Antti Niemi’s base statistics after coming over to the Montreal Canadiens were very good. A 7-5-4 record with a 2.46 GAA and .929 save percentage in 19 games (17 starts).
The .929 save percentage with Montreal, in particular, was tied for fourth in the NHL among goalies with more than three starts. He was behind only Curtis McElhinney, Carter Hutton, Antti Raanta and tied with Corey Crawford and Roberto Luongo.
There aren’t many advanced statistics for goaltenders, but when you look even deeper, he stays near that spot - especially among backups.
A statistic called Quality Starts looks at how many starts a goalie has with an above average save percentage (or at least 88.5% on starts with less than 20 shots faced). Niemi, with Montreal, had 12 in his 17 starts, for a Quality Start percentage of .707. That percentage would put him second in the NHL among goalies with more than seven starts behind Carter Hutton (Harri Sateri had seven starts and a .714 quality start percentage).
There is another statistic called Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA). What this statistic does is it looks at the goals against versus shots faced for the goalie in question against the average goalie in the league on the same number of shots.
With Montreal, Niemi put up a 9.96 GSAA. The statistic is cumulative so by nature more playing time means more GSAA (for the good goalies). If we take out goalies who started more than 30 games, Niemi ranks sixth, behind only Hutton, Crawford, Ryan Miller, McElhinney, and Juuse Saros. He’s even ahead of some notable starting goaltenders like Tuukka Rask and Henrik Lundqvist despite playing many less games.
You won’t see Niemi on any leaderboards, however, because of just how bad his numbers were with Pittsburgh and Florida. Those five games (three starts) completely ruined his season numbers. His GSAA of 9.96 drops to -0.68 when you factor in those games.
To put it into perspective, no goalie who played even one full period put up numbers (goals against average or save percentage) as bad as Niemi did in those five games. The only goalie who has worse numbers is Vegas’s Dylan Ferguson, who is 19 years old and faced two shots in nine minutes.
Niemi’s numbers also look very good when compared to his peers on the Canadiens last season.
(RBS = Really Bad Starts [starts with save percentage below 85%]; QS = Quality Starts]
Now when you look at his season, you can’t ignore that bad stretch. It happened and you need to talk about it. But Niemi found something in Montreal and even if you don’t expect a repeat of those numbers, he would still be among the better backup goaltenders in the NHL. In 2017-18, he was among the best.