The next shot Robin Lehner faces will be number 1,000 this season.
There’s a good chance it will come early in the game and don’t be surprised if Lehner is forced to make a difficult save, something the pending unrestricted free agent has done time and time again for the Chicago Blackhawks.
You won’t find Lehner’s name in the top-10 in save percentage or goals against average but don’t let that fool you into thinking he hasn’t been one of the best goalies in the league this season. He has. After all, save percentage treats all shots as equal, which they are not, and when you consider the workload Lehner has faced on a nightly basis this season, few, if any goalies have performed at a higher level.
When Lehner signed with Chicago, I was curious to see how he would fare, going from the defensive minded Islanders to the high-event Hawks.
Lehner ‘liked’ the tweet so he was obviously aware that he was going from one end of the spectrum to the other in terms of team defense. He’s talked about this and seems to relish the opportunity to show that no matter who’s in front of him (remember, he played in Buffalo for 3 years), he’s capable of being an elite goaltender. That’s exactly what he’s been this season and he’s a major reason the Blackhawks are still in the playoff race in the Western Conference.
To shine a light on just how good Lehner has been so far, let’s go a little deeper than the traditional go-to goalie evaluation stat, save percentage. On average, Lehner faces more shots per-game than any goalie in the NHL. He faces more quality shots from the slot than any goalie and despite the high volume of difficult saves he’s forced to make, he has the best save percentage on shots from the slot in the league.
Think about that for a second.
No goalie faces more shots from the area of the ice where three quarters of all goals are scored in the NHL and no goalie stops them at a higher rate than Lehner.
That’s like facing the other teams ace pitcher in baseball every at bat of the season and still leading the league in batting average.
Beyond the volume and locations of the shots he’s faced, Lehner has also had to deal with a lot of scoring chances off-the-rush, as I alluded would likely be the case this season. The Blackhawks create a lot in transition but also give up a lot which can be difficult for a goaltender. This season, Chicago ranks at, or near, the bottom of the league in terms of what they allow in transition.
I’ve talked to goalies about the different challenges these types of scoring chances create and what I’ve heard most is how identifying multiple reads makes a rush chance more difficult than one created in-zone. One thing is for sure, and give Corey Crawford credit here, too – to rank 25th in rush chances against and top-10 in rush goals against is all you need to know about how good the Hawks goaltending has been this season.
When you factor in all the quantifiable elements that go into evaluating the goal probability of a shot (location, type, handedness of shooter, pre-shot movement etc.), Lehner’s name sits at the top of the list in terms of outperforming expectations.
The Blackhawks expected goals against with Lehner in the net is 3.49 per-game. That’s a reflection of team defense and no other goalie in the NHL has faced a tougher nightly workload.
Lehner’s actual goals against average is a 2.86, which ranks 29th In the NHL, however, the 0.63 differential between his goals against average and the expected goals against in the games he’s played (again, reflection of team defense) is the best of any goalie.
Simply, there is compelling evidence to suggest Lehner has outperormed expectations at the highest rate of any goalie in the league this season.
While a perfect measure of goaltender performance, isolated from team defense, doesn’t exist, this method of evaluation is a lot more reliable and telling that save percentage.
Bottom line, Lehner has proven, beyond any doubt, he is one of the top goalies in hockey. He benefited, but wasn’t dependant on the great team defense played in front of him on Long Island. In Chicago, he is the team defense.
As mentioned, Lehner is also a pending unrestricted free agent, as is teammate Corey Crawford. It will be interesting to see what direction the Blackhawks decide to go here. Crawford has been good, Lehner has been great. With the trade deadline approaching, the Blackhawks will have to decide soon if Lehner is in their long-term plans. He should be. If he’s not, other teams should be lining up to acquire him.
(Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)