WWYDW: How would you handle goalie starts, considering Mike Smith’s potential unavailability?

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?

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  • supra steve

    Rittich probably should have been the backup from day one. I know coaches are loath to play young/unproven tenders (look at the Canadiens recent waiver pick-up, Niemi), but apparently GG is also loath to play Eddy Lack. Lets hope Lack performs beyond expectations, but if not, Rittich is the more seasoned backup option.

    • Intercourse the Penguins

      To refer to Tony Soprano: John Gillies is the “hair apparent” First come, first served. Reward Gillies for being in the org. longest. Lack will get the starts.

  • Off the wall

    Want to talk about a goalie problem, look at Vegas Golden Knights. Yikes

    I think (hope) we’ll be fine.
    This is Lack’s opportunity to show us what he’s capable of.

    At least on the road he can focus on his game. No boo birds to distract him.

    I’m fine with whoever gets the call-up. Both Rittich and Gillies should be capable.

  • Skylardog

    Rittich up, although we all know it will be Gillies.

    No long term plan. Game to game decisions. Lack starts until he has a bad game in a loss, he plays brutal in a 7-6 win or something like that, or he plays well and we get blown out. If Smith is not back by game 6, for sure the backup goes in Colorado.

  • Seattle_Flames

    I would say bring up both Gillies and Parsons. Have a 3 headed goalie monster and have them play rock, paper, scissors to see who starts on each night. You gotta lose your mind in Detroit Rock City.

  • Walt Whitman

    We’ll be fine. This is a good opportunity for Lack to get some solid starts under his legs and to build the trust with the team in front of him.

    Why are sports fans, and the journalists, so quick to envision nightmares when nothing has happened to indicate such? The future is not real, it does not yet exist. All we have is the reality of now.

      • Walt Whitman

        I follow a Buddhist psychology/approach to living. (It would be odd to say “I am a Buddhist” since it is not a religion. It may perhaps be considered a philosophy, however I find it best described as a psychological framework.)

  • Parallex

    I thought that Lack should have had this start (V. Detroit) anyways. The Flames have been been overusing Smith and he was due some rest anyways. He hasn’t been sharp lately.

    Just keep it simple and play Lack as if he were the starter until either Smith is able to return or we hit the B2B (Where they should give Gillies the start vs. Colorado).

    • deantheraven

      Absolutely agree. I’d been wondering if Smith would sit based on his last few efforts, now it’s sealed. Best case, Lack is solid and Gillies gets in 1 of the back-to-backs. If Smith’s injury looks longer term, Gillies can start anytime. Gotta see him play!

  • Scary Gary

    Assuming he’s playing well you play Lack vs Detroit (15th), Phili (17th), Wash (20th) and Columbus (22nd), then play Gillies in Dallas (24th), Lack in Colorado (25th); however, I think Smith will be back by next weekend if he’s travelling with the team.

  • Jessemadnote

    I think it’ll be good to force Gully to give Lack some work. I remember the Kiprusoff days and when a back-up would win, Kipper would come back and go on an absolute tear with renewed confidence. But it was really hard for back ups to win when they start once ever 12 games. Give Lack a chance to get in his rhythm and it will help Smith’s game as well.

  • Flint

    Lack should have been given the Vancouver game about a week ago. It was a back-to-back for Vancouver, it was his former team… you can’t get more of a softball than that. Smith had played a lot and you could see he was losing a little sharpness….. but GG went with Smith, have gave up … what 5 in 19… and we lost.

  • RKD

    Lack needs to play more, if he can’t do the job see what Gilles and Rittich can do but if those are to keep seasoning in the AHL look for some external help. I think Lack will be fine.