No matter who lines up in the opposing crease in Thursday’s first round opener, the Sharks will run into the dreaded “hot goaltender.”
Who fills the role remains a question, as Ducks starter John Gibson missed the final three games of the regular season, but practiced on Monday. The answer ultimately may not matter, as both Gibson and Ryan Miller are capable of stealing a series.
The two have arguably comprised the NHL’s most formidable goaltending tandem this year. Across all situations, Gibson and Miller rank ninth (.926) and sixth (.928), respectively, in save percentage among goalies that appeared in at least 10 games. When examining five-on-five situations, where skaters and goaltenders receive the clear majority of their ice time, Gibson and Miller are 19th (.929) and first (.944), respectively, according to Corsica Hockey (minimum 1000 minutes).
Those numbers, while impressive, don’t paint the whole picture, either, as the difficulty of their performance isn’t reflected. To that end, Gibson and Miller have outperformed their expected five-on-five save percentages, or the percentage of shots a league-average goalie would be expected to stop based on shot quality and quantity, by 0.97 percent and 2.11 percent, respectively. Gibson’s difference is the eighth-best in the league, while Miller’s is tied for the second-best.
Those may seem like small margins, but consider this: Gibson would have allowed about 14 more five-on-five goals if he performed at his expected level, and Miller would have allowed 11 more. Add that up and Anaheim finishes with a minus-six goal-differential as opposed to plus-19, and almost assuredly outside of the playoffs.
If there has been a drop-off from Gibson to Miller this season, however slight, it’s on the penalty kill. Down a man, Gibson outperformed his expected save percentage by about 4.32 percent (.917 save percentage), compared to Miller’s 1.26 percent (.880 save percentage). Gibson was third out of 51 goalies that played at least 100 minutes four-on-five by that mark, while Miller was 26th.
Now, the slate wipes clean in the postseason, and the knock on both goalies is that they’ve not been as good in the playoffs. That’s truer for Miller, who’s underperformed his expected save percentage, than it is for Gibson, who’s outperformed his by a better mark than all but four goalies (minimum 200 minutes) since 2014.
His (and Anaheim’s) only problem? Martin Jones is one of those four netminders. Over the prior four postseasons, only four goalies have stopped a higher percentage of five-on-five shots (.940) than Jones. Only Roberto Luongo has outperformed his expected five-on-five save percentage more (3.49 percent) than Jones (1.71 percent) in the second season, and he’s only played six playoff games during that span.
Jones meeting his postseason standard would have been paramount for the Sharks anyway, but becomes especially important as long as Gibson or Miller reach the heights they established during the season.