Did you know Andrei Vasilevskiy faces more high-quality shots per game than any goalie in the league? Surprising, considering the Tampa Bay Lightning have an 8 point lead over anyone else in the standings. When you average over 4 goals per game you can get away with being a little leaky defensively – most nights.
Tonight, the Lightning are in Anaheim to face the Ducks which means a heavyweight battle in net – Andrei Vasilevskiy vs John Gibson (assuming both start).
Last week, I asked a question on Twitter – “Is there any doubt that Andrei Vasilevskiy is the best goalie in the world?” According to the responses, yes, there is doubt with many adamant that John Gibson is, in fact, the best goalie in the world. There’s no denying what Gibson has meant to the Ducks this season; we outlined his unbelievable play in October when he was single-handedly carrying the Ducks to victory. For what it’s worth, the follow-up poll I tweeted out had more people vote for Vasilevskiy than Gibson.
East Coast bias? That was suggested more than once. The shots Gibson faces are way more difficult – that was also suggested, though it isn’t true in terms of shot location. So, let’s compare the two goalies as they get set face each other tonight.
Gibson has started 32 games, 2nd only to Marc-Andre Fleury while Vasilevskiy has only started 19 as he missed just over a month with a broken foot. There’s no denying that Gibson has been more valuable to his team given the amount of games he’s played and the team he plays for but we’re asking who the best goalie is.
Gibson is tied for 5th with a .924 save % while Vasilevskiy is a little further down the list at 13th overall with a save % of .920. We know not all shots are created equal so let’s look at the quality of shots each goalie faces to get a better idea of how each has performed this season.
High-Danger Save Percentage
The notion that Gibson faces more high-danger shots than Vasilevskiy is a myth. In fact, of all goalies with at least 1,000 minutes played (34 goalies – approximate starting goalie cutoff), Vasilevskiy has faced more slot shots per game than anyone.
Vasilevskiy has turned away 87.1% of the slot shots he’s faced this season, 9th best among qualified goalies. Gibson ranks 7th at 87.2%. So, both goalie are stopping slot shots at a near identical rate while Vasilevskiy faces a little over two more per game.
Goals Saved Above Average
Here, we measure how many goals a goalie has saved his team, relative to league average, based on the quantity and quality of the shots he faces. Despite Gibson having a slightly better save percentage, Vasilevskiy outperforms him in this metric due, in part, to the fact that he faces more shots and more difficult shots, per game.
What this -0.94 number means is that, relative to league average goaltending, Vasilevskiy is saving his team nearly 1 goal per game based on the quantity and quality of shots faced. While not a perfect measure of goaltending performance, it’s certainly an improvement over traditional goals against average and save percentage, which doesn’t take into account the types of shots a goalie is facing.
If you believe Gibson is the better goalie, I’m not going to try to change your mind or suggest that you’re wrong. It’s a subjective question and there’s no doubt he’s in the conversation for the Vezina and maybe the Hart trophy if the Ducks make the playoffs. But, if you take one thing away from this article, I hope it’s that Vasilevskiy hasn’t been coasting to inflated numbers because he plays for the best team in the league. The Lightning are a high-event team – they create a lot and they give up a lot. Assuming both goalies are in tonight, I’m looking forward to watching Gibson and Vasilevskiy duke it out and given how many quality looks each team gives up, there should be plenty of opportunity for highlight reel saves in this game.
(Photo by Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images)