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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

How Cam Talbot and the Flames bested Connor Hellebuyck

One thing was certain heading into the tightly contested match-up between the eighth seeded Calgary Flames and ninth seeded Winnipeg Jets: Winnipeg had the marked advantage in goal.

Connor Hellebuyck was, by a large margin, the best goaltender in the league this season. He was the primary reason the Jets were even close to a playoff position at the stoppage. The guy pretty much died for the Jets sins this year.

It seemed a foregone conclusion that regardless of who Flames elected to start in goal it would be advantage Jets.

Enter Cameron Talbot.

Now, I’ll relax here a little bit. I realize this wasn’t the goaltending performance of the century nor the second coming of Miikka Kiprusoff (even though Talbot did become the first Flames goaltender to earn a shutout in a series-clinching game since Kiprusoff back in 2004 vs the Detroit Red Wings) but… you have to admit it’s pretty cool Talbot outperformed the slam dunk Vezina winner after weeks of talk of how Calgary didn’t have a chance in the netminding department.

So, let’s get into it. 

In all situations, Talbot bested Hellebuyck in goals saved above average (calculated with respect to league average save percentage), goals saved above expected (calculated by subtracting goals allowed from expected goals allowed) and in high danger save percentage.

All Situations Cam Talbot Connor Hellebuyck
Goals Against 6 12
Expected Goals Against 8.66 11.07
GSAA (Goals Saved Above Average) 3.12 -1.64
GSAx (Goals Saved Above Expected) 2.66 -0.93
High Danger Shots Against 17 22
HDSV% 70.60% 68.20%

(Data from Natural Stat Trick & Evolving Hockey)

He made a few huge saves and was able to stop more high quality chances than his Winnipeg counterpart. Perhaps, most importantly for Flames fans with Brian Elliott induced playoff trauma, Talbot allowed ZERO goals from low danger areas (outside the home-plate area of the inner and upper slot).

Not bad for an Oilers reject.

At the end of the day, Talbot put on his green hardhat, grabbed his Ghostbusters lunchbox, and made the saves he needed to. He did the work.

Outside the Crease

The Flames certainly helped Talbot by controlling the amount quality of shots he had to face. While the Jets had the possession advantage at 5v5 throughout four games, Calgary kept them to the largely to the perimeter and owned the share of expected goals as the series progressed.

As per Charting Hockey, through the qualifying round the Flames expected goal rate at 5v5 falls into the ‘Good’ quadrant.

This portrays how the Flames were able to limit the Jets chances while doing a solid job generating offense.  They controlled the share of quality shots and were able to turn that into what we all love: sweet, delicious, twine snapping goals.  The Flames backed Talbot up defensively and gave him plenty of run support in the process.

(Graphic courtesy Charting Hockey)

How the Flames Beat Hellebuyck

The Jets gave up the MOST high danger chances this season of any team (yes, including Detroit) and Hellebuyck bailed them out pretty much every single night.

Heading into the series I felt that if the Flames could exploit the defensive weaknesses of the Jets, it may only be a matter of time before they were able to make Hellebuyck look mortal.

Calgary did this by executing well enough on the power play (scoring five goals on the man advantage overall) and, as the series progressed, owning the quality shot share five-on-five.

Despite losing the 5v5 possession battle in Game 1, the special teams went to work scoring twice on the power play.

Game 3 was a similar story. The three tallies on the man advantage were enormous. Sealing the deal was the 5 on 5 clinic put on by the Mangiapane line. Mangiapane’s forecheck work lead to two slot shots off the sticks of Backlund and Tkachuk that poor Mr. Hellebuyck had zero chance to stop.  The Flames dominated special teams and even strength in Game 3.

Take a look at these scoring chances in Game 3 (from MoneyPuck).

(Graphic Courtesy MoneyPuck)

Game 4 saw the Flames put their foot (or more aptly, Dillon Dube’s foot) on the gas as they created 13 high danger chances to the Jets’ four and recorded almost 70% of the expected goals for share.

5v5 Score & Venue Adjusted Expected Goals For % Flames Jets
Game 1 40.22% 59.78%
Game 2 49.42% 50.58%
Game 3 58.76% 41.24%
Game 4 69.61% 30.39%

Rebounds

One aspect of Hellebuyck’s game I noticed the Flames capitalizing on was his rebound control.  As per Charting Hockey, over the course of the regular season, Hellebuyck gave up rebounds at a higher rate than many other goaltenders and fell into the lower right “Lots of Rebounds” quadrant. (rebounds per shot: 0.1820).

(Graphic courtesy Charting Hockey)

Over the four games Natural Stat Trick recorded 11 rebound attempts from the Flames and, by my math, they scored four goals as a result of jumping on pucks after Hellebuyck made an initial save:

  • Gaudreau’s power play marker in Game 1 on a rebound from Gustafsson that bounced to Monahan who slipped it to Gaudreau.
  • Lucic’s power play goal in Game 3 on a Dillon Dube rebound.
  • Dube picking up his own rebound in tight in Game 4.
  • Sam Bennett banging home a rebound from an attempted pass by Noah Hanifin.

Who You Gonna Call?

All in all, Talbot was sharp and definitively answered Calgary’s question in net. He was up to the task and, if his strong play continues, he could earn himself a new deal in the fall.

The Flames offense came alive in a way we probably haven’t seen since last season and the team defense limited the Jets’ ability to generate much. When they did generate chances, Talbot shut the door.

It is often said that goaltending is voodoo, but in this series, it really came down to a simple calculus of solid execution by the Flames. Okay, and maybe a touch of voodoo.