Photo Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

How have the Flames fared against backup goaltenders this season?

The Calgary Flames find themselves second in the Pacific division largely due to their recent three-game win streak. Notably, all three wins were against backup goaltenders: Chicago’s Jeff Glass twice, and New Jersey’s Keith Kinkaid.

Backup goaltending on a whole has been a bizarre story for the Flames this season. On one hand, they’ve finally found a reliable backup in David Rittich after several seasons of mediocrity in that regard. On the other hand, they have run into backup goaltenders throughout the season that have seemed to steal the game for the other team, and the Flames let relatively easy points slip away.

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Through 55 games, the Flames have have started their backup goaltender eight times: Rittich seven, and Eddie Lack once. Their combined record when starting a game is 5-1-2, the lone regulation loss belonging to Lack.

Opposing teams have started their backup goalies against the Flames 19 times. In such games, the Flames actually boast a 13-4-2 record. The Flames’ record against backup goaltenders is certainly nothing to worry about. However, as the playoff race becomes more heated, those six losses may soon be thought of as missed opportunities. Friday’s game against the New York Rangers saw the 20th backup goalie start against the Flames, but unfortunately Ondrej Pavelec was injured after the first period. As such, the outcome of that game wasn’t included.

For all intents and purposes of this analysis, a backup is defined as a goalie who has played fewer games than his counterpart, or is playing more due to an injury to the team’s intended starter.

In Calgary’s end, Rittich’s record rightfully makes him a potential season-saver if the Flames end up making the playoffs by the skin of their teeth (especially since the Pacific Division race has essentially narrowed down the Flames and the three California-based clubs). In the games that Rittich started, his SV% has been stellar and he has consistently factored into the reasons the Flames earned 12 of 14 possible points.

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Date Opponent Final Score Rittch’s SV% SCF SCA HDCF HDCA xGF xGA
Nov 25 COL 3-2 0.923 40 25 16 10 2.98 1.52
Dec 7 MTL 3-2 0.946 28 30 11 10 3.49 2.37
Dec 17 VAN 6-1 0.941 40 24 16 10 4.71 2.20
Dec 28 SJS 2-3 (SOL) 0.938 36 34 11 16 3.26 3.74
Jan 12 FLA 4-2 0.953 31 46 11 17 3.21 4.28
Jan 25 EDM 3-4 (SO) 0.919 44 36 23 12 6.16 4.57
Feb 8 NJD 3-2 0.938 28 31 9 13 2.28 3.02
Average 0.937 35.3 32.3 13.9 12.6 3.73 3.10

Since save percentage is inherently all situations, a few other all situation stats were shown for context. Scoring Chances For and Against and High Danger Chances For and Against are courtesy of NaturalStatTrick, and Expected Goals For and Against are courtesy of Corsica.

In the games that Rittich has started, he put up solid goaltending numbers and the Flames have put forth solid efforts. As good as he has been, the only time when it is really arguable that he stole the game would have been the 4-2 victory over Florida. The Flames were heavily outplayed but were able to find the back of the net often enough to secure the win as Rittich handled business on his end.

There is no doubt that the Flames were fortuitous in finding Rittich in the Czech league and bringing him on as a member of the club. He’s been a breath of fresh air alongside Mike Smith, with the two of them putting up league-best numbers.

On the other side of the rink, when the Flames have lost against a backup, it’s been due to otherworldly goaltending performances. The six backup goalies that have defeated the Flames posted an average 0.941 SV% in those games. That includes a 7-5 loss against the Edmonton Oilers (recall that was the night when Laurent Brossoit edged out a win after nearly allowing the Flames to rally back). Remove that instance, and those backup goaltenders’ SV% rockets to an astounding 0.958%. To put that into perspective, of the 13 games the Flames won against backups, those goalies had an average 0.906 SV%.

Date Opponent Final Score Opposing Starter SV% Season SV%* SCF SCA HDCF HDCA xGF xGA
Oct 21 MIN 2-4 Alex Stalock 0.946 0.914 41 27 14 9 3.38 2.69
Oct 27 DAL 1-2 Kari Lehtonen 0.967 0.919 20 25 7 7 1.92 1.48
Dec 2 EDM 5-7 Laurent Brossoit 0.853 0.886 23 30 11 14 1.99 3.07
Dec 14 SJS 2-3 Aaron Dell 0.941 0.919 31 19 15 6 2.88 2.34
Jan 22 BUF 1-2 (OT) Chad Johnson 0.970 0.884 22 28 9 8 2.17 2.88
Jan 24 LAK 1-2 (OT) Darcy Kuemper 0.968 0.942 35 29 14 8 3.35 3.29
Average 0.941 0.911 28.7 26.3 11.7 8.7 2.62 2.63
*Season SV% is an aggregate total and includes instances where the goaltender entered a game in relief

The Flames have definitely played more than their fair share of games where the other teams’ goaltender stole the game, despite Calgary largely outplaying their opponent. Many of these games saw backup goaltenders put up save percentages that were significantly better than their season averages. It has been uncanny how frequently a backup goalie has seemingly found a higher gear when facing the Flames. That alone was enough cause for frustration as sure wins turned into disheartening losses.

Interestingly enough, in five of the six losses, defeat came from the inability to convert on the powerplay, according to Ari’s criteria. Multiple man advantages were time and time again unable to solve the backup goaltender. The goaltending these other teams received against the Flames defied the odds and highlighted the special teams issues the Flames are still trying to work out. Even in the low-event game against Dallas, the Flames’ powerplay also went zero for two, mustering one shot on Lehtonen on the man advantage.

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The Flames have definitely missed a few chances to gain a better position in the standings, and streaky play from opposing backup goaltenders certainly factored into that. However, they also find themselves in the thick of the playoff race and that is largely thanks to the consistent play Rittich has shown so far. Had he not performed at the level he has been since being called up, the Flames would easily be on the outside looking in.

As the playoff race continues, the Flames should be comfortable giving Rittich a few more starts and giving Smith some deserved rest. Hopefully they’ll play well enough through the end of the season that those unfortunate losses to backups won’t come back to haunt them come April.

    • freethe flames

      It’s one of those articles that needs to be written because nothing else is happening. I noticed despite Brouwer being injured that according to Capfriendly he has not been put on IR; it seems to me that that the Flames make a habit of being slow doing these kind of things. Does anyone else notice this?

  • BendingCorners

    I enjoyed that. My impression from posts on those games where the Flames lost to a backup was that the team usually suffers that fate. Nice to see the facts laid out clearly.

  • Justthateasy

    So who do they play tonight? I would venture that if they start Smith it would play into the hands of the run and gun Islanders.
    If they want a more controlled defensive game then they need to start Riddick. He will stop play rather than passing. If Riddick starts we will need to win more faceoffs in our own end.
    Take your pick.

    • flames2015

      Smith is confirmed to start. Rittich needs to start more games, and at this pace he still looks to only be called to play in back to back games. Again, poor coaching decisions. Smith is already looking a bit worn.

      • Stu Cazz

        Totally agree flames2015. Smith’s play has not been as consistent the last few games as it was early in the season. Sounds like he has been given the ability to control the number of games he plays other than the back to backs….GG will need to step up at some point and give Rittich more games.

  • Off the wall

    Interesting statistics no doubt.
    Our PP% and shooting % are no doubt the major contributors for some of our less than stellar play, not only against backup goaltending, but in general.

    Our shooting percentage as a team is 8.6%. The league average is 9.4%
    If you look at our bottom 6 forwards, no one but Jankowski is shooting beyond 7%.
    Jankowski is at 11.1% which shows he’s contributing, just not having the success in scoring.

    Even Backlund and Frolik are just hovering over 7%.

    Our PP woes have been our Achilles heel. Unless this is rectified, we won’t see much progress.

    At least it appears we are going with 2 units of defence men on each point now. I really believe that will help, especially having Hamilton on the 1st unit. He is so good at getting shots on net.
    I can’t remember where I read it, but he has the most shots on the entire team, Gaudreau is slightly behind him.

    If we can find a way for our PP to start generating offence, I believe the rest will fall into line,
    regardless of the opposing goalie.