The Calgary Flames are enjoying a dominant stretch of hockey. With nine wins in a row, the team is in first place in the Pacific Division and are rolling along. At the AHL level, the Stockton Heat have won four of the last five, too.
One thing the two teams have in common? Elite goaltending. Both Jacob Markstrom and Daniel Vladar in the NHL and Dustin Wolf in the AHL have been superb, backstopping their teams to huge success so far this season.
Further down the goaltending depth chart in the USHL, Arseni Sergeev has been incredible, and his team, the Tri-City Storm, like Calgary and Stockton, sit atop their division. In fact, they are the top team across the entire USHL. Each goalie is having a tremendous season, which puts into remarkable perspective in comparison to prior seasons.
Perhaps one weak link is the goaltending of the ECHL, where the young Daniil Chechelev has struggled at times in his debut professional season. But, for a young goalie in his first year playing the North American game, some early growing pains can be expected.
Breaking down the numbers
With the small exception of Chechelev, who plays on a struggling Kansas City Mavericks squad, every goalie is having a stellar year. Only Dan Vladar has stats even resembling typical goalie numbers. Markstrom, Wolf, and Sergeev are all putting up truly gaudy save percentages.
Put into context with previous seasons, here are the team save percentages from the pro leagues over the past few seasons. I skipped Tri-City for this, as none of their goalies were with the Flames organization last season.
Clearly in the big leagues and the top feeder league, things are going very well compared to the recent past. The Flames have the second best team save percentage in the NHL, after having the ninth worst last year.
In the minors, Dustin Wolf is arguably the best goalie in the entire AHL at just 20 years old. His current save percentage is the best ever recorded on the Heat among starting goalies, and to find anyone even close requires going all the way back to 2016–17, when David Rittich recorded a .924 save percentage
Meanwhile in the ECHL, things are not exactly stellar. But, considering that in 2020–21 eight different goalies played for Kansas City, there is something to be said for the fact that a young goalie is carrying the brunt of the load in his first pro season, and his first in North America. The team trusts him enough to ride it out and improve, and that’s a good sign.
In the USHL, although the historical comparison is less relevant, it is telling enough on it own that Sergeev is at the top of key goaltending statistics by an exceptionally large margin. The second best save percentage in the league is all the way down at .914, and the next-best GAA is 2.50. That means the next best USHL goalie allows almost a full goal more per game than him!
Even when considering that he plays on a strong team, they’re not the only strong team in the league. Numbers that impressive point to strong goaltending combined with lockdown team defence—neither factor on its own could possibly result in such incredible numbers.
Another sign of his strong play is that he has earned the trust of his coach. Despite two suspensions taking him out of action this season (one is currently ongoing for shooting a puck at a referee), he has played in 29 of his team’s 39 games.
Heading in the right direction
With so much talent at the NHL level with Markstrom and the young Dan Vladar, it’s almost an embarrassment of riches to also have the AHL’s top goalie in Wolf, along with Sergeev and Chechelev, waiting in the wings. But that’s exactly the case.
The result of this excellence in goal is clear in the standings, with Calgary, Stockton, and Tri-City all sitting atop their divisions. With a present and future this bright in net, it’s hard not to feel optimistic about the direction of the overall organization, both today and in the future.