NHL goalies are some of the most powerful athletes in sports.
They can be the reason a goal is or is not scored, the deciding force between victory and defeat. They can rescue a teammate from a defensive miscue, or paper over holes in the lineup. They can be the reason a coach keeps his job or the reason he no longer has one.
Strong goaltending can infuse a team with confidence. Having weak goaltending is like building a contender on a foundation made of oatmeal.
Here is the NHL Goaltender Confidence Index, just under two months into the 2021-22 season. Along with the ranking, each team entry has analysis from former NHL goalie Stephen Valiquette, CEO of Clear Sight Analytics and one of the sport's foremost analysts on netminders; and ESPN Insider Kevin Weekes, an 11-year veteran NHL goaltender.
All stats are through Sunday's games, from Hockey-Reference.com, Natural Stat Trick and Evolving Hockey.
1. Calgary Flames
Goalies: Jacob Markstrom, Dan Vladar
Team save percentage: .931 (1st)
Markstrom went from playing his way to a massive free-agent contract to becoming a potential free-agent bust to being a favorite for the Vezina Trophy in the span of three seasons. His resurgence this season is thanks to coach Darryl Sutter's sturdy and supporting defensive system, helping Markstrom to a .937 save percentage, a 1.83 goals-against average and a league-high five shutouts. He is 10th in goals saved above average and has been exceptional at stopping high-danger scoring chances. His backup, Vladar, also has startlingly good numbers (.939, 1.78), which might take some shine off Markstrom's performance as being the product of a system rather than someone transcending it.
Valiquette's take: "I'm a huge fan of Markstrom. I'll never forget [goalie coach] Dan Cloutier reaching out to me some years back and asking my company for help, because the Canucks wanted to get rid of Markstrom and he didn't want to see him leave. We gave him the evidence he needed, and Markstrom stayed. Ian Clark came into Vancouver and completely refined his game. Markstrom's a workhorse. Guys love him. But the thing about him this season is Darryl Sutter, right? He hasn't faced the same difficulty of saves as [Igor] Shesterkin has because of that system."