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.
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.
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%.
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.
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.