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Plenty of positives in new Flames goaltenders

Jordan Sigalet is looking forward to seeing Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson in action this season

by George Johnson @GeorgejohnsonCH /

CALGARY, AB -- The dialogue began over the summer, at Brian Elliott's off-season digs in Madison, Wisconsin.

"Beautiful spot,'' reports Jordan Sigalet. "I flew down and spent a few days there.

"We'd talked a lot before that on the phone but to be able to sit down face-to-face was good, to get off to an early relationship.

"We just kind of chatted about his needs, my style of coaching, got a feel for each other and where we both saw this going.

"We had dinner. I watched him on the ice. Got some video.

"And Chad … being a local guy, I was able to hook up with him right away.

"So it was good."

A season ago, Calgary Flames didn't simply leak goals, they hemorrhaged them: 257, precisely, or an average of 3.13 per game, a league worst.

In contrast, they'd only been breached 213 times through their morale-boosting 2014-15 season of brief revival, ranking mid-table, 15th.

Naturally, then, virtually every post-season autopsy listed the cause of death as: Goaltending.

In truth, it wasn't that cut and dried. Never is. But there's always a need to identify something or someone as being responsible for flipping the clasp on Pandora's Box and bringing cataclysm down upon the earth.

"That was tough, obviously,'' acknowledges Sigalet. "You try not to take what's being said or written personally … but you can't help it. It's your job. It's your responsibility.

"In retrospect I could've been better, the goalies could've played better but the play around them, too … we were giving up a lot of chances.

"You could also make the excuse starting with three goalies but to me that's not any sort of justification. Those guys have to be ready at any time. I have to make sure they're ready at any time.

"It's not an ideal situation with three guys and each of them wanting to be the No. 1, but once we got down to two they started play better, to put together some streaks. We just couldn't get that consistency, all year long. 

"What we went through was obviously a learning experience, especially after my first year when had that great run. But you've got to put it behind you and move forward."

Forward means Elliott, acquired from St. Louis, and Johnson, signed as a free agent, incumbents Karri Ramo, Jonas Hiller and Joni Ortio having all moved on.

Elliott is coming off sparkling numbers - 23 wins, 2.07 GAA and .930 save percentage - on a powerhouse St. Louis entry Johnson almost as fine - 22 wins, 2.35 GAA and .921 save percentage - on a 23rd-positioned Buffalo team.

Faith in the penultimate position hasn't been this strong in this town since Miikka Kiprusoff, the silent one, was weaving his particular brand of Finnish magic back in the day.

Providing the platform, the environment, for the two men in the crosshairs to thrive, to fulfill sky-high expectations, is Jordan Sigalet's task.

"And the biggest thing in this job,'' he repeats, "is getting their trust. Having them trust in what you see, what you believe, what you're asking them to do.

"In my line of work you can't come in right off the bat and start demanding 'I want you playing like this' or 'You're doing that wrong.' You need to find common ground and make adjustments from there.

"Without trust, you're never going to make any headway."

Johnson and Elliott are 30 and 31, respectively, with a backlog of pro experience at their disposal. Yet - and here's the intriguing part of the equation - both feel they've yet to make their mark, stake their claim, at the NHL level.

"It's certainly a lot different look this year,'' agrees Sigalet. "Two guys with experience who still want to prove themselves is a good situation to have.

"You can see that hunger in every practice. They're out there to work.

"Brian didn't really get the chance he wanted in St. Louis and Chad's been bouncing around a little bit.

"Depending on the goalie, you've got more or less to clean up. Last year I found the three guys had far differing styles so the drills we needed had to be designed for each goalie.

"Brian and Chad have similar styles. So we're not tailoring individually to each guy, the way we had to the last couple of years which makes it a little easier to manage."

The collaboration is in its early stages, of course, but already Sigalet is getting good vibes.

"You can see how competitive each of them is, but at the same time they both give off that sense of being in control, which is so important to the temperament of the players in front of them.

"They're just so in tune with their game. So well prepared.

"It's no different than going to school for a test. The more you study and prepare, the better grades you're going to get. In goal, it's no different: The more you study and prepare, the better chance you have of success."

Hiller, of course, arrived here with plenty of NHL game experience from his years in Anaheim. Ramo and Ortio were less seasoned, seen as projects for the future.

Elliott and Johnson, contrastly, don't require teaching so much as refining, which changes up Sigalet's job some.

"Usually, when you have veteran guys, they've played a certain way their whole careers and gotten to this point for a reason. So you're not going make huge adjustments with them.

"You're a team, the three of you. You're going to make little tweaks here or there because you're their second set of eyes. Through video, through practice. You're there to build up their confidence.

"But with guys like these it's a bit of a different approach."

Ramo, Hiller and Ortio may be gone but their former coaching guru still keeps tabs on, in touch with, his former proteges, wishing them well wherever the game may take them.

"I had great relationships with those three guys. Still do. I talk to Jonas a little bit. He's in Switzerland, eight games into his season, great numbers. Joni just signed in Sweden and has played two games there.

"Karri's obviously still rehabbing from his injury but he's really close to being cleared to play.

"You hope a guy like that lands a job somewhere. He's a great worker and it was fun to have him around the last two years."

They've all moved on. And so have the Flames.

The way forward rests with Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson.

"Both,'' says Sigalet admiringly, "are great pros, on and off the ice. You don't have to be around them long to realize that.

"It's going to be fun watching them push each other.

"Very technically sound. It's their compete and positioning that are, in my mind, really going to help this team out.

"You can't teach compete. You either have it or you don't.

"These two guys, they don't give up on a puck. And they hate giving up a goal.

"Some guys aren't happy about it but these two absolutely HATE it.

"And that's exactly what you want to see."

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