Ryan Miller had just a 2-11-0 record as goaltender for the Buffalo Sabres. You might think he is having a terrible year, a campaign far removed from when he was voted the league’s best in 2009-10 with a 41-18-8 record. A closer look, though, shows that Miller is having a decent season, but has the toughest road to a win among NHL netminders.
Miller has a .912 save percentage this season. That’s par for both his career and league averages. Unfortunately, with Miller in net, Buffalo has scored a meager 21 goals while allowing 490 shots, forcing him to post a .959 save percentage just to keep the game tied. In other words, Miller needs to practically pitch a shutout for the Sabres to walk away with a win. It was a similar story last season, when he needed to save 94 percent of the shots he faced just to give his squad a 50-50 chance at a victory.
That’s quite a difference from what Antti Niemi faces in San Jose, where he only needs to post a save percentage above .851 to give the Sharks a good chance at winning. Same for the St. Louis Blues, where Jaroslav Halak can post a below-average .875 and still give his team a shot at two points in the standings. Heck, even Edmonton, another team struggling to find its stride, only needs Devan Dubnyk to save 90.7 percent of his shots faced.
This is the challenge of using wins as a metric for goalie performance. As you can see, getting a win for Buffalo is much harder than St. Louis, San Jose or even Edmonton. Those teams aren’t winning because Niemi (.913 save percentage), Halak (.911) or Dubnyk (.878) are outplaying Miller (.912). They are winning because the teams in front of them are providing goal support and limiting shots against, further proof that goalie win totals are a team stat and not one to be used to evaluate individual goaltenders.