Behind The Streak: Elliott’s Evolution Paying Dividends
There’s no hotter team in the NHL right now than the Calgary Flames. They have been on a tear since mid-January, tying a long-standing team record with their 10th straight victory on Monday night. It was 1979, and the team was known as the Atlanta Flames the last time they achieved a win streak as long as this one.
The main catalyst behind the streak has been their goaltender Brian Elliott. After an underwhelming start with his new team, he has posted a 13-1-1 record, 1.93 goals-against average and .934 save percentage since January 26th.
Looking deeper into the statistics, Elliott has always been under appreciated and undervalued. He suffered some consistency issues early in his career with the Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche, but has been excellent since the 2011-2012 season. In fact, his 5-on-5 save percentage has not dipped below .920 in the last six seasons – elevating his career average to .921. Even with his struggles early on this season, his 5v5 save percentage still stands above his career average at .925 in 2016-17.
The previous string of goaltenders in Calgary performed poorly, but the expectation was still high for Elliott when he arrived. A new coach with new systems, and a youthful core gave the fans a lot of excitement heading into the season – so when he stumbled out of the gate early on, he was heavily criticized for his play. His own team even lost faith, starting backup Chad Johnson five straight games in late-November/early-December.
What changed? How did Brian Elliott turn his season around so quickly?
FRONT DOOR FOCUS
Moving to a new city to play for a new team, behind a new system, had a tangible impact on his game. He even welcomed a new baby to his life with his wife Amanda, so adjustments had to be made both on and off the ice.
Early in the season, his lack of trust in the defensive system led to him sitting deep in his crease, or half-committing on plays. By cheating backdoor, he felt more comfortable on a passing play, but this caused him to be beaten on seemingly clean shots from a distance. This was because his feet would still be moving as the shot was released, in a vain attempt to gain depth on the shooter at the last second. His low and wide stance also hindered his ability to move laterally when he locked in on a shooter. A handful of goals were surrendered earlier in the season on plays that he read as a shot, but a pass was made instead – and he would lose his balance while trying to move laterally.
A handful of goals were surrendered earlier in the season on plays that he read as a shot, but a pass was made instead – and he would lose his balance while trying to move laterally.
Learning to trust his defensive system took time and practice, but Elliott worked on positioning himself at the top of his crease and setting his feet. That stopped him from drifting, and allowed him to focus on the primary threat.
With this newfound trust, Elliott is also deploying the overlap technique more frequently and aggressively than ever. The Flames have been doing an excellent job of forcing shooters to the outside. When the play is along the boards, Elliott has been setting up with his foot outside the post. This completely seals the short side, but it lengthens the route back to the middle of the net – which is why many goaltenders are hesitant to apply it to their game. Elliott trusts that the backdoor options are being covered, and is finally committing fully to the front door threat.
Elliott is also deploying the overlap technique more frequently and aggressively than ever.
The pass finds a way through in the above example, but the level of trust is obvious. Elliott is completely focussed on the shooter. He still manages to make a backdoor save on this particular play, because that’s just how things go when you’re on a ten-game winning streak.
LESS IS MORE
Post integration is important for any goaltender, but Brian Elliott owes a lot of the consistency in his career to his quick, efficient transitions while using the reverse-VH and VH techniques. Learning and perfecting RVH has been crucial to his success, especially in recent years.
Being able to use the net effectively is especially important for smaller goaltenders, because it not only aids in sealing the post, but it also prevents the goaltender from overreacting or overreaching for pucks. Elliott is by no means a small goaltender (he’s about league average at 6-foot-2), but he stays within the frame of the net extremely well. As a result, he rarely wastes time and energy. During this streak, it has been tough for teams to draw him out of position – this is why.
Being able to use the net effectively…prevents the goaltender from overreacting or overreaching for pucks. Elliott stays within the frame of the net extremely well.
This is especially apparent while on the penalty kill, where the Flames have steadily improved as the season has gone on. Getting to the post on quick-developing plays is his priority, and he has been executing it to perfection lately. The game tends to slow down when you simplify your routes like Elliott has.
It took time to make adjustments, but with trust in the defensive system – the Flames should ride this red-hot play into a playoff spot.