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LAXMetrics Playoffs: Goaltenders Excel in Quarterfinals

The NLL Quarterfinals proved to be many things. Competitive. Exhilarating. Dramatic. But the one through-line between the four games was superb goaltending.

Seldom has there been a week in the last several seasons of NLL action in which the goaltenders dominated like they did over the weekend. Only one of the eight teams posted a double-figure scoring total and the eight net minders in question averaged 48 saves between them.

But save totals don’t even begin to do justice to the heroics fans witnessed between the pipes during Quarterfinals weekend. Thanks to LaxMetrics.com, we can explore some of the more remarkable goaltending feats from the weekend and contextualize just how impressive the collection of performances truly was.

Not only did goaltenders rack up saves at eye-popping rates, the degree of difficulty of those saves was significantly higher than a garden-variety weekend in the league. Not only did the eight goalies in action stop 1-v-1 shots at a vastly higher rate than the year’s average, a higher proportion of their saves came via 1-v-1 shots.

Over the 21-week regular season, goaltenders stopped 63.0% of the 1-v-1 shots that they faced. This is the perfect benchmark for comparison as we examine the display put forth during the Quarterfinals. Across the eight men who played at least one full minute of game action, the group combined to stop 81.5% of the 1-v-1 shots that they faced. That’s an absurd difference of 18.5 percentage points. Six of the eight goaltenders in action stopped 80% or more of the 1-v-1 shots that they faced. The only exceptions were San Diego’s Chris Origlieri (69.2%) and Rochester’s Rylan Hartley (60.0%). Hartley was the only one of the eight men who did not beat the league-wide regular-season save percentage.

But this wasn’t a function of goaltenders facing fewer 1-v-1 shots during Quarterfinals weekend. During the regular season, there were 30 instances in which a goaltender faced 12 or more 1-v-1 shots. That’s an average of 1.4 per weekend. Four of the eight quarterfinal goaltenders saw a dozen 1-v-1 shots, led by the 16 faced by Panther City’s Nick Damude. Goaltenders didn’t just stop a greater percentage of the 1-v-1’s that they faced, they were bombarded by significantly more 1-v-1’s than an average regular-season game. Only Buffalo’s Matt Vinc (three-for-three) and Hartley (three-for-five) faced fewer than eight 1-v-1 shots.

This is further supported when we examine the proportion of each goaltender’s saves that were recorded via 1-v-1 stops. During the regular season, 1-v-1s accounted for 13.1% of all saves. During the Quarterfinals, that number ballooned to 17.5%. This past weekend, four of the eight goaltenders in action saw 1-v-1 stops account for 20% or more of their total saves. For context, Halifax’s Warren Hill led the NLL during the regular season with 15.5% of his saves coming on 1-v-1 shots. Over the weekend, 29.2% of Hill’s stops were of the 1-v-1 variety. Albany’s Doug Jamieson rightfully received most of the press for his performance in the FireWolves’ win over Halifax, but his counterpart, Hill, also turned in one of the most impressive goaltending performances of the season.

Hill stopped 14 1-v-1 shots, setting a new single-game high by an NLL goaltender this year. Philadelphia’s Zach Higgins had been the previous standard bearer after stopping 13 1-v-1s against Halifax on December 29. But whereas Higgins’ 13 stops came on 21 1-v-1 shots, Hill’s 14 saves came on just 16 1-v-1 shots. His 1-v-1 save percentage of .875 was the second-highest among goaltenders to face at least 10 1-v-1s in a game and was the highest among goalies who faced 15 or more 1-v-1s.

Of course, Hill was not the only goalie to outdo previous regular-season bests. Jamieson stopped all nine of the 1-v-1 shots that he faced, setting a new high mark for 1-v-1 shots faced without allowing a goal. Previously, San Diego’s Origlieri and Rochester’s Hartley had faced the most 1-v-1 shots while maintaining a perfect save percentage of 100%. The duo each went six-for-six in games during the regular season. Jamieson beat their best effort by an additional 50%.

The most interesting aspect of Quarterfinals weekend’s goaltending clinic is that it came in the face of some solid offensive play. This wasn’t a case of bad offense inflating save totals. Only three of the eight teams in action failed to eclipse the league average for Total First Order Chances (TFoC’s) per game. Halifax (20), Panther City (21) and Toronto (23) sagged beneath the regular-season league average clip of 25.4 TFoC’s per game. In fact, the eight teams combined to average 27.4 TFoC’s per game during the Quarterfinals. On average, goaltenders faced more quality shots during the Quarterfinals than during a generic regular-season weekend.

The fact that only one of the eight teams that played over Quarterfinals weekend managed to score 10 goals is the ultimate testament to exceptional goaltending. There were ample opportunities for offenses to pile up goals at an average or above-average rate. Yet, the end result of the weekend was a total of 63 goals, several of which were empty netters at the end of games.

The burning question that rests beneath the staggering Quarterfinals goaltending numbers is as follows: was the display sustainable?

The likely answer to the question is a simple “no.”

While it isn’t entirely out of the question that goaltending could continue to dominate through the Semifinals and into the Finals, it is unlikely that we’ll continue to witness the same kind of numbers posted during the Quarterfinals. The likeliest truth is that the team with the best goaltending from here on out is likely to raise the cup by the end of May. High-level goaltending late in the playoffs is an annual tradition in the NLL.

More often than not, the goalie playing the best leads his team to the title. The good news for the four teams still in the mix is that each of them boast a net minder with the potential to build upon a massive Quarterfinals weekend. Nick Rose was the star of the regular season. Doug Jamieson was the hero of Quarterfinals weekend. Matt Vinc is the greatest goalie to ever play in the league. And Chris Origlieri has established himself as an ascendent star in the league.

Each man will have his opportunity. Only one of them will hoist the trophy.