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Backups Aren't Vezina Winners: Goalie Stats For & Against the 2015-16 New Jersey Devils

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It's near the halfway mark of the season, so it's best to look at how the New Jersey Devils have performed. This post looks at the goalie stats for and against the Devils, featuring the answer to the popular question: "Do the Devils make backups look like Vezina winners?"

Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

As the New Jersey Devils are just about halfway through the 2015-16 season (they play their fortieth game tonight), it's common to see fans, analysts, and so forth take a step back and look at how the team is doing.  I'm going to do the same.  Only I'm focusing on the goaltenders.

I've heard over the years about how the Devils possibly play different with a different goaltender in net. Granted, that usually meant #30 and someone else, but it would be something to see regarding whether there is much difference between Cory Schneider and Keith Kinakid starting a game.  More common is a complaint that the Devils make backup goaltenders look better than they actually are.  In fact, Thomas Griess of the Islanders is one of two goalie to have shut out the Devils this season - and he's a backup.  The other was Jake Allen, who's not, but Griess represents another example that can lead to this lament.  With thirty nine games completed, I decided to look at both splits.

I've used NHL.com for all of my information, specifically their game by game data. I removed empty net goals, which unfortunately was easy to do for the Devils.  I've kept what I counted simple. I've included the team's record, their goals for and against, and their shots for and against. I did not designate between even strength play and special teams; this is for all situations. I've calculated from that the team's shooting percentage and team's save percentage when that goaltender plays.  This will at least tell us whether the Devils have been more prolific in front of a certain goaltender or against a kind of opposing goaltender. For the opposition, I had to designate who was and was not a starter for their team.  For that, I decided to keep it simple too.  If a goalie has played more games than anyone else on their team, then I counted them as a starter.  Simple as. So, yes, Mike Condon - who has played in Carey Price's place - is listed as a starter since he was starting in Price's place. That's how it was then and that's how it was counted.  There was one special case. In the case of Winnipeg, who played last night and after I put these numbers together, had two goalies with the exact number of games played.  I hedged and did not designate Michael Hutchinson, who started against the Devils in their first game of the season, a starter.

One more thing, the games played numbers will add up beyond the Devils' actual number of games played. This is because there were two games where the opposing goalie was replaced and one game where Schneider was replaced by Kinkaid. In the NHL, making an appearance means a player played a game. In order to avoid double-dipping in numbers and while matching how the NHL counts, I adjusted the games played number as necessary.

Devils Goalie Stats or #GoalsForCory...#AndKeithToo

Let's start with the Devils. Over the last season or so, you may have seen the above hashtag.  #GoalsforCory.  As in, Devils, please give Schneider some goal support.  Here's how Schneider is doing so far this season.

GP W L OT NJ Sh% NJ Sv% GF GA SF SA GF/GP GA/GP SF/GP SA/GP
32 17 10 5 0.090 0.927 71 67 790 919 2.22 2.09 24.69 28.72

That 9% shooting percentage is actually not bad. It's right at the league median.  The issue has to go with that low SF (shots for). The team isn't getting nearly as many pucks to the net, especially compared to the opposition.  While Schneider has been excellent in net, the volume of shots allowed mean the team's goal differential with Schneider in net isn't so large.  It's still positive and the Devils have a winning record with #35, so the hashtag isn't so prevalent in 2015-16.

As for Keith Kinkaid, well he could use some goal support as well.  Here are his stats:

GP W L OT NJ Sh% NJ Sv% GF GA SF SA GF/GP GA/GP SF/GP SA/GP
8 3 4 0 0.098 0.905 18 18 184 190 2.25 2.25 23.00 23.75

The Devils have shot close to a percent better with #1 in net.  Granted, he's only made eight appearances so I wouldn't put a ton of stock into it.  However, the increased percentage does not mean the team is lighting it up much. That five-spot they dropped on Carolina in early December helps here, but the team actually has shot at a lower rate with Kinkaid on the ice.  There does appear to be something to the notion the team defends better with #1 in net. The shots against per game rate drops dramatically.  There could be other confounding factors - level of opposition, few games played by Kinkaid, etc. - but it's something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.  Unfortunately, Kinkaid hasn't stopped those shots at a high rate; the Devils are even in goal differential with #1 in net.

Opposition Goalie Stats or No, Backups Aren't Vezina Winners

Now let's get to the fun part - the opposing goalies. Again, starters are those who've played the most games for their respective teams so far this season. Anyone else is considered to be a backup.  The Devils have seen 24 appearances by starting goaltenders this season, with one starter getting replaced by a backup in a game (Corey Crawford puled for Scott Darling) and one starter replacing a backup in a game (Petr Mrazek in for Jimmy Howard). Here are the stats for those starters:

GP W L OT NJ Sh% NJ Sv% GF GA SF SA GF/GP GA/GP SF/GP SA/GP
24 12 10 2 0.087 0.918 49 51 563 619 2.04 2.13 23.46 25.79

In contrast, opposing backups (#1A's, #2's, #3's, etc.) have made 17 appearances against the Devils. Here are their stats.

GP W L OT NJ Sh% NJ Sv% GF GA SF SA GF/GP GA/GP SF/GP SA/GP
17 8 4 3 0.097 0.931 40 34 411 490 2.35 2.00 24.18 28.82

Well, will you look at that. The Devils actually have been a more offensive team against non-starters this season. They've got a higher goal rate, a higher shots for rate, and a higher shooting percentage.  Granted, a 2.35 goals per game average isn't going to blow anyone way, but it's far superior than when the Devils go up against starters. Curiously, they also have a higher rate of shots against per game but an even superior save percentage.  The latter does have an explanation. Schneider has been opposite non-starters in half of his appearances this season.  Kinkaid, New Jersey's backup, has been opposite only one backup all season: Eddie Lack in that 5-1 beat down of Carolina.  Since Schneider has been fantastic in net, it's a key reason why the save percentage has been higher against the non-starters.  By the same token, that's partially why the save percentage opposite starters is lower at 91.8%.

What these two statlines also suggest to me is that the starters have been better than their backups.  OK, that may seem obvious.  A team's starter should be better than their backup, that's why they are a starter.  Yet, with some teams splitting time between two goalies and a few struggling to identify who that starter should be, I think it's something worth taking away from this.  Still, the Devils have shot a full percentage worse against starters so far this season. Worse, opposing teams have been better at limiting the Devils shots (or the Devils' offense has been better at it, whichever) so the goal scoring is even more scarce.  That being said, the Devils have found ways to pull out results as they have a slightly worse points-earned percentage against starters compared to non-starters.

Should they want to keep getting results, then there needs to be some changes to how the Devils perform. There needs to be more attempts and more shots. That may help the Devils' goaltenders out either by forcing the other team back more (the opposing can't attack if the Devils are doing so) and increase the possibility of getting more goals. They'll need to figure out how to break down opposing defenses and top goalies more.  It's not easy or anything most fans didn't already know, but the numbers justify that.  In general, both the Devils' goaltenders could use the goalscoring help. Just know that the issue is not how the Devils do against opposing team's backup goalies. As much as I immediately remember Griess shutting out the Devils, this exercise reminded me that the Devils put up more than just two on many backups like Lack, Jeff Zatkoff, Andrew Hammond, Howard and Linus Ullmark.  As bad as it is to see a backup deny the Devils so much, it's been the exception and not the rule in this season.

It'll be worth checking this out again at the end of the season to see if this holds up.  I think it will. In the meantime, what do you make of this? What did you learn between Schneider's and Kinkaid's stats? What of the opposition; were you surprised to learn that the Devils have produced at a higher rate against backups than starters?  What would you do to get more shots (and hopefully goals) out of the current roster if you were John Hynes? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the goalie stats for and against the Devils so far in this 2015-16 season in the comments. Thank you for reading.