Photo Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Bringing the goalies up to speed could be the key to a good season

A few days ago, Ari made a few really good points on why it’s easy to be optimistic about this fall’s edition of the Calgary Flames. With fairly minimal roster turnover from a group that won a lot of hockey games in the back stretch of last season’s schedule, it’s unlikely that the Flames will have as flat a start as they did a year ago.

One thing that could spell trouble, though, is the third completely different goaltending tandem in the last three seasons. The ability of goaltending coach Jordan Sigalet to adjust the Flames’ two new goalies to their teammates quickly could very well determine how high the Flames finish in the standings.

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Sigalet became the Flames’ goalie coach in 2014-15 (replacing Clint Malarchuk) and worked primarily with Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller for his first two seasons on the job. While the club shuffled around some of their depth blueliners, for the most part that year’s defensive group was similar to the 2013-14 edition (and the group was largely intact for the two Ramo/Hiller seasons).

For 2016-17, Brad Treliving went bold and replaced both of his goaltenders. And his head coach. While many of the same defensemen returned from the prior season, they had to adjust to the changes Glen Gulutzan was making with his defensive zone responsibilities, the transition game, and a bunch of minor tinkers and tweaks most of us probably didn’t notice.

It didn’t go well, as noted by comments to Elliotte Friedman from Brian Elliott from June:

18. Elliott had some interesting things to say about his year in Calgary and how he played. He thinks his early struggles came because he knew exactly how the St. Louis defencemen would make certain plays, and needed time to adjust to the Flames.

“Wherever I go next, I’m going to focus a lot right away on communication so I can hit the ground running. Jay Bouwmeester, Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, whether they would slide on a two-on-one, take away the back door or focus on the slot, I’d been with them so long I knew what they’d do. I knew when I could cheat a little more, or should do it less. It took a lot of video work with (Calgary goalie coach) Jordan Sigalet, but finally I felt better and could be more aggressive. It was a reminder that players aren’t going to change their tendencies in front of you, so you have to learn how to read a different team.

(My emphasis added.)

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Last season was probably a unique challenge defensively for two big reasons: the Flames’ minute-eating defensemen were unlearning (bad) tendencies they learned under Bob Hartley and learning Gulutzan’s systems. At the same time, a veteran goaltender was trying to unlearn the tendencies of the defensemen he’d played with. It was a challenge, and it was only after Elliott had spent oodles of time with Sigalet in the video room that he figured things out. (Chad Johnson seemed to adjust rather quickly, but he also played with five different NHL teams over the last five years so he’s probably used to the chaos.)

Mike Smith spent six seasons in the Coyotes organization and played with 23 different defensemen in that span. One of them, Michael Stone, will be his teammate in Calgary. Eddie Lack seemed to struggle throughout his Carolina tenure, at times seeming to be challenged by the Hurricanes’ defensive structures after two seasons as a backup in Vancouver. It would behoove both goaltenders to spend the rest of the summer working with Sigalet to learn their new blueliners’ habits and tendencies before they even hit the ice for training camp.

Expectations are very high for this coming season. The systems are the same as last season. Aside from the addition of Travis Hamonic, the personnel on the backend is very much the same. If Smith and Lack can get up to speed early, it would go a long way towards the Flames meeting (or, gasp, even exceeding) their own expectations.

    • Aadvarkian Abakeneezer

      Then again, it was the coaching of the Flames’ previous goalie coach – Marcoux, who was hailed for his work with Kipper that’s cited by many as having destroyed Eddie Lack in Carolina. Voodoo.

    • oilcanboyd

      Re-read Elliott’s comments, re: adjusting to the D-men in front of his net.
      It also didn’t help that with the new head coach GG, the D-men as well as the O-men were confused as t what they should do…
      Looking forward to a much better start to the season….although one has to factor in the winning streaks by Johnson and then Elliott as well – can the newbie goalies to the same again this season.

      • piscera.infada

        although one has to factor in the winning streaks by Johnson and then Elliott as well – can the newbie goalies to the same again this season.

        I’ve brought this up before, but yes, they are inherently factored in. Without the goalie’s having absolutely horrible stretches during the season, they don’t require those winning streaks.

        I actually heard an interesting take on the radio yesterday–although, I’m not sure to what extent I buy into it. The general premises however, was that in terms of the actual talent level of both Elliott and Smith, I’m not sure there’s that much of a gulf there. Elliott had an extremely up and down year, marked with ridiculously high highs, and ridiculously low lows. Now, if Smith can give the team similar results in aggregate (~.910, which Elliott posted last year), the team’s just as well off. The hope would be that those results (and hopefully better) are more consistent than Elliott was last season. I’m firmly of the mind though, that had Elliott not completely soiled himself in the playoffs, he’s probably the game-one starter this season.

        • Ole YELLEr

          I agree about Elliott. I’m in minority I’m sure but I would have been fine with Elliott coming back this year, especially if it was for the same term and cap that he got in Philly.

          • piscera.infada

            Don’t disagree with that. But like I said, I think that after the playoffs, it was probably best for everyone (the fans, Elliott, the Flames’ players, coaches, management) that he moved on. I like Elliott, and I really do think that the beginning of his season was not indicative of his talent, but man, the Flames probably make that a series against Ducks (even with their sub-2% shoot percentage) if he just maintained his regular season .910 save percentage (which still would have been second worst of all the starting playoff goaltenders).

        • It is worth giving a fair warning that, while Smith may give a similar aggregate result, he may also give a similar level of variance to his game.

          Quality start percentage isn’t perfect, but it measures the percentage of games in which a goaltender either posts a .917 save percentage, regardless of goals allowed (aka hitting seasonal league average save percentage in a single game), or posts a .887 or better while allowing two or fewer shots (about league-average when considering a team’s chances of still winning a game).

          A goaltender with a very high quality start percentage may have the same save percentage as another goaltender with a much lower quality start percentage, which insinuates that one of them has very high ‘highs’ on his good games – but more often than not posts below-average games – while the other may not have as many ‘elite’ games, but much more consistently hits league average. The league average for quality start % is around .530, or 53% of games started.

          Mike Smith, regardless of his save percentage, has consistently struggled over his career to even hit .500, falling as low as the .400’s in the last few seasons. Using that combined with my anecdotal evidence covering him for the last four years, expect plenty of ups and downs from him as well.

          Not to say he won’t still win enough games for the postseason, but consistentcy is *not* his strong suit.

          • piscera.infada

            Yeah, as I said, I’m not sure I buy it. It was simply something I heard. Is there any accounting for the variance in team play there? I mean, I think we can safely agree that the Coyotes were (to be kind) not the most consistent team over his tenure (though, neither were the Flames last year).

            I’m not wild about Smith. But I guess the upshot is that notwithstanding injuries, Smith can play a traditional starters workload, which is something Elliott has never proven over the course of his career.

          • Jumping Jack Flash

            A very comprehensive analysis. It is clearly a “watch out” but a good indicator would be to look at his save percentages in Low, Medium, and High danger areas. There is a good chance that he does not face the same quality or quantity of shots. If he is above average in the low and medium range, the high danger shot totals may be less frequent with an improved defenders and defensive system. I maintain that a good NHL caliber goalie should make the saves he should and some that he shouldn’t. As well, they need to make timely saves to help the team build momentum.

  • Thunder1

    Good call about the importance of being ready out of the gate, Pike. Smitty better start hot, four of the first six Flames games are on the road against Pacific rivals Oilers, Kings, Ducks and Canucks. The last thing the Flames want to do is dig themselves a hole early again like they did last year.

    • Puckhead

      Read the article recently posted on Flamesfrom80feet. Sigalet is quoted as saying something to the effect that Smith is an older goalie and he doesn’t expect that there are any significant changes to make. Sounds like it will pretty much be business as usual for Smith.

    • DKramer

      How is the defence overrated? Gio is consistently in the top 10 of Norris voting. Hamilton was last year as well. Brodie has one off year and you write him off? If he’s your #3 defence man I think he’s one of the best #3s in the league. Hamonic also had a bad year last year. But he does complete a top 4. Stone is a number 5dman but i don’t see why that’s a bad thing. Brings size and work ethic. I just don’t see how that’s overrated? The top 4 is very good. And I don’t think Smith gets enough credit for what he does. Arizona has been worse than horrific recently and he kept them afloat most nights. I for one actually really like Mike Smith. Maybe that’s just me. Am getting a bit off topic by this point. Point is I don’t think the D are overrated whatsoever.

      • Newbietwo

        Be fair they have Kelfbom and Larson.. Nurse seems to be on the rise also.. they have weakness on the second pairing though that this coming season will show.. Furthermore the biggest issue for the Oilers not talked about is the fact that games where McDavid doesn’t score the Oilers lose so they are very weak at scoring depth winger and centre wise and that is not sustainable.. McDonald’s will not hit 100 points next year I guarantee he will be locked down by all teams like he never has before.. also Talbot saved their asses a number of times and he had a career year so Oilers you have a lot of question marks yourself

  • buts

    Tendencies are important and one of is that the goalie coach is still here after how many goaltending changes. No matter which D is playing in front, a tenders job is to stop the puck. This sounds like a bit of a cop out. I did see Elliott play way to deep in his net, even during his win streak, Hiller did as well. The goalie coach has to take some responsibility in this carousel. Lastly those bad goals by Elliott in the playoffs had nothing to do with tendencies by the D in front of him.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      The coaching staff must feel that Singalet did what he could with what he has had. Tre is not afraid to gut an organization so he must see value in Singalet. Any hiccup this year will likely lead to his demise. I seem to remember reading that he was a video guru and one of the hardest workers which explains why Tre gives him a long leash.

    • HOCKEY83

      I agree Elliott’s excuse is a cop out. No matter what D is playing front of a goalie the job is to stop pucks. Keep your eye on the puck and worry about your own job

  • The Fall

    My Flames wish list:

    Win the opening game.
    Win the home opener.
    Win 4 or the first 5 games.
    Beat up on lesser teams.
    Sweep the season series against Vancouver, Colorado, Vegas.
    Win in Anehim.
    Compete for the division title.

  • Fan the Flames

    The goaltending issues at the start of the year had more to do with the bottom 3 defense . Wideman was losing the race to the puck and teams would key on him , England and Jokipaka were not much better. These turnovers led to long duration in the defensive zone and too much pressure on the goaltending . I am confident the changes on defense will help to stabilize the goaltending.

    • everton fc

      You forgot Grossman!

      Look, GG’s “system” appears to have been mighty complicated. I remember an interview w/Brodie a few months into the season where he said he was still “learning”. Never forget our record after January, when the balance of hte players probably figured out GG’s system. Elliott was one of the main reasons we made the playoffs. I think Smith may be a better goalie under pressure, than Elliott. I was never 100% on the “Bring Back Johnson” bandwagon – I would have been okay either way. But I’d prefer Johnson over Lack, as I type.

      • Jumping Jack Flash

        I was really hoping that it was going to work with Elliott, he was very personable and great in the community. However, the way he came unglued makes me think he will always be a keeper that gets the yips in high pressure situations… No different than MAF. Both can be very good but both have shown a major chink in the armour.

        I remember watching Smith in net when we played Arizona and he looked like he could steal a game, I never had that feeling with Elliott who was prone to letting in one bad goal a game. When Smith did unravel it was usually after he got shelled behind a porous D.

  • class1div1

    Not sure how goalie coaches are rated or exactly what influence they have on performance,although last years rough start should be aimed directly at GG.He looked lost and we all know how long it took him to figure out player chemistry.Hopefully we never have to witness that again.

  • Squishin

    Hey guys, I’ve been reading articles on this site for a few months now – just decided to join! I enjoy the comments from many of you. One question: why are there so many Oiler fan trolls on here?

    • moore_tweets

      Basically they’ve been without an NHL calibre team for over a decade. In that time many of them have abandoned hope of ever seeing one again. (Due mostly in part to mismanagement and the hiring of crappy ex-NHLers). So, in turn they’ve come south and decided it would be best to actually follow along with a team that has had its shareof ups and downs, but the fans are in it for the long haul. Now they see one player making a difference (it’s about time a #1 pick did something up there), and they feel the need to get back on the wagon, head north, trashing the Flames and their fans all the way up Highway 2. That’s definitely more than I know, but I’m sure it’s true. I read it on Bing.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      Well it is quite simple….FN is known as a platform frequnted by highly intelligent and knowledgeable fans while ON….not so much…der. The trolls need to find that out…. Fortunately big words and sound logic scare them away. So they are like Leperchauns, you don’t see or hear from them often but when you do you can’t but be amazed that they can function.