May 26, 2019

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Opinion

Numbers support more ice time for Brossoit

<p>No. 2 goalie Laurent Brossoit has been outstanding this season with a .934 save percentage. The Jets should start him between the pipes more often, Andrew Berkshire writes.</p></p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

No. 2 goalie Laurent Brossoit has been outstanding this season with a .934 save percentage. The Jets should start him between the pipes more often, Andrew Berkshire writes.

What a difference a year makes.

Partially because the Jets aren’t as strong defensively as they were last season, starting goaltender Connor Hellebuyck hasn’t put up the stellar numbers that saw him nominated for a Vezina Trophy last season (though his .911 save percentage remains above the league average of .908).

Strangely, the drop in the team’s defensive play hasn’t hurt their new backup goalie’s numbers. Laurent Brossoit has matched last season’s 14 appearances, with 13 starts and 10 wins, and posted a sparkling .934 save percentage.

Backup goaltenders often face weaker teams than starters. While it’s difficult mentally to sit on the sidelines and wait for the call to play and still maintain the same level of preparedness as a starting goaltender, it’s more difficult to pump up the numbers the more games you play.

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What a difference a year makes.

Partially because the Jets aren’t as strong defensively as they were last season, starting goaltender Connor Hellebuyck hasn’t put up the stellar numbers that saw him nominated for a Vezina Trophy last season (though his .911 save percentage remains above the league average of .908).

Strangely, the drop in the team’s defensive play hasn’t hurt their new backup goalie’s numbers. Laurent Brossoit has matched last season’s 14 appearances, with 13 starts and 10 wins, and posted a sparkling .934 save percentage.

Backup goaltenders often face weaker teams than starters. While it’s difficult mentally to sit on the sidelines and wait for the call to play and still maintain the same level of preparedness as a starting goaltender, it’s more difficult to pump up the numbers the more games you play.

That said, we have to ask whether Brossoit has faced the same hard shots as Hellebuyck. Playing a different calibre of team can change things, and some teams play more casually with their starter in net because they trust them more and can take more risks.

In the Jets’ situation, it appears the opposite is true, as Brossoit has been forced to face slightly more difficult shots than Hellebuyck overall, with more passes to the slot at even strength (but a hair fewer overall), and more inner-slot and high-slot scoring chances.

That is an interesting development and shows how strong Brossoit has been. Either the Jets play loose in front of him and he’s bailed them out, or the team has grown to trust him in a very short time and don’t mind taking a ton of risks, knowing he’ll save them from some bad choices.

Before we get carried away, let’s look at how sustainable his performance is. If a goaltender is capable of posting a strong high-danger save percentage, saving a high percentage of shots from the inner slot, their performance is more likely to continue to be strong.

If a goaltender in a small sample is just killing it on perimeter shots, but getting lit up on shots from in tight, that’s a sign things aren’t as rosy as they appear.

So how does Brossoit stack up?

Looking at save percentages by zone, Brossoit looks even stronger than expected.

Brossoit has allowed just 15 goals on 114 high-danger chances on net, and he’s posting similarly strong numbers from the high slot as well, while being essentially average on perimeter shots.

There’s almost no chance Brossoit could maintain this level of performance as a starting goaltender, even though all signs point to him being full value for it.

What does make sense to me is the Jets giving him more starts down the stretch.

Hellebuyck, 25, is in the prime of his career, and despite some less-than-stellar numbers this season, he’s been a strong, consistent goaltender for the Jets and will continue to be their starter.

Over this and last season, no goaltender has started more games than Hellebuyck (109), played in more games (112) or played as many minutes (6622). The next-closest in minutes is Maple Leafs netminder Freddy Andersen, who lags behind by nearly 400 minutes.

That’s a lot of extra time Hellebuyck has played over his contemporaries. Thinking not only about his longevity this season, but long term, it makes sense to play him less and let him rest.

Hellebuyck is on pace to start 64 games this season — which isn’t that crazy compared to the 70-start seasons of some starting goaltenders a few years ago — but given Brossoit’s performance to date, it’s unlikely the Jets would be putting themselves in a worse playoff position by playing their backup a bit more.

Having Hellebuyck fresh for the playoffs has obvious benefits, but we’ve also seen the consequences of red-lining a goaltender in their mid-20’s; they seem to wear down a little bit earlier and struggle with injuries.

With Hellebuyck signed for five more years and the young core the Jets are built around, it makes sense to think about the longevity of their starting goaltender.

If Brossoit starts to struggle, it’s easy enough to go back to Hellebuyck, but this seems like a can’t-lose option.

– Andrew Berkshire is a hockey writer specializing in data-driven analysis of the game.

Andrew Berkshire

Andrew Berkshire

Andrew Berkshire is a hockey writer specializing in data-driven analysis of the game.

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History

Updated on Friday, February 15, 2019 at 8:41 PM CST: Updates graphic

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