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Picture of calm: Coyotes' Connor Ingram is blossoming into an elite NHL goaltender

Craig Morgan Avatar
December 7, 2023
Connor Ingram will make his sixth straight start on Thursday against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Connor Ingram couldn’t pinpoint any technical changes in his game this season when asked about them on Wednesday. Neither could Coyotes goalie coach Corey Schwab, nor Coyotes coach André Tourigny.

“I do think it’s mostly a continuation of what we saw last season, but he’s obviously playing with a lot of confidence,” Schwab said. “With confidence, the game slows down for you and it makes it easier to read plays and put yourself in the right position and have more time to react.”

Ingram is doing all of that and more. As he prepared to make his sixth straight start against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday at Mullett Arena, he has — for now — seized control of the Coyotes starter’s role for a team that had won a season-high five straight games; tied with the Edmonton Oilers for the longest active streak in the NHL.

Tourigny said that the Coyotes will start Karel Vejmelka a couple times in the next five-game stretch. That’s a product of the travel ahead, the short time between games, and the desire to keep Vejmelka involved and sharp, but the added workload isn’t bothering Ingram.

“We’ve had days off in between games, which is huge, and I get some good sleep,” he said. “This is what the American League is for. I played 60 games in the American League. I played 65 in junior a couple times. This is kind of why you play in the minors; to be ready for these moments.”

Statistically, Ingram is among the league leaders in every meaningful category, whether it’s the traditional statistics found on NHL.com, or the more granular statistics offered by a variety of websites that track analytics.

Connor Ingram’s league ranking among goalies who have played at least 10 games

Statistic NumberNHL ranking
* — Wins11T-4th
* — Goals against average2.234th
* — Save percentage.930T-3rd
* — Shutouts2T-2nd
E — Goals saved above expected15.051st
E — Goals saved above average11.262nd
H — Quality start percentage.786T-2nd
N — High-danger save percentage.8942nd
C — Adjusted save percentagePlus-2.3 above expected3rd
* — per NHL.com
E — per evolving-hockey.com
H — per hockey-reference.com
N — per naturalstattrick.com
C — per Clear Sight Analytics

When the Coyotes claimed Ingram off waivers from the Nashville Predators in October 2022, it took him some time to settle into a new environment with new personnel, a new coach and a different role. Once he did, he turned in a strong performance over the second half of the 2022-23 season.

In January, he posted a 2.62 goals against average and a .929 save percentage in six starts. In February, he had a 2.41 GAA and .935 save percentage in four starts. Despite his rough start, he ended the season with a .907 save percentage and 3.7 goals saved above expected (he didn’t play down the stretch while the Coyotes gave Ivan Prosvetov a long look).

InGoal Magazine publisher Kevin Woodley may have been the first to identify Ingram as a goaltender who was ready for a greater role while he was still viewed as the No. 3 guy in Nashville. But Woodley doesn’t chalk that opinion up to his own, naked-eye evaluation.

“If I could make these calls all the time because I have a great eye, I’d probably have a much higher paying job,” Woodley said. “That evaluation was largely based on viewing Clear Sight Analytics. But within that, I can’t help thinking, ‘How are teams not paying for this service?’

“This isn’t the only case where these numbers have gotten it right. Look at Charlie Lindgren in Washington. His numbers were saying the same thing and there are others. On the other side, there’s a couple teams that have made really expensive decisions of late that are costing them, when with one look at these numbers, they would not have made those decisions.”

Among the insights that Clear Sight Analytics has provided Woodley on Ingram: He has only allowed six goals off 36 broken plays, which ranks among the league leaders. He has also only allowed two low-danger goals, which ranks behind only Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck and Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky, who have allowed one each.

That ability to make the saves he’s supposed to make supports what Tourigny has seen this season.

“He’s been consistent,” Tourigny said. “To be consistent every night is a challenge. You cannot take that for granted and think ‘Oh, that’s normal. He should be consistent.’ It’s not that easy. It’s more complicated, and I give him a lot of credit for having done it for quite a while.”

The back of Connor Ingram's mask feature a likeness of The Joker from "Batman."
A look at the back of Connor Ingram’s mask reveals a likeness of The Joker from “Batman.” (Getty Images)

While Woodley took great pains to defer to Schwab, whom he said is widely respected in all reaches of the goaltending community, Woodley has noticed some changes in Ingram’s game.

“I’ve looked at a couple hundred different shot patterns and types of plays,” he said. “I have watched screens this year where he’s had a ton of success relative to the environment. Last year, that was one of the few areas that was in the negative. This year, one of the few areas that’s in the negative is slot-line plays, but to a certain degree, some of that is just randomness. When I looked at the plays, I was like ‘Yeah, that shot is going in most of the time. It doesn’t matter who you are.’ 

“At the end of the day, all of his numbers look good, relative to environment.”

Woodley has also noticed some technical changes. When he asked Ingram about them on InGoal’s podcast, Ingram suggested that the analysis was accurate, but it was also something that he hadn’t really thought about. It had just become instinctive after working with Schwab.

“This got more attention when [Boston Bruins goalie and 2023 Vezina Trophy winner] Linus Ullmark talked about recoil; a little bit of backwards drift, even on a shot release,” Woodley said. “What that means is the goalie is not always pushing out and setting and sort of dropping forward into every shot. The philosophy used to be: Get set and square. Now we’re seeing more guys have a little bit of this backwards flow, even off the release, because so much play is going east-west. 

“The philosophy is that if the puck gets passed instead of shot, or if it hits a leg on the way to the goalie and it bounces off to the side, the goalie is moving backwards so he’s got a little bit of momentum to make a recovery push to get across on a lateral path. Whereas, if he’s dropping forward on that shot and gets faked, or a pass goes across, it’s really hard to regain that momentum.”

Woodley has also seen changes in Ingram’s lateral movement.

“He’s shuffling more than using a T-push and that’s a pretty big one,” Woodley said. “If you make a T-push — and I believe this is Corey’s philosophy but I don’t want to put words in his mouth — you have to open that lead leg and start to push.

“If a puck hits something or changes direction before I’ve gotten there and set, the nature of the T means that if I’m pushing to my left and I’ve got that skate pointed in the direction of my push, I can’t just reverse. I have to close that lead skate and come to a stop in order to establish the edge before I can go back the other way. Shuffles keep both of your feet sort of perpendicular and give you access to your edges so you can go either way.

“The other thing about shuffles is you can be a little narrower in your stance. You don’t get low and wide. I think this is a trend, league wide. From watching Connor, I feel like when plays are on the perimeter, he’s maintaining a narrower stance so his feet are under him more. You’re better able to shuffle. You don’t get wide and extended and locked in. I feel like his transition from a narrow stance into his save stance also looks really smooth and clean but I don’t know if that’s new or that’s old.”

Coyotes goalie Connor Ingram makes a save against Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen during a 4-3 overtime victory on Nov. 30 at Mullett Arena. (Getty Images)

Ingram, Schwab and Tourigny have all noted the environment in which Ingram is playing as a key factor in his success. To put it simply, the Coyotes have tightened their ship defensively, allowing their goaltender a better chance to shine. Woodley said that reality is reflected in analytics such as Ingram’s unusually high expected save percentage.

“We’ve had a lot of focus on that recently and that makes the game a little bit more predictable for the goalie,” Schwab said. “But you still have to make key saves at the right time, which he has been doing, whether it be a particular power play or a breakdown because the other teams have good players, too.”

The most obvious elements of Ingram’s game to the naked eye are elements that Schwab emphasizes as keys to his success: his poise and his ability to read the game. At times, Ingram almost appears to be waiting when the shooter arrives, allowing him the opportunity to make a more difficult save look routine.

“There’s no panic in his game and that’s just who he is,” Schwab said. “He’s very controlled and compact when he’s playing at his best. There’s no extra, wasted movement. That’s why he looks calm in the net because he’s able to assess situations, recognize danger and then he’s going to be a little bit more urgent to gain some depth.

“Reading the play means you’re anticipating what might happen but you’re also understanding what the puck carrier’s options are. Sometimes, you won’t know if it’s a scrambly play, and some Grade-A chances are different, too, but where the calmness shows up is he’s able to read and understand what his options are. You anticipate and then you put yourself in position to make the next save.”

Ingram’s recent performance has put him under the media spotlight. He was named the NHL’s first star of the week last week, national media are also taking notice, and he has conducted multiple local and national interviews recently.

“I hate it,” he quipped, casting a sidelong glance at Coyotes media relations director Jeffrey Sanders. “Me and Jeff have fought for a week about doing these things. I make Jeff’s job really hard. This isn’t who I am. I don’t think I could survive in a Canadian market, but I’ll do it.”

While Ingram is the picture of calm during games, he admits that he is still nervous going into games.

“A big part of goaltending is: even if you feel that way you can’t show it,” he said. “There’s 22 guys in front of you that need to be confident in what you’re doing so even if you’re not, you’d better show it and give them some strength; some confidence that you’re back there and you can get it done.”

Given all that Ingram, 26, has endured to get to this point, he isn’t taking this recent surge for granted. Even so, all of those tough times and mental struggles are forgotten once he gets to the rink and steps on the ice.

“Away from the rink, I’ve had a lot of bad days in my life but none of them are hockey related; this is my escape,” he said. “You work your whole life to play in this league so to get an opportunity to stay out there and keep playing is exciting. It’s definitely been fun being in net for all of these games, but you’ve got to come in every day and do the work to make sure you never give it up.”

Top photo of Coyotes goalie Connor Ingram via Getty Images

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