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How good has Mike Smith been so far?

With a 4-2-0 start to his Calgary Flames career, Mike Smith has been one of the early positives to the 2017-18 season.

While still very early, Smith has shown a number of promising trends that should bode well for the Flames if they continue. Not only is Smith personally trending better than he has in recent years, he’s also been a significant upgrade on where Calgary was in net one year ago.

All things considered, Smith’s acquisition by the Flames in June was a relatively low risk one. Even so, Calgary’s hope was for Smith to give the team true number one goaltending over an entire season, and thus, move them forward in an area where they’ve struggled the last five years. While I caution the sample size is extremely small, there’s plenty to like with what we’ve seen in the early stages of Smith’s first season in Calgary.

So far, so good

Through the first two weeks of the season, Smith’s numbers have been solid. Other than a rough outing against Ottawa, which really can’t be pinned on him, Smith has given the Flames an opportunity to win every single night. His overall and high danger save percentages are below, via Corsica, along with where they rank amongst other goalies with more than 100 minutes so far.

It’s too early to put a lot of stock in where Smith ranks relative to the rest of the pack, because early season save percentages are rarely true indicators. However, if projected over a full season, Smith’s outputs are well above average and would remain that way even if they were to come down a little closer to the league average, which is a likely outcome.

I say that because of how Smith’s numbers early on stack up against what he’s done the last few seasons. Plotted below is a look at Smith to start this season compared to his final three years in Arizona, again via Corsica.

While playing with a new, and better, team this season, history suggests Smith’s numbers will still come down a little closer to where we’ve seen them recently. Accounting for an upgraded team in front of him, something in the 0.920 range overall doesn’t seem out of the question.

Smith’s work against high danger shots might be the most interesting part of all of this. He has been stellar when facing 10-bell chances this season, which the Flames are giving up a lot of currently. Calgary was a top 10 team last season, averaging 7.7 high danger chances per game, but they’re up to 9.5 through the first six games of this season.

That puts Smith in a very familiar situation considering what he had to deal with his last couple years with the Coyotes. Per NaturalStatTrick, last season saw Arizona surrender a league-worst 844 high danger chances, good for 10.3 per game, which puts it right in the ballpark of what Smith has faced early on with the Flames. I’m curious to see what happens when the raw number of top flight chances inevitably and/or hopefully comes down.

Finally, Smith’s early season durability is a nice sign. The 35-year-old has made all six starts for Calgary so far and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Over the summer, I pointed to Smith’s potential to take on a true number one workload as one of the main reasons he could be an upgrade on what the team had in net last season. To this point, anyway, it looks like he’s on track to do just that.

Since Miikka Kiprusoff’s final full season in 2011-12, the Flames haven’t had a goaltender start more than 45 games in a season. We all know Smith isn’t going to start 82, but 60-65 looks to be very much in play. For the first time in more than five years, Calgary’s goaltending decisions are based solely on when to rest their number one and not when to get the other guy playing time.

In comparison

It was Brian Elliott last season who set the 45-start high mark for the Flames since the 2011-12 campaign ended. As we know, though, Elliott’s one year with Calgary was a turbulent one at best, as he struggled with consistency all year long. Things started on a rough note for Elliott and that played a big role in the team’s disappointing start one year ago.

It’s clear as day from the eye test Smith has been a massive upgrade to begin this season as compared to what the Flames got from Elliott and Chad Johnson to start last year. When comparing the three goalies and their first six starts with Calgary, Smith comes out way ahead despite a much heavier workload.

Clearly Smith has seen too many shots his way in his first six starts, and that’s a conversation for another time. The Flames weren’t great defensively to start last season, either, but they’re giving up even more this October. Seeing Smith’s strong numbers despite that is encouraging.

Both Elliott and Johnson caught fire at different times last season but were unable to sustain for long periods of time. As such, we can’t be certain what we’re seeing from Smith is foreshadowing of what’s to come over a full year or just a temporary nice start to the season; the final 76 games will tell us that.

However, Smith’s proven history of shouldering a heavy workload, his decent numbers in recent years mixed with a new team in front of him, and a solid start to this season are all positive signs Calgary might have their number one guy, at least for the short term. Knowing how starved the Flames have been in that area for the last half decade, I think most fans will take that.

  • Off the wall

    If you look at Smiths numbers over the years, one thing that stands out is that he rarely has a bad month. He’s been consistent, which is all you can ask for in a goalie.

    I’m more concerned with our shots against this season. High danger scoring chances must come down, or we will plummet like the Oilers.

    We are fortunate to be 4-2 this early in the season. Smith has saved our bacon.

    http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/nhl/calgary-flames-defence-allowing-many-shots/

    Have a read of this. Great points made. Statistics in this case don’t lie..

    • SoCalFlamesFan

      This may be true, but it is being corrected. The eye test says the D are getting more consistent and the shots per game are going down. Perhaps the coaches are working on this.

    • oilcanboyd

      Never will plummet like what the oilers are doing this year…they are full regression! I agree team defensive play has to improve…run and gun is entertaining but it puts most of the pressure on the goalies.

      As a side note: Terry Jones of the Journal says that their team are underachievers. Well, it could be said that they overachieved last season and they have just fell back to their last10 year average play!

      • Neddd

        @oilcanboyd

        Just curious, do you have any other interests or hobbies other than the Edm Oilers? Just think of the great things you might accomplish if you directed all of that passion and energy onto something actually worthwhile.

  • The Fall

    The NHL score keepers are counting shots differently this year: shots are up, saves are up. I estimate about a 20% increase. I would also expect an ‘active’ goalie like Smith to have more shots registered this year than last.

    • FuNky ANGER

      Yeah how the NHL calculates shots sometimes baffles me. A soft wrister from centre ice doesn’t count as a shot. As a goalie in pee wee I would count shots on net when riding pine. The way we calculated it was if the goalie wasn’t there to stop the puck would it have gone in. If the answer was yes it was a shot … regardless of distance or velocity.

      Sorry about my comment below … No idea how I even posted that

      • The Fall

        That soft writer, now officially counts as a SOG, as well as, icings, deflections, trickling pucks…

        There are currently 10 goalies with S% higher than the historic record.

        • oilcanboyd

          …and there are 9 goalies lower than 0.900 Sv%. So I guess some of those tricklers went in! 🙂
          run and gun seems to be the modus operandi in the early part of the season. Just wait until all the coaches put a stop to it and squeeze out as much offensive play as they can. Following what Ottawa does so effectively!

        • Danomitee

          And that’s the way it should be honestly. Goalies get beat plenty of times outside the blue line or from centre ice, when you look at 31 teams over the course of an 82 game season. I don’t care if it’s an “easy save” it’s still a shot, just not a good one.

  • FlamesFan27

    What a difference strong goaltending makes, where every mistake is not in the back of your net. Compare this to the Flames start last year, or the Oilers start this year. Smith has made numerous Grade A saves per game. For this reason, they have won a couple of games where the skaters were outplayed.

    • Cfan in Van

      True. That said Elliot had one stinker against Nashville, but his other 3 starts were .913+. Johnson looks like he’s been swapping between great and horrible in his 4 games, but that might just be partly related to his team.

      • Eggs Bennett

        I still think Elliott is a good goalie, but the chemistry just wasn’t there with our D compared to his time in St Louis or Philly. Not sure if there is a way to quantify this, but you can definitely tell the d corps are much more confident with Smith in net and vise versa compared to Elliott last year.

        • Cfan in Van

          Ya, and they seem to be adapting well to Smith’s skill at playing the puck. It provides some interesting moments at times, but the D seems to be getting better at anticipating/reacting.

  • Jessemadnote

    I’m loving him so far. Just from a personal standpoint. He’s ultra-competitive and fiery but he’s also got this relaxed confidence about him in interviews. The puck handling thing will take a while too but I think that’s going to make Calgary’s break out deadly. Plus who doesn’t love a goalie that clears his own crease?

  • Alberta Ice

    Last year’s start at goal tending was just as disheartening as it was in the playoffs for the Flames. I had hoped Elliot would be a difference maker. Sadly, for him, he was not when it counted the most. On the other hand, Mike Smith has been eager to be a difference maker for the Flames and knows he has been delivered from a Coyote team that presently is going nowhere. I am thrilled by his play and his motivation to be THE difference maker this year for the Flames. Go, Smithy, Go. You won’t stop every puck, but you are stopping the ones that need to be stopped. Awesome. (And thanks being a key reason for the 4-2 start out of the gate.)

      • WillyWonka

        It’s funny; I made a comment on an Oiler Nation article and it was the biggest troll of all who got snarky and snotty even though my post wasn’t necessarily trolling. That whole trolling thing definitely seems to be related to maturity

  • Jobu

    Jobu’s math lesson of the day: Penalties Taken = Increase of shots against. Clean up the penalties and the shots, including the high risk ones, clean themselves.