Mind Your Own Net: The psychology behind being a Flames goalie

If you’ve ever wanted to explore the trials and tribulations of finding a goalie for the Calgary Flames, try taking a trip to your nearest library and go to the non-fiction section. It’s undeniable that the Flames have needed a solid number one goaltender ever since the retirement of Miikka Kiprusoff, and they’ve seriously struggled to find one.

It’s been a few years of constant frustration, seeing the likes of Karri Ramo, Jonas Hiller, Joni Ortio, Brian Elliott, and Chad Johnson all fail to rise up and be the solid goaltender the Flames have desperately needed. While each had their flashes of brilliance during their time in Calgary, they all ended up parting ways with the club.

You’ve got to think there’s a bit more to it than just bringing in a solid goalie with great underlying stats. It’s common knowledge that finding a goalie good enough to backstop a team into Cup contention is no easy task.

Flames management has tried time and time again to bring in a goalie that can handle the load. Too often we have heard that all the Flames need to be a perennial contender at this point is sound goaltending, and no matter who was brought in, there was always a crippling flaw. Whether it was cracking under pressure, being wildly inconsistent, or giving up the first goal far too often, any and all Flames goaltenders in the recent years have had their shortcomings.

It’s a trying process

It goes without saying that the Flames are still figuring out their goaltending issues. While we patiently wait on the goaltending prospects to see when and which of them can hold their ground in the NHL, Brad Treliving has continued his venture in solidifying the goaltending. This year, it’s Mike Smith and Eddie Lack.

There have been many discussions on what might unfold bringing in a 35-year-old goalie to be the starter, and only time will tell how Smith plays for his first Canadian club. We can only hope he puts on a show and perhaps continue his dominance over the Oilers, which will be a key divisional battle throughout the season.

Post-Season Opener note: Looks like Smith has reached his quota for losses against the Oilers, so things should look better from here.

Smith is being given the chance to take the Flames deep into the playoffs. That’s an obvious statement. Most goalies on most teams are given the chance to do so. But what makes it different for the Flames? Simply, it’s the fact that the Flames’ goaltending is the last piece of the puzzle.

Despite some obvious gaps at right wing, which they’ve bettered with the addition of Jaromir Jagr, the Flames can comfortably say they have enough forward depth to be able to figure it out as the season progresses. Goaltending, though, doesn’t offer such flexibility.

A different mentality

Smith joined the team with the perceived notion that making the playoffs is contingent on his playing capabilities only, as the forward and defensive lineup the Flames have should be more than sufficient for making the team competitive, not to mention that Lack would be a formidable back up if he can find the form he previously had in Vancouver. That kind of perspective makes playing for the Flames very different than playing for other teams.

The Edmonton Oilers, for example, found a quality starter in Cam Talbot. But he joined the team as a part of the solution, knowing full well that the defense in front of him was mediocre at best – not to mention the seemingly perpetual debacle up front with what appears to be a medley of fundamental differences between management, media, and former first round picks. Essentially, if a season goes off the rails, provided Talbot plays a solid game, it would be far from being entirely Talbot’s fault. Few people would even direct the blame his direction at all. That kind of mentality offers a pressure relief for Talbot, allowing him to focus on his game and claim his spot as a top-tier goalie as the Oilers continue to work out the rest of their issues.

Smith isn’t blessed with such luxuries. The Flames are ready to compete and he is not a part of the solution, he is supposed to be the solution. Brian Elliott might have a thing or two to tell him about how that feels when the Flames visit Philadelphia on Nov. 18.

Along with the added pressure, there’s also the ego boost Smith would get by being sought out by the Flames. Getting a call from Treliving after the disastrous goalie carousel unhinged itself and being offered a chance to play out the rest of his contract with the Flames would be a big vote of confidence for Smith. The commitment put into Smith would give him the mindset that he truly is the solution and not just a trial goalie needing to prove himself to the Flames.

While it can’t be known for sure, this setup can easily lead to a severe case of hubris. As much faith as the Flames’ brass has shown, many people can’t help but think that the Flames’ goaltending is shaky. If Smith takes these notions and plays to prove people wrong, it certainly won’t hurt proving that Treliving was right.

It’s all in your head

As we saw in the first game of the season, at times Smith was the only player who seemed to want to keep the team in the game. If he can maintain this composure consistently throughout the season, the rest of the Flames will definitely be able to rebound from their lacklustre effort against the Oilers, and they should be in good shape.

Playing goalie requires a lot of mental strength, but when playing for the Flames, it might require a mental fortress. A calm demeanor will prevail, and we all remain hopeful that Smith will be the stoic starter the Flames have looked for since the Kiprusoff era.

  • JoelOttosJock

    Last piece of the puzzle??? That was quite laughable, thank you! I needed a giggle this morning. I would agree if you had said the largest missing piece is goaltending..but c’mon, the only piece? Have the Fla.es magically made Ferland into a legitimate 1st line forward? Have they finally gotten a whole new 4th line? Have they gotten a 5/6 defenceman? The list goes on and on..

  • Alberta Ice

    It’s a team game. Here’s hoping the team’s offense get’s out of neutral to overdrive soon! You can’t win without scoring. Should be a good test versus the Jets tonight. Both teams should be hungrier. And let’s trust that Smith will be even better.

  • Randaman

    After reading the article on Sportsnet about the new arena proposal the Flames put forth to the city, I don’t think this is going to end well. Are all of you going to drive to Seattle for games? Your mayor isn’t taking any crap from Edwards, King or red faced Blowhard Burke. Love it

  • C Watson

    All summer I have been reading on this forum and listening to the talking air heads on the fan 960 about how great the Flames defence now is. Where is the evidence to back this up? I believe school is still out. Where is this great forward depth and if the Flames have it then why is it necessary to bring in a self-admitted out of shape senior citizen?
    To me, this team does not look a whole lot different than the team that lost four straight. GG cannot coach on the fly, is afraid to challenge underperforming players and is too stubborn to recognize his systems are too complicated.

  • freethe flames

    Jagr not to play tonight. Lazar with Bennett and Versteeg. “The Burden” with Stajan and Glass everything else remains the same according to the Flames site. I’m worried about tonight; the Jets will be pi$$ed after collapsing against the Leafs. Keep out of the penalty box boys. In my mind a coupke of things could happen; if Smith is great and we get an easy one against whoever is in net the Jets could fold but if Smith lets in an easy one then look out.

    • Skylardog

      Do you think GG is capable of playing 3 lines? Looking forward to a big night from Bennett and Lazar. Been pushing this tandem since June, and finally get to see what we have in Lazar.

  • Neddd

    “Along with the added pressure, there’s also the ego boost Smith would get by being sought out by the Flames. Getting a call from Treliving after the disastrous goalie carousel unhinged itself and being offered a chance to play out the rest of his contract with the Flames would be a big vote of confidence for Smith.”

    Umm, didn’t Arizona retain a good portion of his salary? In other words, they’re paying him to play somewhere else. I would think that’s not a great “ego booster”……..

    Also, Arizona did not have an internal replacement for him, its not like they traded him away in order to make room for a younger goalie coming up in their system. They still had to go out and trade away assets for a replacement. If anything I would think being traded to Calgary under these circumstances was a blow to his ago, not the other way around…..

  • Alberta Ice

    Lots of talk on defense. I hope we can actually see some sustained offensive presence tonight with some goal scoring by the Flames. Sure didn’t see it on opening night – at least not on our team.

  • Zesty14

    The defense in front of him isn’t the problem. It was effort put forth by the whole team. Just ready for everyone to settle into their lines. Hopefully sooner then later.

  • Zesty14

    How So? Ferland doesn’t have season down with monny or JG. 3M is soild. 3rd line is dragging a Brouwer piano behind them until Jagr, whom they have never played with. 4th line is all new to each other. If you still question count all the missed passes through the neutral zone. Those tighten up the more your with steady linemates.

  • Neddd


    “If you still question count all the missed passes through the neutral zone. Those tighten up the more your with steady linemates.”

    Do you suppose that perhaps the other team may have had something to do with this, just maybe? I mean Calgary only had two new skaters on their opening roster (one being the least important position, i.e. 4th line winger) and both of them went through the entire training camp.

  • Zesty14

    It’s prolonged game time on ice that helps. Not just seeing the same faces on the bench next to you. It also does have to do with the others teams pressure. But when we have 2-3 strides of open ice to make a cross ice pass that ends up behind our own teammate more times then tape to tape gets frustrating. Plus why get your knickers in a bunch when all I’m saying is they will improve as the season goes on?

  • Neddd


    Based on this reasoning, won’t all the teams then also improve as the season goes on? Or another way to look at it is to ask the question, were the Oilers also making such simple mistakes? I’m just trying to understand your thought process as to how or why the Flames are going to improve versus their opponents.

  • Zesty14

    No that isn’t the case. With trades, line shuffling, injuries are all variables that drastically change performance. That is why consistency is so key to success. Look at most teams that make playoffs. What’s the one factor that makes you decided if they are cup contention or not. A well seasoned team. Same core players consistently playing with each other for years. We have the talent and the building blocks are set. Now we need time for the lines to gel.