Putting the Calgary Flames’ goaltending challenges into context
Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
By Ryan Pike7 months ago
Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving has often quipped that given the importance of the position to a team’s success, they might as well just call the game “goalie” rather than hockey. That point has never been starker than the past two seasons.
In 2021-22, the Flames allowed the fewest even strength goals against in the NHL. In 2022-23, they slid to 18th in that regard, allowing 34 more goals than they did a season prior while using the same two goaltenders.
Via our pals at Natural Stat Trick, here’s the year-to-year breakdown of even strength save percentage by the Flames team since 2007-08.
Obviously, there’s some variation. Year-to-year, usually there’s a bit of wobble in the numbers. Among the big wobbles: from 2011-12 to 2012-13, a 2.8% drop and from 2021-22 to 2022-23, a 2.6% drop. But aside from those major changes, the tendency is for much smaller variations of roughly a quarter to half of a percentage point from season to season.
There are all sorts of potentially conflating reasons for these variations:
- Systems changes caused by coaching changes
- Systems may have stayed the same, but key blueliners may have departed or their performance could have diminished due to injury or aging
- The team’s personnel could be consistent (in terms of no changes), but the goaltenders’ individual performances could be impacted due to injury, illness, workload or other factors
Goaltending is weird, and the challenge is that a lot of things that you might not think could impact goaltending can actually impact it quite a bit. For example: a short pre-season can be a big challenge, because often goaltenders like to know the positional and puck-moving tendencies of their defencemen, while the blueliners like to get a sense of their goaltender’s rebound control habits. Not knowing the foibles of the guys you’re playing with can lead to a lot of headaches, especially early in a season.
Let’s look at the same data from the same period (via NHL.com), but on an individual goaltender level. Since 2007-08, there have been 29 Flames goalie seasons of 15+ games. Here’s the save percentage variation.
So here’s the big, weird thing about the Flames’ goaltending dip in 2022-23:
- Both Markstrom and Vladar had bottom-five seasons, meaning two of the five worst goaltending seasons in recent club history came from two guys in the exact same season.
- Both Markstrom and Vladar saw fairly big performance dips from their prior seasons; Markstrom dropped by 3.2% (from a top-five season to a bottom-five season) and Vladar by 1.3%.
And yes, let’s make this declaration: the Flames saw two historically bad goaltending performances in the same season and still only missed the playoffs by three points. Later this week, we’ll dive into some potential reasons for the Flames’ 2022-23 goaltending challenges. But based on the data, a .904 ES SV% is considered “regular bad,” and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect the club to bounce back to that level (at the very least) in 2023-24.
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