Commentary

The 2011 Hot Goalie Index

Key stats help predict which netminders could catch fire, steal series in playoffs

Updated: April 12, 2011, 2:41 PM ET
By Timo Seppa | Hockey Prospectus
Tim ThomasBrian Babineau/NHLI/Getty ImagesAfter a record-setting regular season Tim Thomas could just be getting warmed up.

Remember Jaroslav Halak's performance last season? That was just the latest example of a goalie catching fire and stealing a series from a higher seed. For as often as it happens in the NHL playoffs it still appears to be totally unpredictable. Well, perhaps not.

Before each of the last two playoffs, Hockey Prospectus and Insider set out to forecast goaltender performance, as measured by save percentage. Last postseason, we got pretty close to nailing Halak dead-on (.926 predicted, .923 actual), even noting "Jaroslav Halak ... has the profile of a potential giant killer" and "Don't underestimate the Canadiens -- even against mighty Washington."

While goaltender performance can vary greatly over the small sample size of a short playoff run, we can do our best to predict which netminders may succeed or fail. Over the past dozen postseason campaigns, the best performance indicators have been career playoff save percentage, current regular-season save percentage and current regular-season shots on goal against. In addition, for very young goaltenders (those under 24 years of age), the current regular season's workload has a large impact proportionately.

Compared with last postseason, there are relatively few neophytes this time around. If we ignore the seven career shots against that Corey Crawford faced in relief of Antti Niemi in 2010, he, Washington's Michal Neuvirth and Philadelphia's Sergei Bobrovsky are the only three playoff rookies among the probable starters. That means you should see some very familiar names atop our rankings, but there is one surprise out West.

Now let's look at some of the first-round matchups in detail. We'll use a "Heat Index," showcasing whether a goaltender is expected to be cold, warm or hot in these playoffs.

Eastern Conference Heat Index

No. 1 Washington Capitals vs. No. 8 New York Rangers
Michal Neuvirth (Cold) vs. Henrik Lundqvist (Warm)