The Big Cat, by the numbers: Some perspective on Andrei Vasilevskiy’s season

Despite his second consecutive selection to the All-Star game, Andrei Vasilevskiy has had some struggles this season.

Statistics retrieved from Visualizations retrieved from and @ChartingHockey.

Hockey teams live and die by their goaltenders. Some are otherworldly while others are passable. When the Tampa Bay Lightning drafted Andrei Vasilevskiy with the 19th pick of the 2012 NHL draft, they envisioned him being their number one netminder of the future—a franchise pillar. Last season, Vasilevskiy lived up to the hype in his first year as a starter by posting a .920 save percentage and earning a Vezina nomination. He also tied the Vezina winner, Pekka Rinne, in shutouts with eight. The future looked bright for the young Russian.

With Vasilevskiy’s late addition to the All-Star game because of Carey Price’s decision to skip this year’s event, I decided to take a look at The Big Cat’s season and see how he’s doing so far.

To establish Vasilevskiy’s ‘standard’, we have to use his sole season as a starter.

Vasilevskiy 2017-2018

Sv% (All Sits)Sv% (5v5)Sv% (5v4)GSAA (All Sits)GSAA (5v5)

Vasilevskiy 2018-2019

Sv% (All Sits)Sv% (5v5)Sv% (5v4)GSAA (All Sits)GSAA (5v5)

Note: GSAA stands for ‘Goals Saved Above Average’. This is a catch-all statistic (similar to baseball’s WAR) that takes the league average save percentage and applies it to the amount of shots a specified goaltender has seen. In layman terms, this means that a goaltender with a positive differential saves ‘x-amount’ of goals more than an average goaltender when facing the same shot volume. (League Avg Sv% x Shots Allowed) - Goals Against

There are some differences here that should be looked into. First, Vasilevskiy struggled on the penalty kill last season—as did the Lightning as a whole. However, given his strong play at 5v5, it bolstered his overall save percentage. This season, his play at 5v5 has dipped, but his 5v4 numbers are now bolstering his overall percentage.

For perspective, last year Vasilevskiy was 18th in penalty kill save percentage. This year, he’s 4th highest among starting goaltenders. This is primarily due to two major factors; one being the penalty killers in front of him are doing a better job at limiting the dangerous chances he sees and the other being Vasilevskiy himself righting the ship. Not every goal on the penalty kill is the goaltenders fault, but every coach will tell you that your goaltender has to be your best penalty killer.

Below are the top 20 goaltenders from last season with at least 2000 minutes played at 5v5. It’s sorted by save percentage—look where Vasilevskiy is.

That’s a pretty great place to be.

Now, let’s take a look at how he is doing at this point of the season.

Note: This list is based off goaltenders who have played at least 1,000 minutes at 5v5 this season.

Fourteenth is not a terrible place to be in the grand scheme of things, but Vasilevskiy’s GSAA of -4.75 is puzzling given that he still has a strong .922 save percentage at 5v5. So, why is his GSAA so low? That’s where low, medium, and high danger save percentage comes into play. These percentages are based off where shots come from in the defensive zone. The closer to the front of the net, the higher the danger of the shot is (excluding the back of the net).

Last season, Vasilevskiy had a low danger save percentage (LDSV%) of .979 (6th), medium danger save percentage (MDSV%) of .915 (15th), and high danger save percentage (HDSV%) of .810 (9th). He posted those numbers while seeing 1,615 shots at 5v5, which was the sixth highest among starting goaltenders. This season his LDSV% is .974 (19th), MDSV% is .948 (2nd), and HDSV% is .670 (worst among goaltenders with 1,000 minutes played). That’s what is dragging his GSAA so low—our cat-loving Russian is struggling with the most dangerous shots.

Shot maps don’t look especially dangerous.

Having an average threat is better than the mess Vasilevskiy had to deal with last season, but the fact that a large portion of the shots are coming from the slot is worrisome. That is the area that is partially graded as high and medium danger—depending on the specific location of the shot. This visual only provides the volume of shots, let’s see where the goals are coming from.

Ignore all of the small shapes, focus on the enlarged ones—those are goals against. You can see a crowding of goals right between the hash marks of the slot, especially on the left side of the slot (Vasilevskiy’s right). The goals from that area and below are what have plunged his HDSV%. So, now we know where the goals are coming from. The next question focuses on whether or not it’s Vasilevskiy’s play or the defense in front of him that is causing these goals to occur.

I’ll take a few of the goals from in close and break down what happened to see if it was Vasilevskiy’s fault or the defense’s.

What a damn gorgeous pass by Matt Dumba here, you have to appreciate it. Regardless, Marcus Foligno fools Vasilevskiy on this one. You can see Vasilevskiy go down in the butterfly early and is unable to stretch all the way across to seal the post. This, to me, looks like Vasilevskiy incorrectly guessed what Foligno was going to do. Which, given that Foligno was trying to settle the puck down, is understandable.

Some might blame MIkhail Sergachev here, but I’d only criticize him for not being aggressive enough with his stick. Positionally, he’s fine. Vasilevskiy, on the other hand, read the play. Watch him never fully commit to Connor McDavid—he expected the puck to go back to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The issue is Vasilevskiy thought the shot was going to be higher and it wasn’t. Nugent-Hopkins got no elevation on his shot and the puck slide right underneath Vasilevskiy. Again, he guessed wrong in this instance.

Can’t clear the puck out of the zone. Can’t make a clean save or locate the rebound in time. Coverage fails to box out Matt Duchene as he drives for the rebound. This goal has just about everything going wrong for the Lightning. These goals happen, and have not been the primary culprit to Vasilevskiy’s struggles, but it’s still a smorgasbord of mistakes by everyone here.

If there has been one repeat criticism I’ve seen on Vasilevskiy, it’s his rebound control. Sometimes, he produces rebounds that get him in a bit of trouble—this is one of them. You can see Vasilevskiy make the save and immediately move to where the puck is going. He meant to put it there, but Oliver Bjorkstrand fires one hell of a shot that Vasilevskiy couldn’t follow. I believe the bigger culprit is Anton Stralman being slow to react to Bjorkstrand going for the rebound. If Stralman reacts quicker with his stick lift, then this goal is avoided.

First, great move by Patrik Laine to get around Victor Hedman. Second, even better move by Vasilevskiy to poke check the puck away. Unfortunately, Vasilevskiy is too slow to react to Mark Scheifele’s shot off the poke check. I’ve always wondered why goaltenders hold onto their sticks when they poke check. By still holding onto the stick, they get themselves in odd positions at times. If Vasilevskiy had pushed his stick forward with the poke check, then it’s possible he could’ve been in a better position for Scheifele’s shot. Though, it’s a split second decision that is difficult to blame him on (compared to the other two goals shown).

While his (and the team’s) play on the penalty kill has improved, it seems like his HDSV% is being dragged by poor decision making in certain situations and poor coverage on others. Luckily, his last few games have helped him in the numbers game, but it’s a long road to bring his HDSV% out of the gutter. It likely won’t get near his percentage from last year, but if he can manage to get it into the mid-to-high .700’s by the post season, then everything else should work out fine.