Evaluating the Play of Roberto Luongo

Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks

Photo credit: faceoff.com

As I am sure everyone is aware of by now, Roberto Luongo was named the NHL’s third star of the week on Monday. For the most part, Luongo has met or exceeded every reasonable prediction people had of him in the off-season. It is fairly well known that goalies that enter their mid-30s steadily decline in save percentage.  Luongo’s .918 is just a fraction off his .919 career average

That being said, during a season where save percentage is at its all-time highest, despite the league making goalie equipment smaller, Luongo has been an average at best starter.

At 5-on-5 play, Luongo’s save percentage is .923 and good enough for 16th best in the NHL among goalies who have played 50 percent of their teams games. Advanced stats for goalies lags behind the metrics for skaters but 5-on-5 play is the fairest way to evaluate goaltenders against each other as special teams stats are more heavily influenced by teammates play. Even if you account for the Canucks’ league best penalty kill, Luongo only gets bumped up to 12th with a traditional .918 save percentage.

To further demonstrate the issue, goalies such as Steve Mason, Jaroslav Halak, and Ondrej Pavelec have all posted a better save percentage at even strength.  You’d probably be pretty disappointed to have any of those guys are your team’s starter.

The good news for the Canucks is that teams are moving away from heavily depending on star goaltenders to win them the cup. There have been plenty of teams that have had average goaltending and made the playoffs in the recent past, however, teams like Minnesota, Colorado and Toronto have demonstrated that relying on goaltending to steal games can still get you a few extra wins that the Canucks could really use right now to get back into the Pacific Division race.

Now, if you follow the Canucks on a daily basis you’d probably notice that not much is being made about Luongo’s average stats. I believe that there are a couple reasons for this.  One being what I already mentioned, that Luongo has been playing up to the standards set for him early on this season. More likely though, people have shifted their criticism from Luongo’s play to the lack of scoring depth when the team loses low scoring games. Without Cory Schnieder on the team, the fans and media don’t have the default reaction we’ve been accustomed to – calling for the backup. Luongo has done his best to avoid the soft goals as well and continued consistency will be important going forward as well.

What we’re seeing from Luongo is probably about what we can expect for the rest of the season and that’s not necessarily bad thing considering the potential decline the Canucks could have been dealing with.

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10 Responses

  1. Dylan says:

    I think by the end of the season Lou’s stats will be better. All the younger and less experienced goaltenders tend to fade away in the second half, while veterans get better in preparation for the spring. I also feel like Lou is feeling much less pressure without Schneider nipping at his heels and thus is more relaxed-loose in net. While Lack has been great in the backup role there’s no threat of him usurping Lou- seems like they have a good relationship.

  2. thebassman says:

    I think Lou has been far above average this season… maybe his STATS are average for starters, but I can think of far more awful plays by defencemen that have results in crappy goals, than I can blunders by Luongo. Is he stealing a bunch of games for us? No, not really… but he’s giving us a chance to win pretty much every time he plays. Not to mention the fact that Booby Lou often gets better as the season goes on.

  3. Simon Wilson says:

    I think that any hope that Luongo is going to become drastically better in the second half of the season is probably going to lead to disappointment. December-February are the best months of his career with save percentages of .924, .922 and .923 so we could see a bit of a spike in his play but his numbers in March and April are much less flattering. The truth is that goalies in the 30s don’t actually get better as the season goes on and their “veteran” experience is kind of overplayed. Teams also seem to be doing just fine with younger and more inexperienced goalies in big games in recent history.

  4. Simon Wilson says:

    You’re saying that Luongo isn’t losing games for the team (I agree) because there are bigger problems, but you also say that he isn’t stealing games either. That sounds pretty average to me. The fact of the matter is that every team except for the very worst have a goalie who can keep the opposition to 2 goals or less on most nights, or whatever standard you want to use. The point is that Luongo isn’t providing the Canucks with anything that most other starters aren’t.

  5. thebassman says:

    I agree there are definitely bigger problems… though I disagree Luongo is merely average among starters. He’s bailed the poor defensive play (by both the forwards and d-men) out numerous games, and has definitely performed well-beyond expectations so far this year. The negativity in both your article and comments down plays that, and does a dis-service to how well he has actually done so far this year. There are only a handful of goalies I would think we would take instead of Luongo at this point in the season (contract aside, of course). 😉

  6. Simon Wilson says:

    I started off the post by saying that Luongo has done well against the expectations that people set out for him but the point of looking at his stats at 5-on-5 and comparing them to the rest of the league is to show how valuable they really are. Over the entire season things such as shot quality and poor defensive play don’t really impact save percentage at even strength all that much.

  7. thebassman says:

    See, that’s where I think you’re wrong. Shot quality and poor defensive play have a HUGE impact over save percentage. In addition, shot blocking, while obviously resulting in less shots on net, often also results in a lower save percentage, as only the quality shots are getting through.

    Taking a look at one set of stats (in this case, 5-on-5 numbers) rarely gives you the whole picture…

  8. Dylan says:

    A 918 save percentage is hardly a bad number. If you pair that with what looks to be another plus 30 win season it’s hard to complain. And goalie stats really don’t speak the truth until further into the season. At this point a couple shutouts or one blowout can obscure the numbers pretty easily.

  9. Simon Wilson says:

    I’m not saying .918 is bad just that it’s not what it takes to be considered one of the best goalies in the NHL anymore.

  10. Good points by both. The one thing I find encouraging is his ES save percentage has been pretty darn great since the Rangers game debacle – 0.957%. And I think it was trending north of average even before that.

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