Dan Ellis and Mike Smith Problems

If there’s one thing last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs told us, it’s that you don’t need to spend big money on goaltenders to go the distance. The Chicago Blackhawks won the cup riding a goaltender who was playing his first season of NHL hockey and the Phialdelphia Flyers made it to the finals with a career backup and a goalie who they signed off waivers. A lot of teams took note of this one of which was the Tampa Bay Lightning when they opted to sign Dan Ellis at a cap hit of only $1.5 mil a year and use him and Mike Smith in a 1a/b role.

To say these two have been a disappointment would be an understatement. The Lightning have given up the 2nd most goals in the league at 89 and both Ellis and Smith’s save percentage sits lower than .900. Despite this, the Bolts are 14-9-3 and are still second in their division. You could say that they are scoring enough to off-set the goaltender issues since they have 79 goals on the year (9th in the league) but at some point, I think these two might become the catalyst of the team.

Dan Ellis’ numbers are pretty alarming (6-4-3 .888 save pct.) considering he always had starting potential and put up decent numbers in Nashville. His save percentage has taken a huge fall the past few weeks after a couple of shaky relief performances and a lot of games where he gave up three or more goals. Then there’s Mike Smith who is about on the same level of a replacement goaltender but this year his save percentage is an awful .872 and has given up less than three goals in only 4 games this season. Despite that, he’s 8-5-0. It really says something about the team around him but it really makes me wonder how far the Lightning will go if these two keep playing like this.

I think what concerns me more is just how bad they’ve looked in general this year. Ellis has showcased a lot of poor decisions when handling the puck around the net and he’s let in a lot of soft goals, as well. He also tends to overplay pucks which has lead to plenty of easy goals for the opponent. Mike Smith just never looks in the correct position and his composure is pretty poor. I was surprised when the Lightning decided to hang onto him this year and not go after someone like Alex Auld, Johan Hedberg or Andrew Raycroft to compliment Ellis. At least until they’re ready to call up Dustin Tokarski, which may not be for another year or two. Obviously, no one saw Smith being this bad but I think Tampa could have gotten someone better, especially considering that Smith makes $2.4 mil a year. Awful lot for a goalie who’s playing below the replacement level.

Obviously, the Lightning have a lot of scoring depth but they are about to go through a rough patch. Vinny Lecavalier is still hurt  and Steve Downier will be out indefinitely with an ankle injury. Can the Lighting keep scoring at this pace to make up for their problem in net? The Capitals were able to overcome a similar issue in the 2008-09 season with Brent Johnson and Jose Theodore having save percentages around .900. Steve Yzerman seems to be committed to Smith and Ellis for now but that could change if a few more games like last night happen.

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