The first impressions of Brian Elliott in a Calgary Flames uniform haven’t been overly positive. With an 0-3 record and very unflattering totals thus far, some are wondering whether the Flames made the right call targeting Elliott as a solution to their goaltending issues. If you’re in that camp, I’m here to ease your fears a little, because I think Elliott is going to be just fine.
I’m not going to sit here and suggest Elliott has been great through his first three games with Calgary. In fact, he’s been pedestrian at best in three starts; while he hasn’t allowed a ton of “bad goals”, he hasn’t been there to bail the Flames out when they need him either. High quality scoring opportunities are going in on Elliott more than they usually do and that’s a big reason why I think he’ll be back to normal sooner rather than later. The good news for Flames fans is Elliott’s normal is pretty darn good.
A proven track record
Elliott has proven over the last half decade he is one of the NHL’s better goaltenders. While it happened later in his career than it does for many others, Elliott developed into one of the league’s top tier goalies over his last five seasons with the St. Louis Blues. That’s why sending a second round pick to the Blues at the Draft to acquire Elliott made so much sense.
That’s why it’s hard for me to believe Elliott has just fallen off a cliff to start his career in Calgary. You’ll notice below the large disparity in his numbers when you compare his VERY small sample size with the Flames and his five years in St. Louis.
I get that Elliott hasn’t been very good so far this season, but come on, he hasn’t forgotten how to play the game nor has a change of scenery affected him to such a degree. While numbers never tell the entire story, the ones Elliott posted with the Blues are telling enough.
That’s why I’m comfortable saying Elliott is a good goalie who’s had a bad three games. Far more often than not, we see things normalize up (or down) to the mean and I’m expecting the same to happen in Elliott’s case. If/when that happens, the discussion about a contract extension for Elliott will really start to heat up.
Dispelling a myth
If you’re not an Elliott supporter, I have a pretty good idea what you were screaming at your screen during the first section of this piece. You were probably saying “he played on a very good St. Louis team so his numbers are inflated,” right? Well, respectfully, I think that’s a bit of a myth.
I always believed save percentage was one of the most telling stats in hockey. A simple ratio of shots stopped compared to shots faced was about as telling as it got. Then came the whole debate about shot quality and so the stat became even more specialized to really reflect the value of an individual goaltender. This is where Elliott really excels.
Let’s take last year as an example. Elliott lead the league with a 0.930 save percentage and was second behind only James Reimer with a 0.938 save percentage at even strength. But for the naysayers who point to the team Elliott played for as a chief reason for his impressive numbers, I have something for you.
Let’s take a look at Elliott’s work in high danger situations from last season. This is the real equalizer, because every team, no matter how good they are, gives up 10 bell chances where they need their goaltender to bail them out. Elliott was as good as it gets in these spots last year.
As you can see, Elliott was lights out in the toughest of situations last season. The most telling part of this for me is his save percentage in all situations, because that includes the powerplay where the likelihood of high quality chances goes up exponentially.
It’s also important to note the Blues were not among the elite in suppressing high danger chances last season, either. St. Louis ranked 14th in high quality scoring chances against and Elliott faced 196 chances of this variety in 2015-16; that puts him right around the average in terms of high quality chances faced per game.
Much like most of the negativity surrounding Calgary’s start to this season, my message is the same when it comes to Elliott: it’s early, let’s let it play out a little more. Elliott came into the season with high expectations, so disappointment in his first three games is totally valid. That said, the data above should give you a little more hope this is an aberration as opposed to the norm.
Elliott played for a very good team in St. Louis the last five years, no question. That shouldn’t take away from how we view his work individually, though. Elliott was a solid pickup by the Flames and I’m very much confident that’ll become evident as this season plays out.