Expect continued shootout excellence from the Calgary Flames next season

In a shortened NHL season, every point matters that much more. Heading into 2020-21, now more than ever, it will be important for teams to secure the extra point when playing in three point games. After consecutive seasons with losing shootout records in 2017-18 and 2018-19, the Calgary Flames were an impressive 6-1 in the shootout last season. They should hope to repeat their shootout dominance next season, for a few reasons.

The shooters

First, the forward group responsible for the turnaround remains entirely intact. Everyone who scored a shootout goal for the Flames last year is still on the team. The ‘go-to’ guys, Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk, both converted three of their seven shootout attempts last year, good for a 42.9% conversion rate. All stats are courtesy of hockey-reference.com.

After a hot start to his NHL career in 2017-18 in which he posted four goals on five attempts, Tkachuk failed to convert on any chances in his sophomore season. Luckily last season he recovered, although not all the way back to the pace of his rookie year. As nice as it would be to see him return to an 80% conversion rate, its more likely we will see him continue this more average pace going forward.

Similarly, Monahan can be expected to keep about the same pace as last season. He has been the team’s most reliable shooter since joining the team, only dipping below a 20% conversion rate in one season. While his numbers are far from jaw dropping, consistency is important, and Monahan’s got it, at least as far as shootouts are concerned.

SeasonGoals/AttemptConversion %
2019-209/2045.0
2018-193/1717.6
2017-187/2231.8
2016-175/1926.3
2015-166/1637.5

Combined with a higher than usual success rate from the less-utilized shooters, the Flames managed to convert at a much higher rate as a team last year. While these ‘depth’ shooters like Dillon Dube and Derek Ryan are unlikely to suddenly become shootout aces, the reality is the Flames don’t need them to in order to sustain their success.

Shooters are only one side of the shootout equation, and the Flames are stacked on the other end of the rink with Jacob Markstrom and David Rittich in net. And, while shooters are only on the ice for their own shot, a team’s goalie faces every opponent the other team sends out, giving them more opportunity to impact the outcome of the game. Far more than the shooters, the goalies will will be responsible for the Flames shootout fortunes next year.

Rittich’s early career

Since becoming an NHL goalie, Rittich has played in ten shootouts, winning six of them. In that time, he has allowed nine goals. While there is nothing remarkable about the total, its how he reached that point that is so interesting.

In the first four shootouts of his career, Rittich put up some uninspiring numbers. As a baseline for typical expectations of a goalie in a shootout, consider that over the past three seasons (the time since Rittich joined the Flames roster as a regular member), there have been 2025 shootout attempts recorded against goalies. Of those, 1403 have been stopped, meaning the league-wide average save percentage on shootout attempts over those years has been 0.693.

DateShootout Goals AgainstShootout SavesShootout SV%Game Result
02/09/2019120.6674-3L
12/20/18250.7145-4
01/25/18210.3334-3L
12/28/17210.3333-2L
Total790.5630-4

Compared to our baseline, he clearly struggled to start his career, especially in his first few shootouts. But whatever was holding him back, he seems to have shaken off, becoming a top-tier shootout performer. Even in the above data, an improvement is seen between 2017-18 and 2018-19. The improvement continued into last season.

Rittich in 2019-20

DateShootout Goals AgainstShootout SavesShootout SV% Game Result
01/29/2020031.0004-3W
01/16/20031.0002-1W
01/5/20160.8575-4W
11/23/19031.0003-2W
10/24/19021.0006-5W
10/10/19120.6673-2W
Total2190.9056-0

Since his early struggles, Rittich has been nearly unbeatable, allowing only two goals against over the course of his last six shootout appearances. Currently, he is on a nine-save streak. Whatever changed, Rittich’s emergence clearly buoyed the team to success. With little change in the team’s frequent shooters, it is clear that he was the driving force of the turnaround of the team’s fortunes.

Even in this small sample, the clear improvement in Rittich’s game is very promising. It may not be reasonable to expect Rittich to improve again for next year, but seeing as he has now performed well in more shootouts than he hasn’t, its a reasonable bet he will continue to be strong for the team next season.

Of course, Rittich is unlikely to be the starting goalie for next team’s squad. Unless Geoff Ward’s goalie-swapping shenanigans from the playoffs taught him nothing, Rittich won’t be subbed in as a shootout specialist in games newcomer Jacob Markstrom starts.

Luckily for the Flames, Markstrom is no slouch in the shootout either.

Markstrom in the shootout

While perhaps not as impressive as Rittich’s recent numbers, Markstrom has been reliable in the shootout over his career.

SeasonShootout Goals AgainstShootout SavesShootout SV%
2019-206120.667
2018-199370.804
2017-188110.579
2016-17180.889
2015-16390.750
2014-15*N/AN/AN/A
2013-14430.429
2012-13160.857
Total32860.729
*did not play in a shootout in 2014-15

His shootout save percentage has been strong, at 73% over his career, slightly above what we set out as our baseline. More importantly, this save percentage is substantially above the performance of other recent Flames goalies. Since the team last had a winning shootout record, these are how the teams goalies (other than Rittich) have performed:

GoalieShootout Save Percentage Record
Mike Smith0.5202-5
Cam Talbot0.000-1

While Talbot gets a pass due to the small sample size, it’s clearly very difficult to win shootouts with Mike Smith in net. Compared to Rittich and Markstrom’s performances, the difference is night and day, with Smith only stopping barely half the shots he faces.

Looking forward

With the new tandem of Rittich and Markstrom, the team is in good position to steal as many extra points as possible, whenever the next season gets underway. While there is some reason to doubt the shooters ability to convert at such a high rate again in the coming season, if they do regress, it should be an inconsequential change compared to the improvement in net. Look for the Flames to again post a successful record in the shootout next season.

Photo courtesy: Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

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