The Flames’ goaltending status, it would appear, is very much up in the air at the moment.
On Monday, Mike Smith made his 16th start of the season. Facing the St. Louis Blues, he played the first 20 minutes – only to suddenly be replaced by Eddie Lack for the final two periods. Thanks to some timely scoring, Lack held down the fort and collected his first win as a Flame.
There’s just one rather large problem with all of this, though: the Flames are starting their longest road trip of the season. Six games, 12 days, and it all begins tonight in Detroit. And Smith, has made the trip – but is unavailable for tonight, with Jon Gillies recalled in his stead.
It’s not yet clear how long Smith will be out.
Lack, for his part, has played three times this season: once in a relief effort for a merciless blowout at the hands of Ottawa, once in a start, and once for injury relief. The first game was a hopeless wash; he lost his first start; and though he gave up a couple of goals to the Blues in relief, it was difficult to blame him. He has a .857 SV% so far this season, but considering the circumstances and sample size, that doesn’t mean much at the moment.
Lack has yet to prove himself a true starter at the NHL level, but he has logged some serious mileage, playing 41 games in back-to-back seasons over 2013-15. He had a .917 SV% those years, so it would stand to reason that he is capable of taking the reins and doing a good enough job should he be required to play longer term.
If Smith is out for the short term, then it would make sense for Lack to simply take all of his starts until he comes back (unless things go horribly wrong, in which case all plans will probably be thrown out the window).
That begs the question, though: if Smith is out for a little longer, do you give Gillies a start? He has only played in a meaningless game to date. And starting him would be very, very different than Rasmus Andersson’s season debut – a game he considered his first real NHL contest, as his first was also meaningless. Andersson played 13:56, and was hidden away on the bottom pairing; the same cannot be done for a rookie goaltender.
Let’s assume Smith is unavailable for the road trip, and look at how it will play out:
- Games against Detroit, Philadelphia, Washington, Columbus, Dallas, and Colorado.
- It’s still early enough in the season that most teams are roughly grouped together. Though separation is starting to occur, none of these six teams are particularly amazing or awful at this moment.
- There are two days off between the Detroit and Philadelphia games.
- Dallas and Colorado are back-to-backs.
- The Philly game is a matinee for some reason, so weird, very early start time. Dallas and Colorado, not being out east, have later start times.
Looking at all of that, the schedule is still pretty spread out, and there aren’t any gimme games. If Smith is out for the entire road trip, it would stand to reason that Gillies probably plays the Dallas or Colorado game.
But should he play more than that? Should he get a start, even if Smith isn’t out for long? How would you handle the starts in Smith’s absence?