The Resurrection of Karri Ramo

Karri Ramo played his 10th consecutive game last night, which represented a couple milestones.

First of all, it’s the most starts he’s had consecutively in his National Hockey League career. That in itself is ironic considering that a month ago, Ramo went through waivers and was assigned to the American Hockey League. Much like the proverbial last slice of pizza, Ramo wasn’t considered good enough for anybody to want him (even without giving up an asset to get him) and, thus, was thrown into the scrap heap.

And last night, he beat the Stanley Cup champions and became waiver eligible again in one fell swoop. Given how his season began, both are pretty impressive accomplishments.

After posting pretty strong numbers in the pre-season – 1.88 goals against average and a .941 save percentage in four games – Ramo was tabbed as the opening night starter for the Flames when they faced the Vancouver Canucks. He wasn’t great, giving up five goals in a loss on October 7.

He didn’t start again for nine days, returning to the net in Winnipeg. Despite playing well, he indisputably cost the team the game by giving up a late-game, weird-angle goal to Dustin Byfuglien in a 2-1 loss. He started one more game against Washington, gave up four goals, and was pulled 31:37 into his third start on October 20. It appeared that Ramo’s star had fallen and he became the odd-man-out in Calgary’s net, going 0-3-0 with some horrid numbers.

He was waived on October 21 and, with no team putting a claim in on a goalie with bad numbers and a hefty cap hit, he cleared the next day and was assigned to the AHL’s Stockton Heat. He played the third period of Stockton’s 5-1 loss in San Antonio (making six saves) on October 24, his first AHL appearance since January 2009 when he was in the Tampa Bay organization. It appeared that Stockton would become Ramo’s new home, until Jonas Hiller was injured on October 28 in Ottawa. Ramo was recalled on October 29 and dressed as Joni Ortio’s back-up on October 30 in Calgary’s woeful 6-2 home loss to Montreal.

Seemingly as sick of the goalie rotation as everyone else was, at this point Bob Hartley put Karri Ramo in net for Calgary’s next game against Edmonton. With the Flames in a fragile state and needing a win, Ramo wasn’t amazing in a wild 5-4 win against the Oilers but he was just good enough to keep the team in it – which was something that was in short supply.

About a week later, Hartley outright said he was going to ride Ramo for a bit.

Here’s a snapshot of Ramo’s run to-date:

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If there’s a clue here, it’s in his wins. In five of his six victories, he’s seen fewer than 30 shots against. In five of his six victories – and all of them after Edmonton on Halloween – he’s given up two (or fewer) goals against, and in all of them he’s given up two or fewer even-strength goals against.

For giggles, here’s the same basic break-down from War-on-Ice, albeit with different categories for the same time-frame (and a comparison to the three games he played to begin the season):

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Now, outside of his better performance against low-danger shots (and high-danger shots), one thing to keep in mind: his shots-against per 60 minutes has gone down by 9 shots, which is fundamentally the difference between facing a crap-ton of shots at even-strength and just a sizable amount. Ramo’s not absolutely deluged with shots most nights, which is one of the reasons he’s better.

Another reason he’s better could be psychological: he knows he’s going to play again regardless of how he performs, so he can just focus on playing rather than worrying about when he’ll play again. After the win against New Jersey, I had the chance to ask Ramo the difference in approach between being in a goalie rotation (as he was earlier in the season) and when the team rides a single netminder, as they have recently.

“It’s different. You know, it kind of a bit easier to improve in the games when you’re playing games and get better in those games…it’s easier. It’s a lot easier mentally just, you just focus on the game, you just focus on starting every game so you don’t think about anything else and you know what you need to do and you know from the past games that there’s things you need to keep working on and improve for the next one.”

I wasn’t surprised by that answer, because in many ways it’s what you hear from skaters – when a player knows that they’re going to get back on the ice, they focus on playing instead of wondering about when they’ll play again.

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Above is the running three-game average of the team’s even-strength save percentage. With Ramo in net all the time, it’s nicely consistently lately rather than the chaos we saw earlier in the season.

Sunday’s game represented two interesting statistical milestones; Ramo became the first Flames goalie to start 10 straight in quite while, but he also became the first Flames goaltender this season to crack the vaunted .900 mark for save percentage. And over the 10 games that he’s started, he’s put up a .926 even-strength save percentage – which is basically the league’s average (and about where the Flames were all of last season).

So the Calgary Flames have seemingly finally shored up their goaltending. And all it took to do that was to give the reins to Karri Ramo, the goaltender they threw on the waiver wire and buried in the AHL a month ago because they felt he wasn’t performing well enough to play on their team (and apparently no other NHL teams did, either).

Hockey sure is funny sometimes.