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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

This is the Brian Elliott we’ve been waiting for

The excitement level was high when the Calgary Flames acquired Brian Elliott in June, and for good reason. Elliott was fresh off a Western Conference Final appearance with the St. Louis Blues and only cost the team a second round pick. After a miserable start to his first season in Calgary, Elliott has put together a ridiculous run (including a franchise record-tying win streak) and looks like a bona fide number one goaltender heading into the postseason. I don’t know if we saw this coming in October and November, but this is the Brian Elliott everyone has been hoping for.

This last stretch that has Elliott looking like a high end number one goalie is perhaps the most significant thing to happen for the Flames all season long. For Calgary to make real noise in the postseason, they’re going to need one of their goalies to be playing at a high level. Right now, that goalie is Elliott.

History

Elliott was one of the goalies targeted by Flames fans when thinking of potential offseason upgrades on Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller. While never shouldering a true number one workload, Elliott’s numbers were some of the NHL’s strongest during his stint with the Blues. Below is an aggregate of Elliott’s five years in St. Louis, which illustrates just how strong he was across the board.

Elliott’s numbers above are extremely impressive even if he didn’t see the same type of workload as others did during that span. In his five years in St. Louis, Elliott averaged just over 35 starts per season and peaked at 45 during the 2014-15 campaign. In comparison to established starters like Carey Price, Tuukka Rask, and Henrik Lundqvist, those starting numbers for Elliott are low. But they also don’t diminish the good work he did.

Elliott’s past workload is a big reason why his contract is so affordable right now. With a $2.5 million cap hit on an expiring contract, Elliott isn’t breaking the bank right now. A higher number of starts and comparable to numbers to those above would almost certainly see him on a much heftier contract.

For a variety of reasons, though, the Blues never saw Elliott as their unquestioned number one. During his time in St. Louis, Elliott was paired up with Jaroslav Halak, Ryan Miller, and Jake Allen at different times and, as such, was never handed a true number one workload. In turn, Elliott’s contract was kept very reasonable and it’s something Calgary jumped on when they had the chance in June.

This season

Now that Elliott has tied Mike Vernon’s franchise mark with an 11th consecutive victory, it’s a little bit harder to recollect just how bad his time with the Flames started. In reality, though, Elliott’s season has been a tale of two halves with a little bit still to be written.

Elliott’s season started with two really rough outings against the Edmonton Oilers and he looked like a shadow of the guy who led the Blues to a Western Conference Final a few months prior. In fact, Elliott’s struggles carried well into December and he looked shaky even as the wins started to accumulate. Then something happened.

I don’t know if a switch went off or if Elliott just finished adjusting, but Elliott has looked like a totally different goaltender since the beginning of February. Take a look at the splits in Elliott’s first four months in comparison to what he’s accomplished over the last eight weeks or so.

Those numbers really are staggering. Statistically, Elliott wasn’t even an NHL-caliber goalie for the first half of the season and now he’s playing some of the best hockey at the position in the world. In fact, by save percentage, only Jake Allen, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Jonathan Bernier have better totals with similar games played since Feb. 1.

Since Feb. 21, Elliott has rattled off 11 straight wins and his numbers are even more impressive. During this record-tying run, Elliott has a 0.942 save percentage, which ranks fourth among comparable goalies; plain and simple, whether we look at a smaller sample size or the entire picture since the beginning of last month, Elliott has been elite.

Conclusion

As I said earlier, I think Elliott’s emergence as a high end number one goalie is the most significant thing to happen to the Flames this season. While the formation of the 3M line, the resurgence of Johnny Gaudreau, and Dougie Hamilton’s coming out party are all massively important, it’s Elliott’s stunning turnaround leading the way.

Heading into the playoffs, Calgary is a pretty good team, but I don’t think they’re good enough to make any noise with average goaltending. Elliott doesn’t need to keep his save percentage in the 0.940 range as the postseason approaches, but with him in the 0.930 ballpark, the Flames could absolutely win some playoff rounds.

Elliott was acquired to be this team’s number one goaltender and he certainly looks the part right now. On an expiring contract, Elliott’s future with the team is up in the air and is fodder for a great article later this spring. For now, though, Calgary can feel extremely confident about what they’re getting from their number one. I’m not sure I saw this coming a few months ago.

  • HOFer_dirty30

    Ink Elliott for 2-3 years.
    I love Johnson but we got great young goaltending prospects to tryout next year so unless he is willing to play for potatoes..

  • aye

    I wouldn’t mind starting Johnson against Washington, don’t think we should let him sit too long as we saw what happened against Boston, and give him a chance to rebound quickly, especially now we have some breathing room with LA out of our rearview mirrors. Johnson actually plays well against the tougher teams, and face lots of shots, and I’m sure he would be facing plenty of shots from the Caps.

    • HAL MacInnis

      I don’t think Johnson needs to come back that soon. Making the playoffs is one thing, but we have a great chance to finish 2nd or 3rd in our division. I’d rather play Anaheim or Edmonton in the first round than San Jose or Chicago.

  • Eggs Bennett

    Are the Saddledome fans starting to chant “Mooooooooose” everytime a save is made? Just noticed it last night… not a fan of it personally, awfully unoriginal

  • Avalain

    As for Elliott adjusting, could it have possibly been a personal matter? His wife had a baby in Oct, so January would be when his kid is around the 3 month old mark.

  • oilfan_79

    The Flames have also done a much better job in front of him lately. At the beginning of the season he was facing a lot of grade A scoring chances against, which doesn’t help a goaltenders stats. It would be interesting to see the scoring chances against for his first 24 games compared to his last 17.

  • oddclod

    On topic. The guy is lights out right now. Onto the playoffs with a hot team and goalie baby! Off topic, resigned 3yrs 3.5milli AV. With Gillies and Parsons on the decks. Book it.

  • Cowbell_Feva

    I would be very leery of any long term deal with Elliott. Yes, his last 17 games look good, but the first 24 wouldn’t hold water in the AHL.

    His numbers in St.Louis were outstanding, yet when the playoffs rolled around he was far from reliable. When a coach has to switch his starting goaltenders every other night (as Hitch had to numerous times- at the most important time of year) it tells me that he isn’t the guy Calgary will want come post season. This guy is not Kipper who would steal series on his own. And the Flames are not as good as the past 3-4 years that St.Louis was a perrenial Stanley Cup contender either.

    • DKramer

      Last year he looked really good in the playoffs I thought. Even stole games at times. Overall career wise his playoff numbers aren’t staggering but the pressure I’m sure must have gotten to him. Any weak goal that went in all of a sudden had the media all over him and all they talked about was if he should even start the next game. Hard to play your best when one mistake has everyone wanting the other guy in

    • I think the Flames should tread carefully with an Elliott extension as well, but I don’t know what you’re referring to when it comes his playoff performance. Last post-season he played 18 games for the Blues, managing a .921 SV%.

      • WildfireOne

        And even with those numbers, he looked… ordinary… behind that very good defense. I’m hoping that Tyler Parsons is our Matt Murray, and we don’t turn Elliott into a fiscal Fleury in the meantime.

    • Greg

      I was actually wondering if that’s when things turned around for him? Anecdotally, I seem to recall a few goalies who got better after ditching coloured pads for white ones… statistically it’d be super interesting for someone to study that. Thinking of the speed at which players have to react, I could see the bright red clearly showing the holes to aim at while white ones may obscure the actual size of the goalie pads just enough to make a slight SV% difference. Maybe.