There is a saying in the NHL that goes something like this: “Your best penalty killer is your goaltender.” While that seems obvious in the sense that the goaltender is the one who keeps the puck out of the net, I wonder how often Mike Sullivan or any other NHL coach decides which goaltender should play based on the ability to kill penalties. It may happen more than they let on—most coaches are loathe to share information on injuries, strategies, and the like—but whether or not it has been a factor in the past, it should be a consideration for Sullivan in the future.
The statistics strongly suggest that when Andrew Raycroft is back from injury and ready to spilt time with Hannu Toivonen, Toivonen should start against teams with strong power play units and those who draw a lot of penalties.
Through the first 15 games, Toivonen has been one of the best penalty-killing goaltenders in the Eastern Conference, recording a .900 save percentage while the Bruins are killing a power play. That mark is good for third in the conference among goaltenders that have faced at least 35 shots against. Conversely, Raycroft’s save percentage of .804 is the third worst in the East
Power Play Save Percentage Top 5
Power Play Save Percentage Bottom 5
Toivonen is also one of only four goaltenders in the conference who saves a higher percentage of power play shots than he does even strength attempts. I’m not sure that is significant, but it is interesting. If Derek Jeter were an NHL goalie, fans would point to this statistic as proof that he “comes through in the clutch.”
Goaltenders with Higher Power Play Save % than Even Strength
The gap of .096 between Toivenen’s penalty killing performance and Raycroft’s is the largest across the NHL among the eight teams with two goaltenders facing at least 35 shots. If the criteria are changed to include the who have two goaltenders that have faced 25 shots or more, the Bruins rank third among 16 teams, behind Atlanta (.149) and Washington (.127).
Margin between Goaltenders
One factor that might put the brakes on this entire analysis is that since Raycroft is out with an injury, the Bruins goaltenders have been playing at different times in the season, as opposed to a straight platoon. That begs the question: Is Toivonen outperforming Raycroft in shorthanded situations, or has the penalty killing in front of the goalies improved as the season has progressed, and Toivonen merely the beneficiary of that improvement?
With Toivonen in net, the Bruins have killed off 38 of 44 shorthanded situations (.863) compared to a penalty killing percentage of just .811 (43 of 53) when Raycroft is between the pipes. Interestingly, Toivonen has faced nine more shots than Raycroft in nine fewer power plays.
One could argue that Toivonen faces more shots because his penalty killers are worse in front of him. But I’m inclined to think that he faces more shots because he allows fewer goals, as a power play goal ends the man advantage - and ends the opportunity for more power play shots on goal. Either point argues in favor of Toivonen, as he either faces more shots because or poor efforts in front of him, or because he extends opponents' power plays by keeping the puck out of the net.
Hannu has also been playing behind a penalty killing unit that has been without October’s best forward (Patrick Leahy) and recently the team's best defenseman (Brian Leetch), yet has held opponents to 1-for-19 over the last three games. Raycroft also played behind an undermanned unit for a time as Nick Boynton (holdout) and Shawn McEachern (injury, frequently the one committing the penalty) also missed time while he was the primary netminder.
Even so, the statistics indicate that Toivonen is a significant factor in the Bruins efforts to kill penalties, and he should be matched up against strong power play units as Sullivan fills out his line up card.