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.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

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?

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

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?

  • 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

  • JoelOttosJock

    I would send Smith to the minors and make a splash for Sergei bob. Not going to take much to get him. Even if a rental..then next year rittich is the go to guy

    • oilcanboyd

      11 goalies under 0.900 SV% this season, with 5 or more games in. In the order of worst to better: Jake Allen, Smith 0.878, Reimer, Korposalo, Bobrovsky 0.882, Mrzak, Holtby, Elliot, Ward, Matt Murray, Fleury.

      See some names that fans wanted to get before season started?

    • withachance

      Ban/remove this message if needed, but are you dumb? What world do you live in? Yeah an NHL team is going to send a veteran goalie with 4M+ cap hit to the minors… Did you think before typing this?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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).

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • BendingCorners

    For now I’d alternate and see how they perform. If Smith continues to struggle play Rittich 2 or 3 games in a row. If Rittich starts to struggle then do the same with Smith. And hope they don’t both struggle at the same time.

    • oilcanboyd

      “If…continues to struggle..” Smith looked good in his last 2 games. Smith needs games to get into a groove; on the other hand Rittich showed us last season he couldn’t do more games… Rittich needs more games for a proper evaluation. Is he a number one or a good backup playing occasionally?

  • Mitchell

    Smith has had a few good games, but he definitely makes the position look hard. I feel like he tries to make his saves look flashy at times, and gets caught. He has slowed down a bit, and he doesn’t seem to be able to consistently track the puck. Granted he had had a lot of HDSC and MDSC against him, but he needs to be saving a few more of those. In my opinion calgary should be playing rittich a bit more than they are. They need to figure out exactly what they have in him. I do however like the influence smith has had on rittich in that hes playing the puck more effectively.

  • Ramskull

    So with Dubas at the last few games would anyone trade Anderson or Vali plus picks/prospects for Nylander @ $7+M a year? I’m not sure if the leafs would be interested in TJ and I’d have a tough time parting with such good young D-man for an overpriced RW. Though another legit scorer on the right would be pretty awesome to have.

    • MDG1600

      It would have to be Neal and Andersson for Nylander to make the salary cap work plus if you added Nylander there wont be enough ice time to go around for the a guy like Neal.

      • FlushedOut

        Followed by both GM’s being fired from their jobs. Leafs will want at least either Andersson or Valimaki plus a first round pick. Not worth having no money left for Tkatchuk. Leafs will take next to no salary when they have to sign Matthews, Mariner, and Gardiner next year.

    • Zesty14

      Just had a thought, why dont we trade our entire team for the Washington capitals? Just straight across 1-1. Hear me out.. they won the Stanley cup last year. Isn’t that what we are trying to win?

      If that isn’t possible how about line combination like this.


      Rittch in net.

      Only make sense they are our best players.

      I’m getting sick of scrolling through people’s trade ideas or line combinations that make equal or less sense then what I just proposed. I’m no numbers guy but some of the ignorance to even minor hockey IQ is baffling Do some research and find out why that trade or lineup would never work before you regurgitate that puke on to us.

        • Zesty14

          Passion away! I posted that because all I have is passion not only for this team but the entire game itself. I said right from preseason that it’s been a while since I’m excited about this roster. I love this team. I dont poo-poo in every article and how much I hate backlund(WW.) I’ve been with this team ever since I was 2 on my dad’s shoulders celebrating the cup down town calgary.

          • Atomic Clown

            I concur with zesty’s comment about the completely non thought out trade proposals. Why yes the Los Angeles Kings would love to give the flames Toffoli for Michael Stone. While they’re at it, why don’t the king’s retain 50% of salary as well. Fair deal and all

        • Zesty14

          Thank you dougiefred for understanding where I’m coming from. I’d also like to thank the entire FN staff for the fantastic articles that they day in and day out post on this site. You guys and girls all rock. @ puckhead your right I dont remember anything of calgary’s Stanley cup run when i was two. But my family tells me I would sit in front of the TV for the entire game. And that was the only time I would sit still if I wasn’t sleeping.

      • oilcanboyd

        Give ’em hell, zesty! Agreed on the line combo suggestions on this blog. With the 12 best forwards there are 1320 possible line combos; by end of season most of them will be proposed on FN!

        • buts

          How about Lazar for McDavid? I get your point……let people express there passion and if you don’t like it don’t write a chapter of war and peace about how it won’t happen. Better just don’t comment and trash instead.

      • Captain Ron

        I like your style Zesty. Thanks for the laughs!
        There’s plenty of garbage going on around here that you half to navigate through sometimes before you get to the good stuff.

    • oddclod

      Maybe run em by NHL2018 before speaking trade ideas outloud. And yah. A potential Lidstrom in Valimaki for a salary holdout the year before we need to pay for Tkachuk and most likely a #1 tender. Makes sense.

  • 左翼二

    57 for Smith is, like the rent, too damn high.
    I’d like to see something closer to 50/50 from this point forward. Low 40’s for Smith and high 30’s for Chronic (les of Rittich).


    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.

  • Stu Gotz

    Mike Smith’s agent today started contract extension discussions through the media. He is saying Smith has a 30 year old body. Treliving do not get sucked in!! This is a 36 year old soon to be in a 37 year old body! His skills are quickly diminshing…get what you can from Smith in this his last year and then good riddens!

  • Garry T

    The team has played real well in 5 out of 12 games. Playing well reduces shots and goals against. In the other 7 games, smith gave up goals on pucks he saw coming ….
    Or did he. I would like to see the team have his eyes checked. There may be an issue that an older fella might not want to discuss.

    Last two games, entire team brilliant.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    I’ll take the win last night even though the boys were about a minute away from not only losing, but being shutout by a club I regard as an inferior. I accept that a win is win, but I have this gnawing feeling that the Flames flush off their perfecto road trip will sleepwalk through the first period and perhaps beyond. I saw that too often under Gully as I did wins by the skin of their teeth. How cool would it be if this team came out on fire, burned brightly for three solids and torched the terrible snowmen?

    • oilcanboyd

      It is too bad the boys are playing a well rested team – Colorado last played on Saturday against the Wild, while the Flames made another trip East for back to back Mon/Tues. I will be damn well surprised if they came out flying Thursday night – but here is hoping. GFG

  • The Beej

    Wwyd? Here is what I would do.

    I would look at the rest of the year in 10 game segments. 9-4 is about a 2:1.

    In the next 10 games continue to give Smith the majority but perhaps increase Rittich to 4 gamed or 40%. If Smith continues to flounder perhaps the next 10 games you go 50%. By then we should have some more data to look at.

    The problem with Rittich was that he was great as a back up but floundered when thrown into the deep end. So dont throw him into the deep end. If he continues to show he is the superior option keep on gradually increasing his games and Smith is there as a safety net.

    Perhaps he can take a step forward and be a starter but with him I think gradually is the way to go until low and behold one day he is the starter.

    Of course as a previous post mentioned this is a small sample size and you dont give up on a player after a 10 game rough patch.

    But in saying that it is also a good idea to increase Rittichs starts to get more of a sample size of data on the guy. One of the problems we have seeb in the league over the years is that even back ups that post elite numbers… well its still hard to predict if they can be a starter with such small sample sizes… Darling… Raanta… Hutton… grubauer… every year it seems there are 1 or 2 that teams acquire to try to make that jump.