As training camp readily approached, I wrote an article over at Raw Charge highlighting the potential and concerns of starting the season platooning Ellis and Smith, which I suggested was “not a truly inspiring duo” and should be regarded with “cautious optimism.” I went on to elaborate:
Both are likely to be the hero on occasion and at other times, the scapegoat, so if you can content yourself with the notion that Ellis is probably going to give the team a steady if unspectacular performance on most nights and Smith is probably going to continue teasing us with scattered performances of brilliance amidst mostly mediocre or even sub-par showings, then anything beyond these modest expectations will be all the more rewarding to watch.
What actually transpired the first half of the season exceeded my wildest expectations. I mean, there were some obvious concerns about how Ellis (stamina, adjustment to a different defensive system) and Smith (health, rebounding psychologically from an extremely poor 09-10 campaign) would hold up but Smith’s early season struggles, though disappointing were not exactly shocking. It was the watching both Smith AND Ellis implode on an almost game by game basis, seemingly competing to outdo each other in terms of ineptitude that was baffling.
Through 37 games, both had combined for a total of 116 goals allowed and were sporting goals-against averages north of 3.00 and sub-.900 save percentages. It was ugly and I apologize for reminding you of the time that was. Of course, Lightning brass set out to remedy the goaltending woes and the chosen solution was none other than aging netminder Dwayne Roloson whom Yzerman was able to obtain in exchange for defensive prospect Ty Wishart. 43 games have since passed and, you might have noticed, the Lightning are heading into the playoffs absent any sort of goalie controversy or crisis. In fact, for the greater part of the second half of the season, the Lightning have received solid, and occasionally brilliant, goaltending from Roloson, Ellis (prior to being shipped off to Anaheim) and, more recently, Mike Smith. Kudos to Smith for making the most of the opportunities presented him upon his return to the big club from Norfolk. He may very well have managed to salvage his NHL career.
That both Roloson and Smith are healthy heading into the playoffs is good. Perhaps their recent stretch of performances are an even better omen, as both factored into the Lightning winning 7 of their final 8 games substantially. However, looking at the data from the larger sample size, we can better appreciate how steady the goaltending has actually been since the arrival of Roloson in early January:
Those, folks, are damn good numbers. Especially when you consider that approximately 24% (27) of the goals allowed occurred in just 4 of the 43 games in the sample (losses to Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Carolina and Detroit). The broader picture one can paint with these numbers is that one of the Lightning’s supposed areas of weakness has actually been a one of the club’s strong suits in recent months. Still, Dwayne Roloson and Mike Smith equate to the Lightning beginning postseason play with a generally reliable starter and, depending on which Mike Smith shows up, a more-than capable backup. Not a situation to lament, especially considering the starting goalies in last year’s Stanley Cup Finals.