Early crease conclusions: Ben Bishop got off to a good start in Dallas and Mike Smith has been solid in Calgary. For Antti Raanta in Arizona and Steve Mason in Winnipeg, however, it’s been a bad beginning to 2017-18.
By Aayush Das
Who is that masked man? The off-season saw small changes and big changes for clubs around the league, and often the biggest change a team can make is between the pipes. It’s early in the NHL season, but here’s a look at how relocated No. 1 goalies have performed with their new teams so far:
Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars (4-1-0, 1.93 GAA, .929 save percentage)
It’s not a surprise Dallas, a team that was lacking between the pipes, scooped up Bishop from Los Angeles for a fourth-round pick during the off-season. Bishop was twice a finalist for the Vezina Trophy during his days with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and had a league-best 2.06 GAA in 2015-16. Stars GM Jim Nill has voiced his approval of Bishop’s start to 2017-18, saying “he’s been everything we could ask,” and praised the veteran goalie’s capacity to help the team’s younger defensemen by playing the puck. Bishop’s arrival addresses one of Dallas’ biggest weaknesses, but the Stars’ playoff miss last year wasn’t solely based on their crease problems as the team lost some of its scoring touch as well. The question for Dallas isn’t so much Bishop’s play in net, but rather at the other end of the ice. If the shooting Stars start to find their range more often, like they did on Thursday night, Dallas might just cruise into the playoffs – and make some noise once they get there.
Mike Smith, Calgary Flames (4-3-0, 2.51 GAA, .930 save percentage)
Not only has Smith started every game for the Flames this season, he’s among the league leaders in shots against (244 in seven games, 34.8 per game), which makes his save percentage that much more impressive. He’s been busy, but he’s been good, too. During his seven-year tenure in Arizona, Smith posted a 2.69 GAA and .916 save percentage and led the franchise to its best-ever playoff performance with a spectacular run to the Western Conference final in 2012. However, that was his last appearance in the post-season, which is something he hopes to change with the Flames. Calgary is hoping for the same thing, with the belief that Smith’s big, athletic frame combined with his natural talent and puckhandling ability – and a much stronger defense corps in front of him than he ever had in Arizona – gives the Flames a good chance at making deep playoff run this season.
Brian Elliott, Philadelphia Flyers (3-1-0, 3.25 GAA, .884 save percentage)
The Flyers decided to give Elliott the inside track on the starting job despite what happened in Calgary last season. Suffice to say, his one-year stint with the Flames didn’t go how either party would’ve liked. He was brought in to be the No. 1 after some solid years as a 1B option in St. Louis, but got off to a slow start, rebounded to help the Flames make the playoffs, then flopped in the first round. Elliott has spent most of his career splitting starts, but he once again has a chance at a bigger workload with a new team. Crease mate Michal Neuvirth has had impressive stretches and posted some good numbers, but he’s also been streaky and the Flyers don’t seem to believe he’s a No. 1. Elliott won three of his first four starts with Philadelphia, but his underlying numbers remain more or less the same. Was last season in Calgary the outlier or the start of a decline for the 32-year-old?
Scott Darling, Carolina Hurricanes (2-1-1, 2.20 GAA, .911 save percentage)
The phrase “small sample size” comes to mind with Darling, considering his NHL history entering this season consisted of 75 games as a backup for the Blackhawks from 2014 to 2017. But he impressed everyone when he took over for an injured Corey Crawford in the 2015 playoffs, setting a league record for longest relief appearance in a game without allowing a goal (67:44) and most saves in a relief appearance (42). Since winning the Stanley Cup in his rookie NHL season, the 6-foot-6 goalie has been steady and consistent, which likely helped convince the Hurricanes to take a chance on him as a full-time starter. The defense corps in front of him in Carolina is strong, boasting young talents such as Noah Hanifin and Jaccob Slavin. But having backstopped an elite Chicago team in the past, Darling is facing one of the biggest challenges of his career as he tries to lead the Canes back to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Antti Raanta, Arizona Coyotes (0-1-1, 3.33 GAA, .911 save percentage)
In his first game with Arizona, Raanta made 40 saves on 42 shots. A promising beginning, but the good feelings didn’t last long. He allowed three goals on five shots before getting pulled in his second game, then went down with a lower-body injury in Game 3 and hasn’t been seen since. Prior to getting his first No. 1 chance with the Coyotes, Raanta was a backup for the Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers, and posted numbers that would make any coach happy to have him in case of emergency. He played his best hockey in New York, working with goalie guru Benoit Allaire and stepping up when Henrik Lundqvist got hurt last season. Arizona gambled that he could take over the starting job; unfortunately for Raanta and the Coyotes, an early injury has him on the sidelines as the team continues to search for its first win of the season (0-6-1).
Steve Mason, Winnipeg Jets (0-3-0, 5.96 GAA, .846 save percentage)
Letting in five goals and getting pulled in the first game of the season is a bad start for any goalie, but even worse for one trying to begin a new chapter with a new team. Mason didn’t look any better in subsequent games, either, allowing 11 goals in his next two starts. Since winning the Calder Trophy as a rookie goalie for the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2009, Mason has been an average NHL netminder. Some good years, some not-so-good years. But he revived his career and, at times, thrived in the goalie graveyard that has haunted Philadelphia for years. The Jets brought him in to be a veteran presence and help mold goalie-of-the-future Connor Hellebuyck, but after dropping his first three starts at a six-goals-against-per-game rate, his impact is yet to be felt.