A few days ago, someone expressed to me the opinion that even with average goaltending so far this year, the Caps would have five to eight more points and be right around the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference standings. I certainly didn't disagree with the assessment, but wondered how such an assertion could be quantified.
Well, thanks to Mirtle, I found an analysis over at Behindthenet Blog of five-on-five goals against that takes a goaltender's workload - including a broad measure of shot quality by accounting for the locations from which the shots faced are coming - and "shows the number of goals allowed by each NHL goaltender this season (minimum: 300 mins) and the expected number of goals allowed by an average goaltender."
Not surprisingly, the stats confirm what your eyes have been telling you - the Caps goaltending has been below average. In fact, Olie Kolzig and Brent Johnson rank 39th and 43rd, respectively, out of fifty in their statistical deviations from the expected norm and have combined to give up more than seven goals more than you'd expect from an "average" goaltender in five-on-five situations. Not good (but not Andrew Raycroft, so at least there's that).
What does that mean? It is, of course, still impossible to quantify how many points below-average goaltending has cost the Caps. But for a team that has the most one-goal losses in hockey and the second-worst winning percentage in the League in such games, it's a safe bet that with just average goaltending (remember, the seven "bad" goals above only take into account five-on-five goals), the Caps would be in much better shape right now. Five to eight points better? Quite probably.
The bottom line here, of course, is that without better goaltending the rest of the way this year, the Caps are going nowhere fast. And no one's demanding Vezina-caliber play - mediocre may very well be good enough. It certainly would be an upgrade over what they've gotten so far.
On a sidenote, this type of statistical analysis (check out The Forechecker for similarly great stuff) really is invaluable and adds a depth and understanding to the hockey world that only the blogosphere is providing. Kudos, guys.
Update (12/25): Five-on-four numbers are up, and it looks as if Olie is performing exactly as you'd expect an average goaltender to a man down but Johnny has actually saved the Caps two goals against. How 'bout that?