The ink was barely dry on the scoresheet after Michal Neuvirth whitewashed the surging New Jersey Devils when Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau announced that Semyon Varlamov would get his shot at becoming Washington’s goalie for the playoffs. Assuming Varlamov’s health is not an issue when he returns, should he beat out Neuvirth and Braden Holtby as the starter for the second season?
Playoff goalies need to perform in the clutch. That means holding the lead when they have it, giving their team a chance to win if they don’t and making sure the easy goals don’t hit the twine. I broke down the scoring chance save percentages of the young trio in different clutch situations at even strength to see if one of them emerged as the potential front runner. Why just scoring chances? They are the toughest shots a goalie can face and have the best chances of hitting the twine overall.
At even strength the goalies look similar, perhaps even average, at stopping scoring chances from the opposition. I say “average” because a shot from the scoring chance area, loosely defined as between the dots up to the top of the circles, lights the lamp 14 percent of the time. So a scoring chance save percentage of .860 would be about average in the NHL.
|Goalie||EV TOI||EV scoring chance Sv%||Competition|
Varlamov has performed the best against the best competition. The competition metric in the table above is on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the toughest competition faced based on an opposition’s ability to direct shots at net. The higher the number, the stronger the competition faced. Holtby, despite having the “hot hand” as of late, has done so against the weakest of all the competition faced.
Getting an early lead has not been the Capitals’ strong suit this year. They are dead last in the NHL in scoring first- and second-period goals, so when they have an early lead, the netminder has to preserve it.
|Up 1 goal after 2 periods||EV scoring chance Sv%||Competition|
Neuvirth has been stellar with the lead, but it has come against softer competition than either Varlamov or Holtby. Once again, Varlamov has show that despite stiffer competition, he can still maintain at least an average level of performance.
The Caps don't get the early lead often, so whoever is in net has to give them a chance to work their third-period magic.
|Tied after 2 periods||EV scoring chance Sv%||Competition|
Neither Varlamov nor Holtby has given up a goal at even strength when tied after two periods, and Varlamov has done it against slightly better competition.
In the playoffs, there is no shootout. You play until one team wins. How a goalie performs late in the game will say a lot about his team's chances to move forward.
|Third period & OT||EV scoring chance Sv%||Competition|
All three have performed admirably, but again, Holtby's gaudy save percentage comes at the expense of weaker competition. Varlamov is not only above average in performance, but his performance comes against above-average competition as well.
There is no denying Holtby has looked terrific in his starts lately, but as you can see, it comes against less-than-playoff-caliber competition. Neuvirth, too, can make a strong case for being between the pipes come playoff time, but if injury is not concern,Varlamov gives the Caps the best chance to win.