With every team except the New Jersey Devils at 10 games played or more – New Jersey’s played nine – this seems like a good time to check in on the most important (yet also most unpredictable) position in hockey: goalies.
These netminders are off to the hottest starts so far in the young 2019-20 season.
If forced to name a top goalie so far, I’d lean toward the Boston Bruins veteran.
Rask is 6-0-1 so far, with a league-leading .951 save percentage.
The 32-year-old sparkles in deeper categories, too. Rask ranks third in even-strength save percentage at .961. According to Hockey Reference’s Goals Saved Against Average (GSAA) – a metric that attempts to account for the difficulty of shots a goalie faces – Rask leads all goaltenders by a healthy margin with 8.69 GSAA.
Every single one of his starts has been considered a “quality start.”
Big-time Finns are off to great starts.
Rinne is tied with Penguins backup Tristan Jarry for the league’s best even-strength save percentage at .964, and Rinne’s off to a great start in the standings, going 7-0-1. Rask and Rinne are in a four-way tie for first place in shutouts with two alongside Carter Hutton and Petr Mrazek.
Rinne’s 6.53 GSAA ranks third. There was a time when people chalked up some of Rinne’s success to the team in front of him, and a brief period (especially 2015-16) when Rinne struggled by any measure. That’s looking more like a blip in an increasingly brilliant career.
I must admit, I wondered if the Coyotes were being hasty in extending Kuemper, as great as he was basically since the calendar hit 2019. Instead, GM John Chayka’s proactiveness might pay off big time, as Kuemper’s carried over that great finish from 2018-19 to 2019-20 so far.
If Arizona can give Kuemper more consistent goal support (5-3-0), he might get the sort of wins that Vezina-voting GMs gravitate to. Otherwise, he checks out with a .933 save percentage and 5.62 GSAA.
At some point, it feels like the Golden Knights are going to overwork their workhorse. The 34-year-old remains sturdy and often spectacular right now, though.
His eight wins (8-3-0) lead the NHL at the moment, and his 334 saves top all as well (though John Gibson‘s generally being asked to do even more in Anaheim, which is sadly not much of a surprise). Fleury’s .928 save percentage might not be outright spectacular compared to the best on this list, but his second-ranked 7.14 GSAA helps illustrate just how much Vegas depends upon “The Flower.”
- Robin Lehner: The Blackhawks have fond memories of Corey Crawford (.888 save percentage), but might want to ride the hot hand in Lehner, who has a .936 save percentage through six games. There are signs that Lehner might be able to bail out a shaky Blackhawks defense, considering a high GSAA.
- When you consider how well Pittsburgh’s played despite injuries that are finally healing up, give Sidney Crosby a lot of credit. Don’t sleep on Jarry and Matt Murray, though, as they have put together great stats early on.
- The Canucks renaissance is based on a hot top line, but also Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko, with Demko maybe arguing for a bigger slice of the starts with a .941 save percentage. Both have been lights out, though.
- Connor Hellebuyck: For all the doom and gloom for Winnipeg, the Jets would be in bigger trouble without a so-far redemptive season for Hellebuyck, who has a .924 save percentage and has generally saved their bacon.
- Linus Ullmark and Carter Hutton have both been fantastic for the Sabres, ranking alongside each other at seventh and eighth in GSAA, and each have the requisite strong vanilla save percentages.
- By John Gibson standards, a .920 save percentage is pedestrian, but again, the Ducks are asking him to work miracles. He’s pulling off magic, at minimum.
- Last season, Thomas Greiss was almost as great as Lehner. So far in 2019-20, Greiss is … almost as great as Lehner (.931 save percentage, 4.02 GSAA).
- To round out this post, Philipp Grubauer and Mikko Koskinen have had the occasional off start, but have mostly been strong for the Avs and Oilers respectively.
When you consider how many of these goalies are on teams that are mysteriously red-hot, maybe those torrid runs aren’t such a mystery. The bigger mystery is: how many of them can keep at least most of this up?
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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.