage -- not terrible, but far from elite. And teams like Washington (Braden Holtby), New York (Henrik Lundqvist) and Florida (Roberto Luongo) have goalies in the thick of the Vezina Trophy race, yet still rank behind the Flyers.
A deeper look into the numbers reveals the answer. Neuvirth actually leads the entire NHL in save percentage with a 0.936 in 19 games. And Mason's even strength performance (which 5v5 adjGSAA/60 measures) is near the top of the league charts as well. It's been his poor performance while shorthanded that has deflated Mason's unadjusted statistics.
But what really has rocketed the Flyers up the rankings has been the fact that both starter and backup are dominating at even strength. Goalies like Holtby, Lundqvist and Luongo are undeniably great (and are all solidly above-average according to adjGSAA/60) but none of their backups have a 5v5 save percentage in the top-25 of NHL goalies. Philadelphia, on the other hand, has two goalies performing at an elite level during five-on-five play.
This level of performance may not be sustainable over the long term. Steve Mason did lead the NHL in 5v5 adjGSAA/60 last season, but Neuvirth's numbers before this season have been far less impressive. Still, Flyers fans are certainly allowed to enjoy the ride, and be proud that their team has a goalie tandem that has performed as well as any in the NHL so far this year.