Are great netminders during games great during shootouts, too?

In which I try to find some correlation between performance in the real game of hockey and in the silly skills competition that sometimes decides the fate of hockey games.

Given the Sharks recent penchant for the shootout (and Antti Niemi's excellence in both games) I started to wonder if there is any correlation between a great in-game goalie and his performance in the dreaded skills competition.

First, here is a look at some of the top active goalies in the shootout. I set the bar at a minimum of 50 shots against, which I realize is still way too small a sample to swear by any of these numbers. Raising the bar to 100 would have decreased the sample of goalies a bit too low for my liking, so we'll just have to know these are all with a grain of salt.

Goalie Team SA GA Sv %
Semyon Varlamov COL 71 16 0.775
Marc-Andre Fleury PIT 180 42 0.767
Antti Niemi SJS 139 33 0.763
Henrik Lundqvist NYR 287 68 0.763
Tim Thomas FLA 203 56 0.724
Jimmy Howard DET 119 33 0.723
Corey Crawford CHI 97 27 0.722
Kari Lehtonen DAL 176 49 0.722
Pekka Rinne NSH 168 47 0.72
Jaroslav Halak STL 103 29 0 .718

Right off the bat you get a sense of where my findings are going because the venerable Marc-Andre Fleury is number two on the list of active netminders. I was a bit surprised to see Varlamov up at the top, but it's fair to note he has faced less than half as many shots as Fleury and just more than half of the shots Niemi has faced.

Perhaps more surprising is that Roberto Luongo didn't make the cut. It seems every time the Canucks enter a shootout, Lu is hailed as one of the better goalies in this situation. Yet Strombone has a career shootout save percentage of just .667 on 240 shot attempts. That's a pretty good sample size and not a great save percentage.

I was similarly surprised to see Niemi so high on this list. I figured he was good, but saving over 75 percent of shootout attempts is phenomenal (and probably not going to last for the duration of his career). The Sharks have gone 23-15 in the shootout since Niemi became a Shark, and while I maintain that it's something of a coin flip, having a great netminder doesn't hurt anything. That's a 61 percent! And we HATE the shootout! Just think how much better that record would have been had the Sharks had shootout wizard Michael Handzus for all of those years.

Based on this sampling of 38 goalies, I calculated the correlation between a goalie's save percentage in shootouts and his save percentage in regular action. Check the graph.


Well that's not very conclusive, is it? The correlation of coefficient is at 0.45 according to the calculator (what, you thought I was going to do all this MATH myself!?) That is a very, very slight positive correlation which suggests that maybe better goalies are better in the shootout, but not nearly enough to say anything conclusive.

My takeaways:

  • A larger sample size is needed for this to be relevant. Whether that means taking into account retired goalies or broadening to include goalies in the minors, I don't know.
  • Some goalies are bad in the shootout and just fine at their real job. Some are good at both.
  • You're not going to find many netminders in the league who are really good in the shootout but bad otherwise. They're not valuable enough to keep around.
  • I still can't believe Fleury is near the top of this list.
  • Antti Niemi is a god.
  • Hey let's watch that GIF again to make this all worthwhile./