WWYDW: With changing Flames goaltending landscape, who starts when?

It looks like, at least for the time being – however long or brief this window ends up lasting – David Rittich is the Flames’ de facto starter. He’s the one who gives them the best chance to win, and is possibly their best hope for the future.

With this recent development, let’s revisit a question: what would you do with the goaltending starts?

Though the wins and losses record certainly doesn’t tell the whole story, let’s remember that over the past seven games, Mike Smith started three games and lost all three. Rittich started four and won all four. Granted, Smith had a great game against the Sharks and it was the team that let him down, but the other two games he played were kind of the opposite.

(If we go back eight games – the eight games played since we last visited this topic in a What Would You Do Wednesday – we find a Smith win, but one in which he gave up five goals and his team had to battle back from being down 4-1. It’s still not the best look.)

There’s a chasm between the two’s stats. With a .931 save percentage, Rittich is, statistically, one of the best goalies in the NHL (fourth among goalies with at least 500 minutes played, behind Pekka Rinne, Jaroslav Halak, and Frederik Andersen). Smith, with a .876 save percentage, is pretty much the opposite: he has the worst save percentage out of everyone with at least 500 minutes played. (It’s close, though: Matt Murray is at .877%).

So it seems like it’s Rittich’s net now – or at least it should, but for the wrinkle of Rittich never having handled a starter’s workload in North America (he played 31 games for the Heat in 2016-17, and 33 for the Flames and Heat combined in 2017-18) and Smith originally being acquired in part because he has (a few 60+ game seasons under his belt, and a couple of 55ers in the past couple of years). That could mean the Flames forego the obvious backup role, and perhaps go with a platoon approach.

Or they could do a win and you’re in scenario, or just leave Rittich in net until he has a bad game – and we have no idea when, or if, that may come up.

One thing is for certain though: traditionally backup goalies will play on the second of a back-to-back, and the Flames have eight games before they enter a back-to-back scenario on Dec. 8 and 9. In the meantime, they’ll be facing:

  • Winnipeg (12-5-2, similar record to the Flames and a top team in the Central)
  • Vegas (9-12-1, towards the bottom of the Pacific and just beaten up by the Flames)
  • Arizona (9-9-1, one of just three Pacific teams with a positive goal differential so maybe we should be wary of them despite their .500 record)
  • Dallas (11-8-2, in that big Central mix)
  • Los Angeles (7-12-1, worst team in the NHL, only team Rittich has shut out)
  • Chicago (8-8-5, not really in that Central mix, already fired their coach)
  • Columbus (12-7-2, the top team in the Metro)
  • Minnesota (12-7-2, in that big Central mix)

I’m loathe to label any games “gimmes” this relatively early into the season, but Vegas, Los Angeles, and Chicago certainly seem to be trending that way. The other five teams seem to be more on the Flames’ level, with Arizona being something of a wild card.

So, here are the questions: do you give Smith the forecasted easier starts? Or do you keep giving them to Rittich to build up his confidence further, Smith’s be damned? Who is better suited for the tougher games: the younger goalie without a bad game this season yet, or the grizzled veteran who needs to find his confidence again? Do you give Smith any starts at all? (I would be surprised to see the Flames stick with one goalie for eight straight games.) Or should it all be performance based? If Rittich has a bad game, does that mean the Flames should go back to Smith for the next one, or give Rittich another start for a chance to improve immediately?

Rittich looks to have taken the net for now, changing this team’s goaltending dynamic, but there’s still roughly three-quarters of the season remaining and a lot of unknowns. What would you do for the near future?

  • deantheraven

    I think the next big test for Big Save Dave is to see how he bounces back after a bad game. That was how things kind of snowballed for him last season. Give him the net until his first loss on this run, then put him back in (unless it’s a back-to-back). If he’s able to come back from a bad one, he should have the net as the starter.
    If Smitty gets in in the next 4-5 games, it ought to be because Rittich lost 2 in a row. If Smitty comes back and wins, the pressure’s off everyone.
    My guess is at worst we’ll see a 1a-1b platoon until the trade deadline, or the 1st round of the playoffs…