The 2021-22 NHL season reached its quarter mark Sunday and total save percentage was .913, a five-point jump from the .908 save percentage posted last season. It’s the first time since 2015-16 that save percentage has increased from the previous season, and if sustainable would be the biggest single-season jump since save percentage rose from .903 in 2000-01 to .908 in 2001-02.The question for the current increase is why? ”Mostly, goalies rule is the reason,” Detroit Red Wings goalie Alex Nedeljkovic wrote in a text message, adding a crying-with-laughter emoji. ”Honestly, I don’t know.” Though there doesn’t appear to be one definitive answer, Nedeljkovic did have some ideas as to why, using his game from Tuesday as an example. He made 41 saves in a 2-1 win against the Boston Bruins, improving his save percentage to .923 in 15 games.”I think save percentage is one of those stats that can be a little skewed sometimes because you can have a game like I did tonight with 40-plus shots, but they really didn’t have that many quality shots,” Nedeljkovic said Tuesday. ”We did a good job shutting them down in the middle. You can definitely say it’s because goalies are getting better, just like players are at scoring goals. We’re doing everything we can to stop the puck, but it helps the stats too when teams just throw pucks at the net, especially with limited traffic.”The shot volume theory has two sides. Yes, some teams employ defensive systems designed to prevent more difficult shots, which inherently makes life easier for the goalies. But some offensive-zone systems are predicated upon shot volume, based on the theory that more rebounds and second opportunities will be created, leading to more quality chances.Video: DET@DAL: Nedeljkovic sprawls and robs PetersonShots are up from 59.9 per game last season to 62.8 now.Without screens and traffic, a lot of those shots don’t do much except help boost the goalie’s save percentage, as Nedeljkovic said. An increase in ”lower-danger” shots might help explain why save percentage is rising at the same time goal scoring has increased slightly, from 5.87 goals per game in 2020-21 to 5.93 this season. More teams playing their top goalie more often also may be part of the trend. There are 14 goalies on pace to play 60 or more games this season, compared to four last season and five the season before. It would be the highest full-season total since 2009-10, when 14 goalies played at least 60 games. Seven goalies are on pace to play 65 or more games this season. Three goalies combined during the past two seasons were on such a pace. It would be the most goalies to play at least 65 games in a full season since nine goalies in 2011-12. The goalies getting the most work are the ones driving the save percentage up. Jordan Binnington (.912) of the St. Louis Blues, Robin Lehner (.909) of the Vegas Golden Knights, Thatcher Demko (.908) of the Vancouver Canucks, and Philipp Grubauer (.890) of the Seattle Kraken are the four goalies among the 14 on pace to play 60 or more games with a save percentage below the NHL average.Binnigton is out for at least 10 days after entering NHL COVID-19 protocol Thursday.Jaroslav Halak of the Canucks says an increased commitment to defense around the NHL is the biggest factor. The Calgary Flames are a perfect example. Playing a defense-first style under coach Darryl Sutter, Calgary had seven shutouts in its first 19 games this season, the first team to accomplish that since forward passes became permitted in 1929. Dan Vladar, Calgary’s first-year backup, is third in the NHL with a .946 save percentage in five games. No. 1 Jacob Markstrom is tied for fifth (.939).”There are teams committed to defense and these are being successful,” Halak said.Certainly, goaltending doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Individual success has always been tied to team play and the types and frequency of scoring chances a goalie is asked to stop. ”Your goalie is always a reflection of the team,” Chicago Blackhawks goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said.Fleury won the Vezina Trophy, voted as the top goalie in the NHL last season, with a .928 save percentage for the Vegas Golden Knights. But after a July 27 trade to the Blackhawks, he was among the goalies dragging save percentage down the first month this season. Fleury had an .881 save percentage in eight games before Derek King replaced Jeremy Colliton as coach Nov. 6. Fleury has a .947 save percentage in seven games since and is at .913 in 15 games this season.”We’ve been playing hard, guys have been trying their best every night to defend better, not give up as many breakaways, 2-on-1s and odd-man rushes,” Fleury said.Video: SJS@CHI: Fleury sprawls and robs Barabanov in tightWhich brings the question back to whether this increase is sustainable. The trend has been for save percentage to increase as the season advances and more teams tighten up defensively heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In each of the past four seasons, NHL average save percentage rose from the first quarter to the end of the season, and only twice in the past 18 seasons has it dropped during the final three-quarters of a season.So even if goalies aren’t sure exactly why, there’s a good chance save percentage will continue to increase.Fanipaidat Jaeaekiekko