Photo Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Breaking down goals against the Flames by situation, shot quality, and goalie

Goaltending issues and the Calgary Flames go hand in hand. They have plagued the team for years and it hasn’t been since the Kiprusoff era that the Flames have received consistent quality goaltending. How has the start to the 2018-19 season been for the Flames with respect to the goals against category?

Calgary currently has a goal differential of zero: 56 goals for and 56 goals against. They’re definitely scoring at a good rate, but they’re also letting in goals at an equally poor rate.

Given that the Flames are outpacing themselves at scoring compared to 2017-18, having reliable goaltending in combination would be highly welcomed. However, that has not been the case.

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Many of the goals against Calgary have rightfully sparked frustration, as Mike Smith has not been good for most of his starts. David Rittich, on the other hand, has been a solid backup goaltender. He has been putting together a strong push to get the starting job. If anything, he’s at least forcing the Flames into considering a 1A/1B goaltending usage.

I made a data visualisation to break down how goals have been scored on the Flames. Goals are sorted by situation, as well as shot quality. This gives a good understanding of what types of scenarios Smith and Rittich have been scored on, as well as what types of shots have beaten them.

The situations used are: powerplay, even strength, shorthanded, and empty net/shootout goals against (the Flames have yet to face a penalty shot let alone a goal). Shot quality was sorted into high danger, medium danger, and low danger, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.

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Penalty kill

The Flames’ penalty kill has given up 14 powerplay goals, shown in blue. Playing time between the goalies is not equal, so one way to compare their play would be to look at rates, specifically their saves per 60 minutes. When on the penalty kill, Smith makes 37.4 saves/60, which gives him a SV% of .800, whereas Rittich makes 42.1, resulting in a SV% of .833.

Nine goals against the penalty kill were high danger. While both Smith and Rittich have given up a couple of low- and medium-danger goals while on the penalty kill, Rittich has been much better at limiting high-danger goals. Smith’s HDSV% on the penalty kill is .588, compared to Rittich’s .800, which coincidentally is Smith’s overall penalty kill SV%.

Even strength

At even strength, the Flames have been scored on 36 times, shown in purple. Similarly looking at rates, Smith sits at 25.9 saves/60; Rittich at 28.4 saves/60. Rittich’s even strength SV% of .951 is among the best in the league. Smith, on the other hand, has an even strength SV% of .893, which ranks him among the worst in the league.

The stat to look at here is again high-danger goals against. Smith has struggled making high-danger saves. His HDSV% is a paltry .814, compared to Rittich’s .926. For what it’s worth, Rittich’s HDSV% at even strength is second best in the league, behind Pekka Rinne (among goalies with more than 300 minutes played).


The Flames have had their woes on the powerplay, but they’ve also given up two shorthanded goals against, shown in red. Both of these goals were scored on Smith, and both of these goals were not high danger.

Giving up a shorthanded goal definitely hurts, but having them scored on low-percentage shots hurts a bit more. While it can and will happen to any goaltender on any given night, letting in shorthanded goals on mediocre shots when the powerplay itself has struggled to score is not a good combination.

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The takeaway

It’s no secret that Smith hasn’t been the best goaltender this season. From a shot quality perspective, high-danger chances have turned into goals more often against Smith than they have against Rittich. In all situations, Rittich has been routinely making more and better saves.

The Flames are still trusting Smith to make the brunt of the starts. If Smith is to continue being their starter, he will need clean up his own play across the board. In the meantime, at least they have a trusted backup goaltender in Rittich.

  • Skylardog

    The insanity of riding a 36 year old goalie who is a UFA at the end of the season, when the alternative, in every category, at every level, and in every respect, is superior.

    • Day1-Cfan

      Have to agree with you here. Rittich deserves every chance to run with the puck here until he does not deserve it.
      We are in need of a goaltender for next season and Dave’s time to shine is now.

    • kirby

      Yeah the team seems intent on continuing to treat Mike Smith like a #1 goalie, and i hope it’s not too late by the time they figure it out.

      Some people still point to Rittich’s struggles in a brief stint as the #1 last year, but show me the rookie goalies (especially the ones also adjusting to a new country) who step into the league and handle a daily workload without any troubles. He’s adjusted, he’s getting sharper, he’s more comfortable, and he’s CLEARLY outperforming Smith in every way imaginable.

      • Phockey

        Plus, lets face the facts that goaltending was not the only issue to close the season last year Rittich didn’t show as well as we were hoping but the rest of the team and the coaching staff were well below par and were likely more to blame than goaltending.

        • kirby

          Yeah obviously it wasn’t the only problem, but i have a hard time blaming anything more for last season from start to finish than our starting goaltending.

          The runner-up probably being the obsession with the Brouwer-Play lol (which i guess also to your point factors into coaching decisions)

    • BlueMoonNigel

      If nothing else, Billy Peters is stubborn. He continues to keep Neal Monny and Johnny free, runs Backs out as his 2nd line centre and starts Smitty regularly apparently to get him out of his supposed funk. Might be other reasons why Peters’ Hurricanes never made the playoffs that had zero to do with being in the same division as the powerhouse Pittsburgh Penguins and wannabe to world champion Washington Capitals.

    • Cfan in Van

      Absolutely agree Skylar. Are we to believe that MS is so sensitive, that he’ll implode and be a completely unavailable resource to us once he’s not the clear-cut starter? That’s honestly the only reason they have to keep going back to him so often. I’d love to see DR get most of the starts, but a 50/50 split is honestly the best compromise to stay competitive, let MS possibly regain some momentum, and see how DR looks with more responsibility on his shoulders.
      Kent Wilson had a good piece on the Athletic this morning, comparing all options, including trades. Of course the obvious conclusion is “play Rittich”, but I certainly hope the Org realizes that soon. 99% of onlookers have already come to that conclusion.

      • BringtheFire 2.0

        You guys are all making total sense. But I’d just like to add…well, can you imagine if Smith returned to the level he was at last year and Rittich stays at the level he is now? Our goaltending would be amazing. Maybe the best in the league.

        But like you guys, I think it’s a pipe dream…

  • freethe flames

    It would appear that the Flames need to transition away from Smith. i would suggest a simple exit plan; between now and the new year alternate them form game to game unless one of them is exceptional in their previous outing. In the new year if the current trends still exist it is time to go 2/3 Rittich and 1/3 Smith and see how Rittich holds up undr the work load.
    Yes BT can look to trade for someone but whom and what would the cost be.
    Just a note; the Heat won 4-2 last night; Gilles did not dress and Schnieder had the win. Parsons is still hurt and I wonder if Gilles is too.

    • kirby

      Gillies is starting to feel line nothing but another Leland Irving/Joni Ortio. The guy in the minors you keep hearing good things about about year after year, shows up in a couple NHL relief appearances, then just kinda disappears forever.

      • SGRietzey

        Gillies’ pedigree was arguably higher coming out of college, but I tend to agree. People can say what they will about the play of the Heat in general and how that might be a factor (would like to hear Stockton’s Finest’s opinion there), but his numbers aren’t inspiring at the moment. Lots of runway still for a goalie his age vs. a forward, but one would’ve hoped he’d taken the reins and run with it at this point.

        • kirby

          He’s almost 25 now so that runway, even considering that goaltenders have longer development curves, isn’t really that long anymore. Hasn’t really seemed to take a step forward in a couple years now, not that far away from becoming an afterthought.

          Hope i’m wrong, but can’t help but have that feeling at this point.

  • KeepitReal

    Good break down. Confirms what the eyeball test has shown us all year. We all know that a 4 points spread in the standings can cover four teams. Or more. It’s been pointed out by several posters already but it bears repeating. These points that we piddle away in November as we struggle to make sound goalie decisions will haunt us in March.

  • aye

    The frustrating thing, and perhaps more important thing, about Smith’s bad goals is the timing. He seems to single-handedly kill momentum and deflate the team giving up weak goals at key moments of the game.
    He does seem to be showing signs of turning things around, so will cut him some slack for a few more games, as long as the team can find a way to win (over coming adversity is also a necessary trait if they want to be among the elite).

  • Sven

    —“In all situations, Rittich has been routinely making more and better saves”.—-

    In “all situation” evaluation of NHL goaltending this year to date:

    Smiths save percentage of 88% places him 54th of the 60 goalies to have seen the ice this season
    (as compared to Rittich who at 93.5% is placed 5th league wide)


    Smiths ‘goals saved against league average goaltending’ score of -8.5 is the worst in the league
    (as compared to Rittich who has the leagues 8th best numbers in this area) –

    Every game started by Smith is another chance for the Flames to fall a little farther out of the playoff picture

    • kirby

      Just like last year, when even before his injury, he was averaging 3 GA on home ice. He was atrocious on home ice all year long, and we had a brutal home record. Our home ice woes kept us from making the playoffs, and Mike Smith was easily the biggest culprit in our home woes.

      Remember how everyone couldn’t wait to crucify Brian Elliott for melting down in the playoffs? Look at these home spits:

      Elliott – 22 starts, 15 wins, 2.25 GAA, .922 %
      Smith – 34 starts, 14 wins, 2.97 GAA, .901 %

      At least Elliott brought his best to the Dome and played well enough for us to REACH the playoffs.

      But one guy was an unforgivable choker who was chased out of town with pitchforks, and the other guy was an “MVP” who gave us such great chances to win according to a LOT of fans last year. I could never wrap my head around what people were seeing.

      Not that Elliott was great lol but if we kept him last year instead of getting Smith, we’re in the playoffs. I can honestly say that with a completely straight face.

      • MDG1600

        Totally agree about the home ice thing. Not sure why it isn’t brought up more often. Even when Smith was “good” early last year he was actually only good in Away games. He has played crappy at Home since day 1. During his entire tenure in Calgary I wouldn’t be surprised if he has the worst save % in the entire league on home ice.

        • kirby

          .892 sv % on home ice for the Flames so far in his career. (this season, .840% with 4.34 GAA. *pukey face emoji*)

          Show me a home team that makes the playoffs when they can’t defend their home ice. Show me a #1 goalie who can’t even stop 9 out of 10 at home and keeps being given the net.

          It doesn’t exist.

  • Off the wall

    This season will define Peters’ as a coach. When players aren’t giving their best, he sits them or shortens the bench. I like that about him.

    However, we are seeing some of the oddities, that make us question some of his decisions.

    How long does he wait to give Rittich the games he deserves? That was some of the concerns the Carolina fans regarding Peters. He prefers veteran goaltending in net, despite the results.

    I like Smith, but he’s probably not going to be with the Flames next season. Rittich will be.

    Time for Peters’ to put away the veteran mentality in goal and give Rittich the chance to prove himself.

    Our season may just be riding on it!

  • Jimmyhaggis

    Goaltending was a glaring issue this past off season and nothing was done. BT is the blame, I can’t believe he didn’t see this and did nothing about it. Responsibility sqarely falls on his shoulders, if things go south, he has to be fired.

    • Cfan in Van

      I agree it’s on his shoulders, but to think he didn’t see this as a risk or didn’t look into addressing the situation is way too easy of a conclusion.
      The reason he didn’t bring someone else in, was because he knew he’d have to buy out Smith, pay another goalie (of which there were few available), and have less to work with when shoring up the rest of the team. Now all these priorities and decisions can be beaten to death in hind-sight, but don’t tell me Tre was oblivious to it all. That’s just lazy.

    • aye

      That is a very hindsight is 20/20 statement to make, and I’m afraid it’s still wrong. Prior to the season everyone was concerned about the “backup”, and writing off Rittich. Guess what, Rittich is not the problem. On the contrary, can you imagine where the team would be right now had we picked up one of TOR’s castoffs (or any other “backups” out there right now) and buried Rittich in Stockton?
      So, don’t be so quick to play the blame game.
      As bad as Smith has been, history have taught us not to write anyone off so quickly, plenty of goalies, young and old, have bounced back up after rough patches.

  • Off the wall

    I don’t enjoy piling on Smith.
    But here’s some data that supports we need to use Rittich more.

    Quality starts, 60% is considered good..(600) League average is 53% (.530)
    Less than 50% is considered BAD.

    Quality starts. Rittich 5 out of 6 games..(833)
    Smith 4 out of 12 games. .(333)

    GSSA- goals saved above average.
    Rittich 5.11+
    Smith negative -10.24 (ouch)

    GPS- game point shares
    (The number of points contributed due to the goaltenders play in net)

    Rittich 1.6
    Smith. 0.7

    In 6 games Rittich has WIDELY out-performed Smith.
    Smith has 12 starts. 33% of those are good.
    Rittich has 6 starts. 83% of those are good. In 6 games, Rittich has given the Flames over a point and a half in the standings due to his play. That’s impressive.

    Smith has allowed 39 goals against in 12 games.
    Rittich has allowed 13 goals in 6 games.

    There’s no denying who’s the better goaltender right now. It’s not even close.

    More of Rittich please!

  • Toofun

    Can you imagine if this insane startegy of Peter’s actually works and both Smith and Rittich start to give our team league-average or better goal-tending through the rest of this year!

  • Skylardog

    How long so you try to get Smith going?

    Right now, at 21 points in 18 games, we are on pace for 95.7 points.

    Last season, in the West, 95 (Colorado) got you in. St Louis missed out at 94.

    But in the East, it took 97 to get in. Florida missed out at 96. Columbus and New Jersey made it with 97. But both had less ROW’s than Florida. One loss in a shootout, and those 2 teams miss out.

    My point being that we are in a precarious position at this point in the season. We have been reasonably injury free so far. What if a Gaudreau, or a Monahan, or a Gio go down? We need to ensure we are getting points now.

    And what if the difference between a playoff spot and an early summer, was a loss in Sunday’s game against San Jose? What if the difference was Smith saving that early goal and us getting to overtime and picking up a key point.

    One point could be the difference.

    Peters needs to do what is needed to ensure this team gets every point it can. Playing Smith tonight is not how you do that.

  • Chucky

    The concern that occurs to me is that Smith does not look natural in the net. Remember when we were kids and there was always the guy who wanted to do it over because he was not ready even if we were shooting basketball foul shots. Well Smith looks like that guy.
    However, if I were Peters, I would look back at the third period in San Jose and give him the start. That was the first time since Nashville that he has looked fully engaged in the game and the Flames need two goaltenders that can show up on any given night.
    But then again if I was Peters, I would not have gotten the opportunity to see the good third period because Rittich would have started.
    Lets hope Smith shows up ready tonight.