Photo Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

WWYDW: Back-to-backs and divvying up the goalie starts

The Flames just played their first of nine back-to-backs this season. The natural course, when faced with such a situation, is to have the starting goalie take one game, and the backup the other. That means at least nine starts for the backup this season.

But of course, there’s going to be more than that. In 2017-18, the Flames overworked Mike Smith right from the get-go, including having him play their first back-to-back, only to see their seldom-used backup goalie flounder when he finally got a start 10 games into the season.

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This season, though, the Flames seem aware that playing their 35+ goalie in too many games is actually bad. Now 13 games into the year, their backup has already started four games: just one back-to-back.

The results so far? Mixed: the Flames have a team save percentage of .898, 18th in the NHL. Through nine games, Smith has a .878 save percentage, including being hooked twice. David Rittich, meanwhile, who made the opening night roster for the first time in his career, is boasting an impressive .939 save percentage through six games to date.

Small sample sizes abound, but it’s also probably worth noting Rittich is a decade younger than Smith and, as such, has less wear and tear on his body. Rittich has looked the better goalie to date, and the numbers back him up: and though the season is still young, they aren’t that far apart in games played.

Which begs the question: assuming Smith and Rittich stay the Flames’ goalies throughout the season, how would you handle their starts over the next five months?

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Back-to-back philosophy dictates Rittich gets at least eight more starts over the Flames’ remaining 69 games, but we all know there’s more to come than just that.

Let’s take a look at November’s upcoming schedule: the Flames will play 13 games over those 30 days, including one back-to-back. They will have three consecutive days off between games twice. Eight of the 13 games are divisional matchups, so they’ll be extra crucial: this includes two games against what presently appear to be the bottomfeeder Kings, one game against the projected Pacific Division leader Sharks, and a game against the Edmonton McDavids.

How would you divide those up? The back-to-back is the Kings and then Sharks; would you have Smith take the first game against the apparently weaker team and leave Rittich to mop up against the assumed juggernaut? Should the presumed starter, Smith, play games on both sides of the three-day breaks they’ll have coming up?

If the Flames keep up their current nine-four start splits, then two months into the season would see Smith with 18 starts and Rittich with eight. That prorates Smith to 57 starts and Rittich to 25. Is that acceptable, or, if both goalies’ level of play continues, should the playing field be levelled a bit more in Rittich’s direction in terms of more starts for him?

What would you do, both over the month of November and beyond?

  • Rudy27

    I’d give Smith a bit more time to find his game, but use Rittich at lest every 3rd game. However, if Smith doesn’t turn things around in the next handful of games, I’d throw the “our number 1 goalie” philosophy out the window and start riding whoever is hot.

  • buts

    At anytime Smith can be hot or cold, yet he always battles. Right now he is fighting the puck and struggling that’s for sure but the usage is right and Smith will get into form. I’m not sure Rittich could handle the load of a #1 yet. He has definitely rebounded from the pre-season, he is steady, composed, tracking the puck and quick.

    • oilcanboyd

      He did a good job getting the puck out from behind the net and passing to his d-men. Noodles says that Smith’s ability to do this saves wear and tear on the d-men for not having to go fetch the puck…saves about 150 hits a season on them.

  • FlushedOut

    Did anyone else catch Brian Burke saying they tried to get Anderson (the goalie in Toronto, not our d-man) by offering the 35th pick but Anaheim got the 30th pick from Toronto instead. Never heard about this anywhere before. Just goes to show those that bash management for not trying that there are a lot of attempts made for a player we don’t hear about where we just miss out.

  • MDG1600

    Smith is looking old and tired what with all the belly flopping and lying motionless on the ice for 10 seconds like he is hurt after every other save. I would split them 50/50

  • FlushedOut

    How much they split the games all depends on how Smith plays in the next 10 games. He’ll be given a chance by management to get some steadiness to his game, if he doesn’t I’m sure you’ll see Rittich play more. You can’t just keep giving up on every single player because he has a bad 10 game segment. People here wanted to get rid of Johhny after he signed his contract and struggled at the start of that season. I just seen that Tavares has only 1 goal in his last 8 games. Crosby had no goals until he got to Alberta. Pretty much every player in the league goes through a rough patch at some point in the season, it just doesn’t get noticed quite so drastically when it’s halfway through the season.

  • FlamesFan27

    Rittich has looked much better than Smith, and the numbers back that up. I would play Rittich at least 50% for the short term. If he continues his good play, I would ramp that up. They need to find out if he can be a starter next year, because Smith clearly isn’t one anymore.

  • Cfan in Van

    Given the results so far, ramp up Rittich to around 50% until fortunes dictate otherwise. Consider a change if that doesn’t prove as effective. Ramping up Rittich gives us better optics heading into next season (where there are way larger goalie decisions looming).


    Trivia question: Who was the last player to score a hat “trick” on Halloween?… Michael Frolik of the Calgary Flames scored a hat trick against the Edmonton Oilers on Halloween in 2015. On a side note he was wearing his Groucho Marx eyebrows as a costume.