Brian Elliott has never appeared in more than 55 games in an entire campaign, but after five stellar seasons, the Calgary Flames are finally giving him the opportunity to prove that he can be a true No. 1 netminder in the league. And Elliott couldn’t be more excited.
During his Flames introductory press conference Wednesday, Elliott, 31, said that goaltenders want to be wanted, and it’s not hard to understand why he may have felt as though he was never meant to be anything more than a part-time starter in St. Louis. When the Flames sent a second- and conditional third-round pick to the Blues ahead of the draft to acquire Elliott, it made it clear that Calgary views Elliott as the full-time starter. It will be his first shot at the role, too.
Though he spent the past five seasons as part of the Blues, the first three years in St. Louis were spent sharing the net with Jaroslav Halak. And when Elliott was finally starting to look like he could take the job from Halak on a nightly basis, the Blues dealt for Ryan Miller, who stayed no longer than one post-season run. Miller’s exit was followed by the emergence of Jake Allen and Elliott was again sharing starting duties. But while all of this was happening around him, Elliott continued to put up better numbers than any of his goaltending partners without being handed the full-time reins.
"There's only one net out there and both guys want to play,” Elliott said. “That’s what's tough about trying to be a good partner and a good teammate when both guys want to be in the net. You don't make it to this level without treating every practice, treating every workout, treating every game like a No. 1 goaltender. I like to say you're selling yourself short if you're just going out there to be a backup.
"It's something that I've worked hard for my whole career. Just to get that opportunity, that's all you want. It's what you do with that opportunity."
There’s no reason to believe Elliott should do anything less than a stellar job in Calgary, too.
Say what you will for the Flames defense in comparison to that of the Blues, but at 5-on-5 this past season St. Louis was only marginally better at suppressing shots. Per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 action, the Blues allowed 27.8 shots against, whereas the Flames allowed 28.6. If you’re wondering where those shots are coming from, too, advanced stats website Corsica shows the average distance from the net that opponents were getting shots on goal from is almost negligible between the two clubs.
Pair that all together, and there’s real reason to believe Elliott can muster numbers similar to what he posted in 2015-16.
At 5-on-5, he was one of the league’s elite goaltenders, posting a .938 SP in more than 1,700 minutes of action. That was second-best in the league, behind only James Reimer’s .940 mark. No Flames goaltender was better than Joni Ortio, who posted a .920 SP at 5-on-5 across 960 minutes of work. That put him 51st among the 77 goalies to play 100 minutes or more this past season.
Elliott should also be able to help out the Flames’ league-worst 75.5 percent penalty kill. Among the 55 goaltenders to play 100 minutes of shorthanded time this past season, Karri Ramo was the “standout” Flames goaltender, ranking 36th with a .861 SP. Elliott finished eighth among those same netminders with a .907 SP.
It sounds as if Elliott understands that the Flames are going to be a work in progress, though. After an almost unthinkable playoff berth in 2014-15, Calgary took a giant step backwards and finished 26th in the league in 2015-16. He’s ready for that challenge and ready for his opportunity to shine as a No. 1. And if all goes well, he’ll be part of the Flames’ resurgence.
"We can only go up, I think,” Elliott said. “I'm going to do my best to be the backbone of the team, try to be a leader and just do whatever I can to be the rock for the guys on the back end and let the guys do the rest of the work.”
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