Who should be the Flames' starting goaltender?

Going into this season, it was expected that the Flames would lean more heavily on David Rittich while Cam Talbot would play the backup role. However, halfway through the season, Rittich’s form has taken a bit of a dip. In his last ten starts, he has given up four goals four times and three goals twice. The Flames won just four of those ten games, relying more on Talbot of late.

The Fundamentals

NameGames StartedWinsShots AgainstSaves Save PercentageGoals Against Average
David Rittich361911211023.9132.77
Cam Talbot147486448.9222.54

Looking at the data in all situations, Talbot has the better numbers. In spite of only winning half of his starts, both his save percentage and goals against average look better. Adding to that, of the 14 games he has started, six were the second half of a back to back where the team only won twice. Even more interestingly, he has also faced an average of four more shots per game than Rittich.

Dangerous Shots

NameHigh Danger Shots AgainstHigh Danger Save PercentageMedium Danger Shots Against Medium Danger Save Percentage Low Danger Shots Against Low Danger Save Percentage
David Rittich271.856352.886450.958
Cam Talbot95.821146.904220.968

There is a reason Rittich has gotten the nickname Big Save Dave. His high danger save percentage is excellent. In fact, among goalies that have played more than 20 games this season, he is sitting third and is only 0.004 off the leader Jordan Binnington. The Flames have also allowed the fewest number of high danger goals in the league this season.

That being said, Rittich sits about middle of the pack in terms of high danger chances per game at 7.5. This is likely a testament to the Flames defence being better than many in the league on most nights. Although they allow the fifth most shots against, they allow some of the fewest high danger chances in the league. They also block a lot of shots with Travis Hamonic and Mark Giordano both in the top twenty in that category.

With significantly fewer starts, Talbot has been quite good. Among goalies with at least 14 starts, he sits 21st in the league in high danger chances in all situations. He also faces fewer high danger chances per game than Rittich at 6.8, which is interesting given it felt at the beginning of the season that he was not getting enough run support in games.

The difference is that most chances are not high danger chances, and the Flames have given up a lot of medium danger goals against. While Rittich has one of the best high danger save percentages in the league, he has given up the most medium danger goals this season. His save percentage in this category is 11th worst in the league among goalies who have started 20 or more games.

On the flip side, this is where Talbot has shone. At a .904 save percentage and allowing only 14 medium danger goals against in all situations, he has been one of the best goaltenders in this category. This in spite of facing about three more medium danger shots against per game than Rittich.

Both goalies have similar low danger save percentages, but Talbot faces an average of three more shots against per game than Rittich.

Recent Numbers

In the last 20 games, the numbers are remarkably similar. Both goalies have very similar high danger save percentages of late. Talbot has a better medium danger save percentage at 0.910 to Rittich’s 0.895. Low danger is where the data really diverges. Rittich has allowed 10 low danger goals against in his last 12 starts, while Talbot has allowed four in his last 8 starts. Their save percentages show this discrepancy: Talbot boasts a 0.971 to Rittich’s 0.928. Rittich definitely has had his ups and downs this season, and it was especially evident in the last 20 games.

Who SHould start

Both goalies have looked good if different stretches in the season. Talbot has been getting the run support that he was not otherwise getting earlier in the season. Rittich has not been as good as he was when the Flames were struggling, but has still been one of the better goalies in the league.

As a team, the Flames give up some of the most medium and low danger chances against in the league, but have been quite good at limiting high danger chances against. They allow the fifth fewest high danger shots against, but the most medium danger shots against in all situations.

While it is important to stop the dangerous scoring chances against, these are more difficult to save and are significantly more likely to go in. Being able to stop the ones that goalies “should have” though, can change the tide of a game and keep a team in it. For the time being, giving Talbot more starts while Rittich resets is a wise decision given the data.

That being said, the Flames have allowed a lot of high danger chances relative to medium danger chances. This has especially been the case against Colorado, Dallas, Edmonton and Los Angeles. In games like this, and perhaps especially in the Battle of Alberta, the Flames may be wise to start Rittich. The Oilers have two elite superstars in McDavid and Draisaitl who are likely to get a number of high danger chances each. Putting in the goalie that has one of the best high danger save percentages in the league may maximize their chances of winning.

Against teams like Minnesota, Vegas, Winnipeg, and their next opponent St. Louis, the Flames limit high danger chances, but allow a lot of medium danger chances against. In these games it may be a good decision to start Talbot. These teams have more depth, and rely more on rolling two or three balanced offensive lines rather than having one or two superstars that generate more of their offence. They generate a high number of medium danger chances, and may be more effectively countered by a goalie like Talbot.

No matter what way you look at it, the Flames are in a good position. Having two goalies that are near the top of the league in different categories allows the Flames to roll them in different situations. Teams that have been able to roll two goalies through the season have become the norm in this league, and bode well for long playoff runs. Hopefully this will be the case for the Flames this season.

Photo credits: Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire

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