Photo Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

WWYDW: How should Mike Smith and David Rittich split the rest of the season?

Following the All-Star Break, the Flames will have 33 games to play over the course of a little over two months, making for a frantic back-half of the season.

With 68 days in between their Jan. 30 return from the break and April 7 regular season finale – both games which, coincidentally, will see the Flames hosting the Golden Knights – that’s almost a game every other day crammed into the schedule. During that time, the Flames will play four back-to-backs, and will have all of six two-day breaks between games to close out the year.

Mike Smith has already started 40 games this season. With a back-to-back remaining before the All-Star Break, he’ll presumably clock in at 41, with David Rittich taking the other game.

As detailed on Boomer & Warrener in the Morning last week (about 1 hour, 52 minutes in) Glen Gulutzan wants to keep Smith somewhere between 60-70 games. Smith’s career high is 69 starts in one season; after that, he has started 61 games in a single season twice.

Rittich’s apparent emergence as a capable backup goaltender should make a reduced workload for Smith possible. This would leave Smith to start roughly 20-25 games over the rest of the season, giving Rittich maybe about 8-13 more starts. He has already started against the Avalanche, Canadiens, Canucks, Sharks, and Panthers.

The aforementioned four back-to-backs knocks the list down to 29 potential Smith starts. (Rittich taking the second would see him get games against the Rangers, Coyotes twice, and Avalanche.) If Smith were to start all of them, he’d be at 70 games exact, which is not optimal.

Going through the schedule, the Flames play some weaker opponents (defined as currently 20th in league-wide standings or lower) not in back-to-back scenarios that could see Smith have a couple of extra days off and Rittich get more game time:

  • Feb. 3, hosting the Blackhawks (currently 22nd in the NHL)
  • Feb. 6, at the Blackhawks
  • Feb. 11, at the Islanders (currently 21st in the NHL), third game in four nights
  • Feb. 17, hosting the Panthers (currently 27th in the NHL)
  • March 2, hosting the Rangers (currently 20th in the NHL), third game in four nights
  • March 7, at the Sabres (currently 30th in the NHL)
  • March 9, at the Senators (currently 29th in the NHL)
  • March 11, hosting the Islanders
  • March 13, hosting the Oilers (currently 26th in the NHL)
  • March 31, hosting the Oilers
  • April 3, hosting the Coyotes (currently 31st in the NHL)

With rough guesswork, that’s 11 potential starts for Rittich. Not all of these will happen; there are four games in a row in March against presently-defined weaker opponents, so let’s split them in half, and give Rittich nine potential starts. If Rittich were to take all of them, that would see Smith start another 20 games this season, so we’re right on track, with a bit of wiggle room.

This is just pure guesswork, however. Some of these teams may emerge as stronger than expected after the break. Or maybe the Flames want Rittich to play against higher-quality opponents.

What would you do? Who would you want Rittich to start against? And how many games should he get over those final 33 games after the break?

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  • everton fc

    Makes sense, but won’t happen. That said, Smith/Rittich may be our 1/1A for the remainder of Smith’s contract here, in Calgary. This could be the best tandem between “the sticks” we’ve had in decades. And if Smith is still performing when his contract ends, and neither Gillies, nor Parsons are ready… Might ne wise to re-sign him for 2 more years, at an affordable price…

    Thinking ahead, I know…

    • deantheraven

      As long as Rittich doesn’t crap the cot, make the split as even as possible to give Smitty a lighter load leading up to the playoffs. It’s a fine line between keeping him engaged and rested, not burned out

  • Parallex

    That seems like a good plan to me. Of course it won’t happen exactly that way… one of them could get sick, or injured, or his WAG could have a baby, or any number of things. Or maybe Smith wants a certain game (against the Coyotes for example). But it’s a good blueprint to start from.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    If the Kings crown the Flames tonight, does Gully hit the panic button and go Smitty in Edmonton? Or is his plan to go Smitty both nights?

    I’d have thought that Rittich would have drawn the start against the Sabres and against the Oilers this week, but Gully buffaloed me last game.

    Smitty has hands down been the Flames MVP this season, but I’d rather see less of him down the stretch provided Rittich can carry the mail. I do not want an overtaxed Smitty leading the club into the playoffs, especially when there might be no call for this. No reason why Gully can’t be tossing the keys to Rittich on more game nights.

  • Crazy Flames

    I would play him against non playoff teams like Buffalo, Edmonton, Phoenix, Ottawa, and Florida. I think it is important to keep Smith engaged. The trouble is finding that balance that keeps him sharp but doesn’t over work him.

  • FlamesFanOtherCity

    It’s important not to overuse Smith. If we are planning on being decent in the playoffs, we need to keep Smith’s games lower than 65. Rittich is best used against teams Smith has struggled against; Oilers, San Jose, Dallas because they expose his weaknesses. Rittich doesn’t really have any, other than not being that good at puck handling. The team will tend to skate the puck out of the zone with Rittich.

    • Alberta Ice

      Laughed out loud on this comment. Odds are he might have had a better chance at stopping a puck than winning a penalty kill face off in an important overtime game. Yep, GG, you got make better decisions than that. And I am confident you will.

      • FlamesFanOtherCity

        If you just go back one year, EDM was a playoff team. What changed for the better from last year. Nothing. What changed for the worse. No upgrade on defense, even though they knew Sekera was out half the season. Trade away a perennial 60 point player for cap space and a grinder. Buy out a guy with the best PK numbers on the team.

        Saying that, last year was a bit of a mirage. Players having career years. No injuries to Talbot or McDavid. Draisaitl playing only as McDavid’s winger. Unsustainable perhaps. The fans grumbled about Pouliot, and about Eberle’s playoff no-show and they were gone. Chia had the opportunity to use assets responsibly but chose to peddle them for low value returns. Did they really need to trade a 1st and 2nd for a LHS D-man that couldn’t even stay in the NHL? Was Eberle’s value so low that all they could get back was a marginal 3rd liner? Hall brought back a decent stay-at-home D-man, but again it was the only thing they bid on.

  • oilcanboyd

    “best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry”.
    Gotta play it one game at a time and plan the next one after that, except in the case of back to backs where they would split.

    This week I would play Smitty against LA and Rittich against the oilers.

    • supra steve

      I’d do the exact opposite. LA on the 2nd game in as many nights for the opponent tonight…play the backup. Vs. EDM on Flames 2nd in as many nights…Smith.
      Having said that, I have confidence in both tenders, there probably is no wrong way of doing it, unless they start Smith both nights.

  • buts

    Just like GG’s insane player usage you can bet he will screw up the goalie usage. Mike Smith has been hands down the most consistent and best player on the team this year.

  • Off the wall

    I have confidence in both goalies. Smith is a warrior , calm and as athletic as I’ve seen between our pipes in years.

    Rittich is calm, poised and steady from every game he’s been in. The fact that he doesn’t get nervous, provides us with opportunities to use him more.
    He’s got the best mentor in Smith.

    However, I have ZERO confidence in GG.
    He accepts no blame regardless of the situation. It speaks volumes when you have an arrogant coach who cannot accept his own faults.

    If we’re going to be contenders, we will need to look beyond GG.
    His veteran love affair must end and get back to coaching without arrogance. Until that happens, expect more of the same results, bad player management!

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    I don’t think Rittich has started at home this season so it would be nice for him and the fans if he started tonight. Smith has been really good at home but he has been great on the road so I have him going in against Edmonton.

    To me that makes the most sense but in a must win type game Smith likely starts against LA and probably play tomorrow as well.

  • Off the wall

    With LA losing last night, we’re in for a hard fought game. They were embarrassed by the Canucks 6-2 and will be looking for amends. Expect a feisty one tonight. Tkachuk you’re up!

    We are currently in 8th place in playoff % due to LA losing. We sit at 59.1% this morning.
    We need to WIN this game, to further our chances of postseason.

    Our boys better be ready. 1 goal isn’t going to win this game..