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Flames 4, Jets 1 post-game embers: The Flames have a good starting goalie

During a game in which the Flames were largely outplayed, two of their own players stole the show: their leading scorer and the guy who should be – is, by all recent accounts –  their starting goalie.

Feel of the game

It took a bit for both teams to really get going, which is only to be expected following a holiday break. The Jets got things together long before the Flames did, though, setting the tone for the night: one in which David Rittich had to stop several high quality scoring chances, and one in which he did just that. This did not feel like a 4-1 game: it was one much closer than that, and one that the Flames likely would have been on the wrong side of were it not for their goalie.

But while Rittich was the biggest reason the Flames won, he wasn’t the only reason – it would have been tough for him to score goals, after all. Johnny Gaudreau put all of his talents on display through the night, with the Flames’ second goal – one that gave the Flames the most hope, restoring their lead not even a minute after the Jets had tied the game off of a brutal Alan Quine giveaway – really showing off just what he can do.

Down a goal going into the third, you knew a team as talented as the Jets wasn’t going to go quietly into the night; indeed, it was in the game’s latter stages that Rittich really had to make his best saves, but he was consistently impressive in doing so. Derek Ryan’s late penalty felt like it could have spelled doom, even with Rittich performing as well as he was; Mark Jankowski quickly put an end to that, however, and the Flames didn’t just snap their three-game losing streak – they also won the season series over the Jets, a team in contention for first in the West (which goes nicely with their season series win over the Predators, as well).

The good news

Rittich has to be considered the Flames’ starter now, right? There’s really no other excuse to have him start both against the NHL’s top team in the Lightning and get the first game back following a four-day break, and against another top team at that. And considering how pivotal Rittich was in keeping the Flames in the game – not only did he face so many high danger Jets scoring chances head on, but his lateral movement around his net was perfect in keeping the puck out, as well – he absolutely has to be getting the bulk of the starts from here on out. He’s just plain better than Mike Smith. He was one bad giveaway from shutting out one of the few teams above the Flames in the standings. Rittich has been a much-needed revelation this season.

Gaudreau scored a hat trick, just the latest example of how impressive a player he is offensively (to say nothing of some great backchecking efforts highlighted during the game). It’s the third time he’s had a three-point game in the past seven outings. He epitomizes the phrase “having the puck on a string” – it wasn’t just that his second goal of the night was timely (another one of those “big game” moments), it’s that it was one of those ones you go back and watch over and over and over again because it was just so pretty.

Elias Lindholm was a little outdone by his teammate, and he only got two points on the night, but he was pivotal in the Flames’ first three goals: Gaudreau trying to pass to him on the first one, the perfect passing with his teammate on the second one, and rushing up the ice with Jankowski on the third goal – and shorthanded at that. Lindholm has been a revelation: on a line with him, Gaudreau, and Sean Monahan, who can you afford to leave open? Turns out the answer is none of them.

James Neal still isn’t scoring, but he had the most jump among all the Flames to start the game, nearly scoring early on and drawing the team’s first powerplay. Here’s a factor to consider with Neal, even as his offensive totals have been underwhelming all year: he has a reputation in the NHL as a scorer. Teams still have to treat him as a serious threat (and he’s still showing why: those pucks probably aren’t going to keep ringing off the posts forever). And as long as games like this keep up, at some point, that serious threat is probably going to break through.

Though the Flames overall didn’t have that great of a game, a number of their depth players still had their own shining moments throughout. Particular shoutouts to both the second and third lines for trying to get things going, and to both Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington for continuing to look like they belong, even with limited minutes. Watching Kylington jump up into the play in particular is a treat.

The bad news

You can find an excuse in both coming off of the holiday break and having to travel, but the Flames were thoroughly outplayed for most of the game. The better goalie and the better raw offensive talent won it for them, but there are still some things to work out there – and it carries an extra level of concern, considering how the Flames hadn’t exactly been playing their best hockey (Lightning game aside) before the break. Take the points, absolutely, but they didn’t look like a top team on the ice.

Their powerplays in particular were pretty poor. The Flames spent a lot of time chasing, and didn’t exactly look threatening through four attempts.

It’s probably not that bad of a thing that it took Alan Quine nine games to make his first catastrophic mistake in a Flames jersey, and it ended up being not that big of a deal, but man, Quine’s giveaway was really, really bad.

A chippy game is one thing, but things like Noah Hanifin’s accidental knee to Connor Hellebuyck’s head, or Dustin Byfuglien (probably purposefully) slashing Gaudreau in what was clearly a losing effort really takes the thrill out of a victory. It’s good everyone’s okay, but things would have been just that much more fun without incidents like those. Some are unavoidable, and some are just being a sore loser – kind of brings back some memories of the Wild games earlier this month.

Numbers of note

41.3% – The Flames’ 5v5 corsi. Big Save Dave, folks.

3 – Jankowski is tied for second in the NHL with three shorthanded goals (Michael Grabner has four). He has five goals total this season.

10 – With 10 shorthanded goals this season, the Flames are second in the NHL – just one back of the Coyotes. Seven Flames have shorties this year; only four Coyotes do.

4 – Gaudreau now has four hat tricks in his career. They have all been scored during the month of December, for some reason. Two have been on a Dec. 22.

41 – With two assists, Lindholm now has 41 points on the year. He’s four away from his career high: 45 points in 72 games during the 2016-17 season. He’s played 38 games this year.

4 – Speaking of 40+ point players, the Flames now have four of them: Gaudreau (51), Monahan (43), Matthew Tkachuk (42) and Lindholm (41). The Avalanche, Lightning, and Leafs have three 40+ point players each, so nobody is matching the Flames.

5 – Both the number of shots Neal had, leading the team, and where Gaudreau ranks in league-wide scoring.

0.926% – After a 0.972% outing, Rittich’s season save percentage is tied for third among all NHL goalies with at least 1,000 minutes played.

Final thought

The Flames got back on the right track thanks to their goalie. When’s the last time we could say that? Hopefully the rest of the team finds their legs again soon, because again: we know they’re better than this. Though that they were outplayed by a top team, and still won 4-1… This team is in such a good spot.

With a couple of Pacific Division outings coming up, they’ve got a chance to really start to pull away.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    Smitty should start Saturday’s game if you look at the schedule. You’ll want Rittich for the Sharks and again to start off the roadie against those pesky Wings. Rittich must get the start in Boston and should start in Philly. Might go back wth Smitty to end the roadie in Chicago. If Smitty doesn’t start against Van, and Peters follows my thinking, then it’ll be two and a half weeks between starts for Smitty, and that’s really poor goaltending management.

    • freethe flames

      Vancouver is sneaking up on teams so don’t take them lightly. There is nothing wrong with your logic all I’m saying is don’t take the Nuck’s lightly.

    • Rudy27

      I think BP should play our best players (goalie) against division rivals. A loss or tie to other division teams doesn’t hurt you in the standings so much.

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      It’s a tough call. In his previous starts against VAN, he’s let in 8 goals. Not that I consider VAN a tough team, but they have players that can score. Watching Smith’s last game against STL, he’s not playing well enough to go to him. Start BSD vs VAN because he got the last win. Start BSD against SJS because he’s the best chance we have. Start Smith against DET and BSD against BOS. Problem solved. You can only go to Smith if you are confident in him, because he deflates the team with his softy goals.

      • Skylardog

        Yup. We need to wipe out Vancouver hope now before they too throw their hat in the ring as a contender for a playoff spot in the Pacific. Don’t need 6 teams pushing for 3 to 5 spots. If we have 6 teams pushing, that will mean less chance for 5 teams coming from this division.

      • BlueMoonNigel

        The upcoming road trip is a trap, like the game against the Blues before Christmas. They will play 3 teams struggling just to stay in the playoff hunt and a Bruins team that has been hot and cold all season. Detroit doesn’t win much these days but they remain a tough out most nights. The Flyers can put pucks into the net. They just can’t keep them out. Ditto for the Hawks. Fewer than 6 points on this roadie will be a failed week for the Flames. They have to start the trip with a solid win in Detroit and Rittich gives them the best chance to do that.

        • Avalain

          So, I can understand getting off to a good start on a road trip, but starting Rittich in both Detroit and Boston is a bad idea. Goalies shouldn’t start both games of a back-to-back, much less one with travel in between. So which one do you give Smith? Personally, I think Smith can handle Detroit.

    • FlamesFan27

      Rittich is clearly much better than Smith, both by watching them (Rittich is calm and poised, Smith is thrashing around and lunging at pucks) and by the numbers (Rittich is near the top of the league, Smith is near the bottom).

      As long as Rittich continues to play well, you play him except in back-to-back games. Give Rittich the Vancouver and San Jose games (key division matchups), split the Detroit and Boston back to back games and go from there.

  • freethe flames

    There are nights when you need your goalie to steal a game for you and last night was one of those nights. The Flames gave up to many quality opportunities but Rittich saved the day. I thought we played better in the second period than the first.

    My thoughts on other players in last nights game: Neal whom I bash regularly had as good of game as he has had all year; his feet were moving and he was engaged a bit physically. If he continues to play that way then things could turn around for him but nothing he has done so far has shown he is worth the money being paid.

    The 2nd PP unit needs to rejigged; it just does. A few writers here say well we put our top 4 forwards on the 1st unit what do you expect. I say if it’s not working try something different; if that means giving Johnny double time then do it. Other teams double up their top players on the PP. Even if you don’t double Johnny up do something different; Ryan is not I repeat not a player who should be on the PP. I honestly believe the 2nd PP should have a Janko replace Ryan and Andersson with that sweet shot replace Hanifin.

    • Skylardog

      Both Ryan and Backlund should not be on PP2. Go to 3F 2D, using Kylington as a forward and frankly, I would use Ky as the quarterback ala Johnny’s role.

      That means Bennett-Janko-Neal-Ky-Andersson in my books.

      It also allows you to come back with these rested 5 guys after the PP when you face the oppositions top line.
      Fro-Backs-?
      Hanifin-Hamonic
      where the ? is Hath or Ryan, but shows the need to bring back Dube.

      • calgaryfan

        Skylar, Ryan and Backlund have their place on the Flames but as you say neither should be on the PP. Backs just looks lost and Ryan just loses the puck too often. Giving Janko a chance would not make the PP any worse. It is time to reward Andersson and Kyllington with more ice time. Like your idea.

      • Just.Visiting

        Certainly worth a try. PP2 hasn’t worked all year, and it continues to seem odd not to have Ras and his big shot out there when he’s good enough to put out in empty net situations when the team needs a goal.

        The change might get Janko going more too.

        Neal has looked a lot better the past few games….It would be great to see him pop a couple soon and to build on that platform of success moving forward.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      I agree we gave up far too many HDS chances but I could not tell if it was spread evenly among all pairings. I noticed that Brodie and Hanafin struggled but the rookies don’t seem to make any glaring mistakes albeit in there sheltered minutes.

  • Fat Tony

    It’s been while since I was excited to watch our goal tender. He is starting to have that effect. Like when the Habs are playing and you pay particular attention to Carey Price. I’m not comparing the two, I just haven’t seen a guy in a Flames uniform doing Big Save Dave things since the fans were chanting Kipper. It’s refreshing.

    • BlueMoonNigel

      Wasn’t it about this time 2 years ago when Flamedom was madly in love with Johnson and had anointed him the new Kipper? I distinctly recall taking Steinberg to task on FN for his silly suggestion that the Flames reup Johnson early in the new year for 4 years and $16M. Later that same season, Flamedom went gaga over Brian Elliot and his single-handedly making the Flames a playoff team. It’s great to want to think Rittich is the real deal but the guy needs a lot more games under his belt before we start speaking of him in the same revered terms e reserve for Vernon and Kipper.

      • Chucky

        There is a real difference between BSD and Johnson and Elliot. We have watched this guy develop, seen the large number of shutouts in Stockton and have been impressed by his wonderful positional play. I am not yet convinced that he is the reincarnation of Kipper but we know a lot more about him than the other two.

  • Baceda

    I know it wouldve seemed like a travesty at the time, but in hindsight we would be in better shape goaltending wise if we had traded Gillies for Smid instead of Broissot.
    Hes rocking and 8-1-1, 2.11 GAA, .939 stat line for the Jets.
    Very nice numbers for a back up.
    Aw well, hindsight is 20/20 right?

  • Skylardog

    Frankly, other than the Tampa game, we haven’t looked good as a team for about 2 weeks. Fortunately, some of our top guys have been lights out some nights to pull out points and wins. Gotta like the ability to win even when we play like crap (our crap this year is darn good, but with each win the standard just gets way higher). But we need to put this back together, in particular our defensive game when the bottom 3 lines are out. They had been great early in the season defensively, even though they couldn’t score, but now are having some very poor defensive shifts. BSD is saving the bacon.

    I believe Neal will get this going, and when he does, and when we begin to see Janko snipe like he showed he can last night, we will be unstoppable.

    A note on BSD. Not only can he move like a gazelle from side to side, but unlike many top NHL goalies who can move like that, he can also come to a complete stop before he ends up outside of the cease. He is so smooth, so positionally solid. He makes it look easy. Tough to beat a guy that is in the right place all the time.

    • Alberta Ice

      Koskinen let in 4 goals on 6 shots. Wasn’t expecting that, especially since he was putting up better numbers than Rittich. But, man, did Rittich ever show elite skills and calmness in net last night. I hope he plays against both the Canucks and Sharks and plays on that same level.

  • Orrwasbest

    Can’t get excited about this win. The score was 4-1 but should have been for the Jets based on play. Great game by Rittich stole the win. JG is getting to be a better magician with the puck all the time. A couple wow moments every game! Also impressed with the two rookies on D hanging in there!

    • Avalain

      Games like this happen once in a while. It makes up for those games where the Flames just can’t beat a hot goalie. Honestly, the last couple years it seems like it’s always been the Flames running into a hot goalie rather than having the hot goalie. It’s a nice change.

    • cberg

      The goalie is part of the team, the team overall is who won. You could remove probably a dozen guys’ contributions and the team would have lost…. the goalies are just that much more apparent, and important because the stops they don’t make arein the net.

      • I think the point is that if you get outplayed most of a game but steal a win it isn’t something to feel too confident about and not that you should be happy with the win. How is this something to argue?

    • Kevin R

      Keep playing Riitch until he asks for a break. He’s young, he’s playing his best hockey of his short career so far, I say work him like a beaten mule & grab every stinking win & points we can. When things get nasty in March & early April, it would be nice to rest guys because we already punched our ticket to the dance early.

  • Jimmyhaggis

    Lucky win, the team looked so out of sync, giveaways, bad passes and lazy play by some passengers, Quine, Ryan, tell me why does Ryan get so much power play time, he’s barely an average NHLer. If I was Peters, I would be concerned about the overall play of the guys the last few games, I hope their heads aren’t getting big.
    Rittich was outstanding, many highlight reels, they have to admit he’s their starter, let’s get that out of the way.

    • Kevin R

      Why? Just play Riitch & answer is solved. Dont need a full ad page in the Herald to announce this. Obviously the guy is being utilized as the #1, nothing more to dissect.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    I think it is time for Rittich to get his due. He is top 3 in GAA and SV% after 21 games. An argument could be made for him to get consideration for the All -Star game but I don’t think he has played enough games. People keep waiting for the wheels to fall off not realizing that it is not happening, in fact he is getting stronger against stronger competition. He played well enough to get a shutout against one of the best home teams in the league and played well enough to beat the top team in the league. That is pretty impressive.

    • Skylardog

      I was thinking about the All-star spot for Ritter. I think he deserves one. Gibson is a shoe in, after that you have Fleury who has been average at best, and the backup in Edmonton, who let in 4 goals on 6 shots last night but has been good. However, if you take Gio and Johnny, that leaves Ritter out. Ritter is definitely one of the top 2 in the Pacific so far.

  • Flamesforever

    I’m happy with the win, good teams still need to lean on there goalies when they are not at there best. I point to Winnipeg’s last game before the break against Vancouver. A 1-0 victory where they were completely outplayed. We have ourselves a contender my friends. GFG ?

  • Skylardog

    We were talking about the poor 2nd PP up above. I realized I didn’t even consider Czar even though he may be the best set up guy among the rest after the top PP goes out.

    He has become irrelevant less than a quarter into his contract, not that it is a big or long one. Time to let him go. Just not an NHL fit. Shame we signed him to be one.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      I must admit, I was surprised that Quine received as many shifts after his hellacious give away. BP seems to be pushing all the right buttons and not punishing the rookies for making mistakes. I would not give up on Czarnik yet, he is more NHL ready than what we have in the pipeline on a reasonable contract. He needs to watch how Johnny goes into the dirty areas and pays the price. Czarnik is adverse to physical contact in a contact sport…that won’t cut it.

  • TKO

    according to an article from somewhere else, if you take the top11 teams in the league and compare their record against each other, Flames have far and away the better record, going 10-2-2 against these teams…
    bodes well for the post season