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?