Contextualizing the Ottawa Senators' Goaltending Stuggles

Is it as bad as it seems or worse?

Contextualizing the Ottawa Senators' Goaltending Stuggles
Photo by Ed Robertson / Unsplash

*Stats current as of Monday and do not reflect Tuesday night's game against Nashville (did we win?)

I want to start out by emphasizing what I have already written numerous times this season in that I like the Ottawa Senators' goaltending on paper and bear absolutely no ill will to any of the netminders who have played in the organization this season. I think they all have mixed-to-good track records and have played some good games on occasion this year. And the absolute last thing I want to do is start a witch hunt or chase anyone out of town. So when I talk about goaltending for the purpose of this discussion I really want to focus on the team-level because as we've argued all season, defence and goaltending make for a real chicken-and-egg debate, and this Sens team still needs to polish off its defensive play in front of the crease.

With all that in mind, we still can't ignore just how badly Ottawa has fared this season in terms of save percentage. Monday's game against Washington really drove the issue home as the Sens again lost a game in which they surrendered just 20 shots against. That kind of defence and a three-goal output should absolutely equate to a win or at the very least a loser point in the NHL. We can certainly add score effects as a factor but given the whole season as a sample I dunno, folks. It just feels like this team can never buy a save. And that got me wondering whether or not my biases have drowned out reason or if we have truly witnessed some sort of statistical anomaly of sheer badness.

According to (as always), Ottawa's all situation team save percentage of 88.06 ranks dead last in the league by almost a third of a percentage point. At five-on-five only the Senators, at 89.67, clock in below 90%, and on the penalty kill their save percentage of 81.2 also ranks 32nd among 32 teams. Ottawa has gotten the worst goaltending in the league this year, period. Should we put the blame on the defence for so much blown coverage? The eye test says maybe but Ottawa's five-on-five defence (2.68 xGA/60) ranks 24th in the league and their penalty kill (7.39 xGA/60) ranks 8th so maybe we really can chalk up these goaltending results to absurdly bad luck? After all, this team has overhauled its coaching staff including the goaltending coach and every other department (powerplay excluded maybe) has seen improvements so what gives? The Sens haven't had six defenders this confident on their roster since the last time Jacques Martin served as head coach.

I also wonder if as a Senators fan who enjoyed so many years of stable, consistent goaltending from Craig Anderson, I've just forgotten that sometimes teams go through patches like this. So how does this season rank among others in Sens history? In the rebuild years, 2017-18 to present, the Sens have had three season (17-18, 20-21, and 22-23) just around 89.50 but not quite as bad as this year. And bear in mind that those teams did not have this roster or these expectations. Falling all the way to 88% seems bleak in that context. During that span, the Sens peaked out at 90.36% last year and that makes this regression sting even more I guess.

During the best years of Craig Anderson's Sens, the team bottomed out with an all-situation save percentage of 90.95 in 2013-14 (still almost three percentage points better than this year) and they sandwiched that between Andy's Vezina-calibre campaign in the shortened 2013 season (93.34 team save percentage) and the Hamburglar season (92.11) so yeah. 2011-12, 15-16, and 16-17 all hung around between 91 and 91.5 (and those were the Caca Peepee years of team defence and that kinda makes ya wonder!).

Naturalstattrick only goes back to 2007-08 and even in those dark ages pre-Craig Anderson from the post-Cup-run season to 2010-11 (when the Sens acquired Andy) the team never fell below 90% in collective save percentage in all situations (and again, those teams did not have a defensive corps like this team does in 2024). Before that came the dead puck era so I don't think we need to go back any further to illustrate the point. If, as a Sens fan, this team's goaltending seems especially brutal, the numbers absolutely back up the eye test.

Beyond the Senators though, how often does this happen in the NHL? Do teams regularly risk slipping below 88% in team save percentage in all situations? Well, in the naturalstattrick era, if the season ended today, Ottawa would have the third worst season on record. The 2020-21 Flyers take the crown with an all situation save percentage of 87.96 while the 21-22 Kraken fared slightly better at 88.01 (cool to be on a list with an expansion team!). The 2022-23 Sharks had a very comparable 88.07 and the 21-22 Devils finished with a rate of 88.11 (they rank 31st this season at 88.36 and like Ottawa have a good roster that belies their very bad results). If you want some kind of solace, the 2022-23 Canucks had an abysmal 88.29 team save percentage last year and flipped the switch over the offseason so naturally a lot of us kind of hope the same thing just sorta happens without rhyme or reason for Ottawa.

If you thought I could wrap this article up with some sort of logical conclusion then I apologize because I really don't understand any of this better than I did when we started. This team seems fine on paper. This defensive groups stacks up against any in franchise history. Martin has implemented a better defensive structure. Will things regress to the norm next year just because? Everyone sees trend. Bruce Garrioch also wrote about it yesterday. With the deadline coming up and the season all but written-off, we all have to wonder how much this roster changes by the end of the season (not to mention before the start of next season). Steve Staios hasn't started dismantling what Pierre Dorion spent years building—yet. It seems inevitable, given the results this year though, that the new regime will actively shake things up as opposed to waiting to see it the ship rights itself at the risk of yet another losing campaign. Go Sens Go.

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