The majority of my posts about the Checkers have been focused on their high-powered offense and whether or not it is sustainable in the long-run. This team’s offense and scoring depth has played a large role in their hot start to the season, but something that might be getting overshadowed is the terrific play of goaltender Dan Ellis. After signing a tryout deal and beating out John Muse for the back-up goalie spot on the Checkers, Ellis has been lights out in his first nine games of the season. He currently has the best save percentage in the AHL with a .947 mark and the 5th highest goals against average at 1.71. With his last stint in the NHL being a major flop, not much was expected out of Ellis this year so the numbers he has been putting up are surprising to say the very least.
One could say that Ellis has mostly been reaping the benefits of playing behind a strong offensive team like the Checkers, but that statement proves to be false when you look at how much support he has been getting from the rest of the team. The Checkers have actually been outshot 280-286 when Ellis has been in goal. They aren’t getting dominated, but Ellis is still facing over 30 shots per night this year, so he has to do a good amount of work every game. That makes his .947 save percentage and two shutouts look even more impressive. Compare that to Justin Peters’ .904 save percentage with a little over 27 shots faced per game, and you have to think that Ellis might be in consideration to earn the Checkers starting job relatively soon. Jeff Daniels seems to like the two-goalie tandem so I’m not sure how likely it is that Ellis will earn the starting job, but it’s clear that he is performing at a higher level right now.
Does this early-season success mean a lot for Ellis’ future? Predicting goaltending performance is a quagmire in itself and it’s especially difficult here since Ellis has played in only nine games this season. History has shown that a goaltender who performs well in his first 15 games with a team will give him a prolonged chance to show what he can do. So even if Ellis’ performance falls off the map over the course of the year, what he is doing right now might be enough to earn him the starting job in Charlotte and possibly a few games with the Hurricanes if Brian Boucher continues to have injury problems.
Ellis’ great performance this season is a perfect example of how unpredictable goaltending can be in general, seeing how he was signed on a tryout contract after being a below-replacement level goalie in his last full NHL season. Trying to guess how he will perform after this stint is losing a battle, but for the time being, he is one of the main reasons why the Checkers have been as successful as they are this year. Yes, the offense has played a key role but having Ellis stop nearly 95% of the shots he has faced in half their games has factored into more than a couple wins. Jeff Daniels bringing him in on a low-risk deal has proved to be a very good move thus far.