As we stand a handful of games into this season, you can't help but feel the excitement of this team once again. There is a renewed purpose, a new drive with younger players such as Stamkos and Hedman wanting a taste of the playoffs, with the addition of the old guard in place like fan favorites Lecavalier, St. Louis, and the return of Kubina.
The question that stands out at this point, though, is how far can this team go, and on the back of whom? Standing tall between the pipes are two goaltenders contrasting in both style and size. The six-foot-three, two-hundred pound Kingston, ONT. born Mike Smith, returning for his third full season (2007-2008 being a small sample post trade deadline), and the six-foot, one hundred eighty five pound Saskatoon born Dan Ellis, a recent signing as a free agent after spending his professional career to this point with the Nashville Predators.
Potentially, our season hinges on at least one of the backs of these two goaltenders. The question is, with both a new offensive and defensive structure, what can we expect or hope for from both our skaters and our goaltending?
A little statistical analysis after the jump.
While it would be easy to look at goals against and save percentages for both goaltenders, neither will tell the true tale for either one.
Dan Ellis arrived in Tampa after leaving a Nashville team that enjoys the fantastic talents of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter on the blueline, as well as great supportive defensemen in Francis Bouillon and Kevin Klein, but had an offense with a very middle-of-the-road production of 217 goals last season, only four more than last years Tampa Bay Lightning team. On the other hand, you have a Nashville team that only gave up 221 goals to the 253 of Tampa.
Tampa was very much a team in turmoil last season, ranging from injury troubles, to poor goaltending, to a lack of offensive production from a few high profile names that were expected to really contribute. On top of the defensive turnover (a total of 13 defensemen suited up for Tampa last year), not to mention the plethora of forwards (and one coach!) who saw a bit of time with the big club.
It was no secret that Mike Smith was troubled with post concussion syndrome after taking a Vinny Prospal knee to the head, but after two concussions, two things remain - questions and lingering effects. This season has shown us an undefeated, yet extremely sloppy version of the goaltender we once traded for. His poor decision making on leaving the crease to play the puck, the lack of communication on one play with Randy Jones, the soft goals we've seen, the tendency to overcommit on a play - all are traits of a goaltender that we have to be rather concerned about.
Some of this could be attributed to both inconsistencies in defensive coverage and play, which has been an issue, and a new goaltending coach asking for Smith to be a technically sound, less mobile goaltender. At what point do you eliminate both of those excuses, though?
Dan Ellis checks in with stats after one game that are no more promising than Smith, but give him the benefit of the doubt with an even smaller sample size, a game where he went 24/26 against Philadelphia in a win, and a second game where everyone seemed to pack it in early in a 6-0 beating delivered by Florida.
Looking at the career numbers, though, neither option looks to be a long term solution at the moment, and that has to at least make us all a little nervous at this point, although given our sample sizes I don't think we should be heading for our nearest rooftops to jump and/or scream from. Ellis, including this season is a .902 goaltender for his career, but a .911 save percentage goaltender if you do NOT count his two Tampa outings. Smith is a career .899 including this year, but is a respectable .906 without this seasons starts on a team that has been a lottery pick recently.
The question is, who? If not either of them... where do we turn to? Do we ride one of them hoping to get hot and see them improve on those career numbers with both a better defense, less goals against, and more goals for? Do we have a shot at a Schneider out of Vancouver, or Jon Quick from Los Angeles? Perhaps, but given our playoff success isn't expected this season, there may be a desire to not spend crucial assets out of a draft pool that has been less than par until the last two years. There is also a reluctance that we've seen from Mr. Yzerman, to bring on many contracts that are over two years for the chance that the league once again returns to lockout.
This leaves us with a young man recently picked up from Montreal by the name of Cedrick Desjardins who resides with Norfolk of the AHL who saw extended preseason time and played enough that you were left with a little bit of doubt as to the future of one of these current roster goaltenders for the Bolts. While he hasn't seen NHL playing time, he has seen plenty of rubber in the scoring friendly QMJHL, a year in the ECHL where he took home a number of rewards, and time with the Hamilton Bulldogs last year, where Boucher was head coach. Through three seasons in the AHL, he has maintained a .915 save percentage, while also taking home some hardware.
Will Yzerman risk assets to pick up a goaltender this year? Given how Detroit has gone along with a sagging-but-serviceable Chris Osgood while waiting for Jimmy Howard to step forward, its unlikely he targets someone outside of the organization. The offensive production hasn't outpaced the production of our opponents (17 goals for, 18 against) and in the long term, this is a recipe for disaster and another high draft pick.