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.
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.
|Date||Opponent||Final Score||Rittch’s SV%||SCF||SCA||HDCF||HDCA||xGF||xGA|
|Dec 28||SJS||2-3 (SOL)||0.938||36||34||11||16||3.26||3.74|
|Jan 25||EDM||3-4 (SO)||0.919||44||36||23||12||6.16||4.57|
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|
*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.
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.