The Flames are back on the road – a great thing, when you consider their home (13-14-4) and away (17-7-5) records. Of particular interest on this road trip, though – a little two-gamer, with back-to-backs in Vegas and Arizona – is that the Flames so happen to have three goaltenders with them.
David Rittich was a given, and Jon Gillies has been up with the team since being recalled in lieu of Mike Smith’s injury. But though he hasn’t cleared yet, Smith is on the trip, as well. Common sense at this stage says it’s Rittich and Gillies who get the two games, though.
Aside from a subpar outing in Boston and a horrible game against Florida, Rittich has been lights out, largely responsible for three of the possible eight points the Flames have picked up since Smith’s injury. Gillies, meanwhile, has only seen two NHL games so far this season, both in relief appearances after the game got out of hand from the starter: once on Nov. 15, and later on Feb. 17.
The two opponents the Flames see on this two-game swing couldn’t be any more different: Vegas is in contention to be the top team in the NHL; Arizona, the worst. Though both Rittich and Gillies started the season in the AHL, Rittich got the call to replace Eddie Lack as the Flames’ backup, and he ran away with it. The call, then, is obvious: Rittich, who has looked like an NHL-level goalie more often than not this season, should get the start against Vegas.
Who starts against Arizona provides a little more intrigue. This will be the Flames’ first game in Arizona since acquiring Smith; in other words, this could have been his homecoming, were he healthy enough to play. But, seeing as how he’s on the trip, he very well could be by Thursday.
The Flames could have Rittich take back-to-back starts – they’ve done it with Smith before – but that seems counterproductive to one of two other possibilities.
One, maybe Smith is close enough to being able to play and, combined with the emotions of being back in his home barn of the past six seasons, gets back into the swing of things against a team he has already shut out this season.
Or two, Gillies gets his second career NHL start, but against one of the NHL’s weaker teams. Not that that’s a guaranteed win, but it should serve as a good litmus test for him, especially in light of the confusion surrounding the Flames’ goaltending future: will Smith’s play hold up next season? Will Rittich’s? Gillies was previously such a highly regarded prospect; can he regain that standing within the organization?
Injuries to both Smith and prospect Tyler Parsons may have put pause on the idea of using Gillies as a trade asset, but this two-game road trip could be his chance to work himself back into the conversation of future Flames netminding.
Where it could get really interesting is if Smith won’t be at 100% (or as close as one can get during the season) for a while yet. The Flames will have a matinee against Colorado on Saturday, and after the trade deadline, another back-to-back on the 27th and 28th in Dallas and Colorado – which could be another possibility for Gillies, depending on Smith’s status.
How would you like to see the Flames play it with Gillies? Does he still have a future with the Flames? And would it be better to play him a little more if Smith needs more time off?