Calgary Flames

Cam Talbot should be the Flames’ starter against the Jets

As we get ready for the Flames to hit the ice once again, there are a number of key questions in mind, none moreso than goaltending. The Flames actually have a more difficult decision in net for the playoffs than may meet the eye. Between a very tight schedule of games in Edmonton, which includes a back to back, along with a massive difference in playoff experience, this decision for who plays when has a lot more to it than just “play the starter and hope for the best”. We have broken down the major factors and how we think it will all play out.

The schedule

The Flames schedule breaks down as follows:

ExhibitionEdmonton OilersTuesday July 28, 20208:30 PM MST
Qualifier Game 1Winnipeg JetsSaturday August 1, 20208:30 PM MST
Qualifier Game 2Winnipeg JetsMonday August 3, 202012:30 PM MST
Qualifier Game 3Winnipeg JetsTuesday August 2, 20202:45 PM MST
Qualifier Game 4 (if necessary)Winnipeg JetsThursday August 6, 2020TBD
Qualifier Game 5 (if necessary)Winnipeg JetsSaturday August 8, 2020TBD

This Flames’ playoff schedule is interesting to put it mildly. They start with an exhibition game against the hometown Oilers at 8:30 PM, a regular hockey game time. This being the only exhibition game, they will likely start whoever is playing in game 1. They then have a few days off for final tweaks and practices until Saturday, when they have Game 1 against the Jets. A little over 36 hours later, they have Game 2, then just over 24 hours later they have Game 3. With games as tight as these ones, the Flames will need be as sharp as possible, and will almost certainly have to use both goaltenders.

The goaltenders

Although the Flames do have Artyom Zagidulin and Jon Gillies at camp, barring any injuries it will almost certainly be one of David Rittich or Cam Talbot between the pipes. Here are the numbers:

NameStartsWinsSV%GAAHigh Danger
Medium Danger
Quality Starts

Rittich has been the definitive starter for the Flames. With 48 games under his belt so far this season, he far surpassed Talbot’s 26. Although he played more and won more games, Talbot posted better numbers over the season, boasting a .919 save percentage to Rittich’s .907. Talbot also posted superior numbers to Rittich in the back half of the shortened season, and went 9-5-1 since December 15th posting a .926 save percentage. Rittich meanwhile struggled after a strong start to the season, dipping to a .897 save percentage and going 9-9-2 in the same time period. On top of this, Talbot started the back half of each of the Flames’ going 4-4, and picking up his two shutouts.

In advanced metrics, Rittich is the king of the high danger save. Earning his nickname Big Save Dave, Rittich sits 19th in the league in terms of high danger save percentage (among goalies with at least 600 minutes played). However, he has struggled at medium danger saves, sitting a brutal seventh from the bottom (fun fact: former Flame Mike Smith is the worst in this category). While not the best in the league, Talbot has been significantly better in this respect, sitting 27th, tied with Braden Holtby and Jonathan Quick. For more on how high and medium danger shot attempts are calculated see here.

Both goaltenders have had their ups and downs, and both have a 50% quality start percentage. This stat is exactly as the name suggests how many games did a particular goalie play well? The status adds the number of starts where a goalie posted a save percentage greater than the league average or greater then .885 on nights when they faced fewer than 20 shots against.

How did Winnipeg do this season?

Ending the shortened season with 80 points, the Jets had some bright spots, and some glaring holes. The most valuable part of their season was undoubtedly their goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, who started a league leading 58 games this season, and ended with a .929 save percentage. He also faced the most shots and rebound attempts of all goalies, and managed to hold his own in spite of that.

Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, and defenceman Neil Pionk were all standouts for the Jets this season as well. Connor and Scheifele had 73 points each, and Pionk was a standout on the significantly weakened blueline. The Jets have not looked as good as they did just a few seasons ago. Not only are they not as deep as the 2017-18 team that made it to the Western Conference Finals, but they have lost significant pieces on defence, including Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, and Tyler Myers.

Statistically, they are an interesting team, especially around how they shoot. Their shooting and shooting percentage are around the middle of the pack, but they allowed the second most shots on net this season. Digging deeper, many of their shots were from the outside. They posted the second fewest high danger chances for, and allowed the most high danger chances against. They also allowed the second most high danger goals against, pointing to a weaker defensive structure than other teams.

The Jets were strongest at medium danger chances though, creating the seventh most medium danger chances, and the third most medium danger goals in the league this season. They also allowed the third fewest medium danger goals in the league. With the medium danger zone including the dot, high slot and area between, this is where elite snipers like Patrick Laine and Scheifele can really go to work.

What does this all mean?

The Jets are one of the strongest medium danger teams in the league, and are excellent from just outside of the most dangerous part of the ice. The Flames will need to do a lot of work to close them down in that area. However, when they cannot do that, having a goalie who excels at medium danger chances would be ideal.

While Rittich has started the majority of the games for the Flames this season, Talbot excels at medium danger chances. He has been the better of the two goalies over the course of the season, even though he has played the second half almost every back to back this season. While it remains to be seen who the Flames end up going with, there is an incredibly strong case to be made for playing Talbot in the starting role against the Jets.

Rittich may be the goalie of the future, and if the Flames get past the Jets in the qualifying round, he might be the man for the job. But as it stands, the way Winnipeg plays gives Talbot the edge. His body of work this season is best suited to shutting down the Jets’ offence, and is the goaltender the Flames should use in Game 1 of the series.

Do you think the Flames should use Rittich or Talbot in Round 1? Let us know in the comments or on social media.

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