If you believe in the stories told by underlying numbers, the Tampa Bay Lightning have been a very average hockey club to start this abbreviated 2021 season. Per Natural Stat Trick, they rank 14th in five-on-five shot attempt share, 9th in five-on-five expected goal share, and 17th in five-on-five scoring chance share. Despite those rather pedestrian stats, the Bolts happily sit with the second-best points percentage in hockey, behind only the Vegas Golden Knights. Their 16-4-2 record puts them among hockey’s elite, and there’s one major reason for it: Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The Lightning’s goaltender has been absolutely phenomenal to start the year, delivering performance after performance worthy of praise. He is playing the most consistent hockey of his career, and it’s been consistently good. Goaltenders are rarely worth the big-money commitments teams have a habit of making to them, but Vasilevskiy has been worth every penny of his $9.5M salary so far this season. He’s been the best goalie in the National Hockey League by a significant margin, and appears to be running away with the Vezina Trophy race.
That last claim might sound a little bit suspect considering Vasilevskiy ranks third in goals against average and third in save percentage per NHL.com, but a look at the underlying goalie stats paints a very clear picture.
First, consider Vasilevskiy’s five-on-five goals saved above average number compared to the field. He’s the runaway leader in the clubhouse so far this year:
And, because the Lightning have been rather porous in the defensive zone on too many nights, the goaltender has had to make those saves on high-danger opportunities. When the opponent is in prime scoring position, Vasilevskiy has been there with absurd frequency:
Zooming in at an even more granular level, Vasilevskiy’s goaltending prowess is perhaps evidenced best by his expected goals against numbers vs. actual goals allowed numbers in all situations. This stat adjusts both for quantity and quality variables, and further cements Vasilevskiy in the top spot among NHL goalies:
The bottom line here is quite simple: The Tampa Bay Lightning have been relying on all-world goaltending to be where they are in the standings. If Vasilevskiy falters, they’re in a bit of trouble. If he can keep this up, though, he will be on pace to deliver a historically amazing season in the crease. With more than a third of the season in the books, it’s impossible to call him anything but the frontrunner in the Vezina race.
As always, thanks for reading.