We’re into the final few games and the margin for making the playoffs or not is razor-thin. So because of that, decisions regarding the starting netminder for the remaining games will be scrutinized.
So let’s talk about Calgary’s two goaltenders and who should be starting.
Just prior to the Flames big road trip and Mark Giordano’s injury, I penned an article detailing how Bob Hartley had been relying on Jonas Hiller as he de facto number-one goalie. Since I wrote that, the Flames have played 15 games and Karri Ramo has started 10 of them.
Since the departure of Miikka Kiprusoff, Hartley’s had a habit of giving his goaltenders runs of games to give them a chance to get hot. Much like skaters like to get the puck on their stick – “puck touches” – to get a feel for their game, goalies like to face shots in games and play a string of them in a row to get comfortable in the crease.
Up until lately, Hartley has ridden Hiller like a mule. Up until lately, Hiller has been the better goaltender.
Here’s a rolling 3-game even-strength save percentage for the two goalies all season:
As you can see, the red line (Hiller) has been significantly above the black line (Ramo) for the majority of the season, outside of a brief spike earlier in the season and a longer one in late February. And if you look at their performances since I wrote that piece, Ramo seems to be the top goalie: Hiller’s played six times and has a .912 even-strength save percentage, while Ramo has played 10 times and has a .931 save percentage.
Both guys have had tough outings – Hiller probably wanted at least one of the goals he gave up in Colorado back, particularly the Tanguay power-play goal from the goal line, while Ramo gave up four goals in Ottawa via a porous defense – but neither has really given a game away. That said, only Ramo’s really stolen games of late, which is probably why Hartley has ridden him so hard lately.
Season-long, Calgary has been “blessed” with league-average goaltending (“blessed” compared to last season, where their goaltending was blah). Both Hiller and Ramo have nearly identical statistics, with Hiller being slightly better year-long at even-strength.
The fact that both goalies are so even makes decision-making tough on Bob Hartley. If Hiller was appreciably better than Ramo, it would be easy to go with Hiller and defend the decision, because it’s not like anyone could justifiably wonder if the other guy would do any better.
But down the stretch, if the Flames lose a close game by a goal, because both goalies are so similar in their performances, the decision to start either Ramo or Hiller will be second-guessed.
Personally, I think Hartley will eventually go back to Hiller down the stretch because historically, Hartley’s always done that. But I figure he runs with Ramo, for now, until Ramo cools off or really lays an egg. Calgary’s got two competent goaltenders, and it’s basically a coin-toss at this point in terms of who the best bet is for any given game.