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Ilya Samsonov and The Big Save

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Because sometimes you need to do more than what’s expected...

Pittsburgh Penguins v Washington Capitals Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

In his last 16 appearances (dating back to March 5), Ilya Samsonov has allowed 27 goals on 330 shots faced at five-on-five, good for a .918 save percentage that places him 20th among the 32 NHL goalies with 500-plus minutes played during that span (Vitek Vanecek ranks 26th at .909).

Meh.

Dig a little deeper, and Samsonov’s numbers get even more pedestrian. He’s stopped 139 of the 141 “low-danger” shots he’s faced, for an impressive .986 save percentage that has him fifth in the League (Vanecek’s .961 is 27th) and a .921 rate on “medium-danger” shots ranks 13th on the circuit (Vanecek is a few ticks behind in 18th at .915). You probably see where this is headed...

data via NatStatTrick

Samsonov, for the most part, has made the saves he “should” make, but hasn’t really made a lot of “the big saves” that make highlight reels and steal games. (Saturday night’s loss to Pittsburgh was probably a good example of that - it’s hard to fault Samsonov for any of the goals he allowed... but you sure would like an extra stop or two, wouldn’t you?) The only thing that has kept results like that from sinking the Caps is the defense in front of him:

data via NatStatTrick
via HockeyViz

Samsonov has faced tough shots at a relatively low rate and from distance. As you’d suspect, that translates to a low expected goals-against rate (in fact, he has the seventh-lowest rate among this cohort).

Now, of course these representations doesn’t account for screens, cross-ice passes, and so on (they’re mechanically applied categorizations based on scraped shot location data), so they’re a (very) rough proxy for the actual quality of the shots a goalie has faced. But the bottom line is that if Ilya Samsonov is going to be the Capitals number one netminder heading into the playoffs, he’s probably going to have to make some more bacon-saving stops than he’s been making; the defense in front of him can only do so much. If you’re going to have success, at some point, you have to be able to make the save...