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.
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?
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?