Goal tending. It's a dirty word in the greater Calgary area this season and with good reason. Karri Ramo, Jonas Hiller and Joni Ortio really haven't inspired much confidence in the fan base, and probably the front office, in 2015. Bob Hartley rotated Ramo and Hiller last season with great success and when the playoffs rolled around, Ramo carried the Flames between the pipes. So it would make sense that unless his camp was a car fire, he should get the nod. He did. And then on October 22, Karri Ramo was placed on waivers and sent down to Stockton. Six games into the season, Ramo had an 0-3 record, given up 11 goals and had a .778 Save %. In his absence the Calgary Flames went 1-4, giving up 21 goals. 21! Jonas Hiller's injury and Orito's ineffectiveness allowed Calgary to recall Karri and he's pretty much held onto the position since.
Now, you could argue that Ramo being the Flames best keeper is like being the best looking person at the ugly person contest. The argument has some merit. He does tend to let up an early softie in most of his starts and it puts the Flames behind the eight ball right from the get go. And yes, he does give up some seriously juicy rebounds. But he also makes some spectacular saves that keep this team in games. Whether you like him or not, you have to acknowledge that last sentence.
No goalie is all to blame, nor should they receive all the credit. Calgary's defense hasn't exactly played up to last year's standards. Opposing forwards seem to have free reign in front of the crease and constantly have screens set up. Loose pucks seem to find their way to non-Flames sticks more often than not leading to goals. Part of that is rebound control, part of that is the defense standing around waiting for a miracle, it would seem.
Karri Ramo found himself with the Flames Flu last week. Hiller stepped in and played "alright" in their 4-3 win against Buffalo, but was terrible in his 5-4 OT start against the New York Rangers. Calgary held a 4-1 lead and that quickly disappeared leading to overtime. Yes, Wideman stood around and watched two goals be scored right in front of him, but Hiller was bad. Like, if Ortio was ready to come back up, he should have been placed on waivers bad. Hiller is 4-4, allowed 35 goals and his Save% is .862. He looked lost once the Rangers started putting the pressure on late in the third period and thankfully T.J. Brodie was able to bail him out in OT.
So what should Hartley do? Could they trade for a goal tender? Sure. The question then becomes who do you want and what are you willing to give up? And what then if that trade doesn't work? What Bob Hartley should do is give the job right back to Ramo once he's healthy and ride him until he can't anymore. Since coming back on Halloween against the Oilers, Karri Ramo has started 15 of Calgary's 18 games. His record is 9-6 and he's given up 41 goals over that span. Not spectacular by any stretch, but he's been in net for 7 out Calgary's 9 straight wins at the Dome and in goal for 3 out of their 5 straight.
Calgary seems to be playing more like the playoff team they were last season. That flair for the dramatic has returned and they look confident no matter the situation. Will that rub off on Karri Ramo? Time will tell, but he should be the starter until one of two things happens: he needs a night off or the wheels completely fall off. The way he's stepped up, the latter seems unlikely. The Flames must live or die with Ramo between the pipes and not just because Hiller hasn't played well. There are young goalies in the organization and are you willing to make a trade knowing what's in the minors? Yes, there are things Ramo needs to correct to keep the Flames in the playoff hunt. He needs to make the early saves and not put Calgary in a hole. He needs to control rebounds better. Those are two absolute necessities and those fixes will help in the long run. Karri is athletic, makes some amazing saves and has shown he can be the #1 for the Flames. Unfortunately he's like an NFL QB: you either like him or hate him. There doesn't seem to be an in-between. But after Saturday night's putrid performance by Hiller, you should be ready for a heavy dose of Karri Ramo, like it or not.