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Maybe David Rittich’s season isn’t as surprising as it seems

Big Save Dave is no unreliable nickname. In fact, David Rittich has lived up to his moniker as well as anyone this season and he’s quieted Calgary’s goaltending conversation as a result. As we approach the midway mark of the season, Rittich sits in elite company as one of the NHL’s best and is showing no signs of falling off.

On the surface, Rittich’s explosion looks like it came out of nowhere, especially compared to what we saw in the second half of last season. I know I certainly didn’t expect Rittich to be one of the league’s best entering 2019. Analyzing his career a little closer, though, suggests his giant step forward isn’t as big a shock as you’d think.

THE SEASON SO FAR

Just so no one can accuse me of overstating things or wearing rose-coloured glasses, let’s drive home how good Rittich has been this season. Statistically, only a handful of goaltenders have been better, which is in line with what we’ve seen with our own eyes. Only two goalies have a better overall save percentage than Rittich’s thus far (minimum 10 starts) as charted below.

Goalie Team Starts SV% Record
Jaroslav Halak BOS 21 0.928 12-6-2
John Gibson ANA 31 0.927 15-11-4
David Rittich CGY 18 0.926 12-4-2
Casey DeSmith PIT 20 0.926 11-6-4
Pekka Rinne NSH 26 0.925 14-9-1

While save percentage is one of the more telling “traditional stats” you can find, it’s not always a perfect indicator. For many, a more telling metric is a goalie’s even strength save percentage. Well, in that case, Rittich’s work shines just as bright, using the same criteria as above.

Goalie Team Starts EVSV%
Cal Petersen LAK 10 0.951
Pekka Rinne NSH 26 0.941
David Rittich CGY 18 0.939
Jaroslav Halak BOS 21 0.939
Frederik Andersen TOR 30 0.935

Sure, Rittich’s sample size isn’t as large as what we’ve seen from Andersen, Gibson, or Rinne, but 18 starts isn’t something to sneeze at, either. Rittich legitimately belongs in the conversation as one of the league’s best goalies through the first half of the season. That’s said with the full understanding there’s plenty of time left for his story to be fully written, for better or worse.

GRADUAL PROGRESSION

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Had you told me in March or April of last season that eight months later Rittich was going to be one of the NHL’s best, I absolutely wouldn’t have believed you. When Mike Smith went down in February and Rittich was given a true starting opportunity, he struggled mightily.

As such, some were skeptical, including myself, Rittich was ready to take on a larger role in Calgary’s crease this year. To make matters worse, Rittich’s 2018 preseason was less than encouraging and he essentially won the team’s backup job by default. To make a long story short, you weren’t alone if you weren’t anticipating what we’ve seen from BSD.

But something clicked for me early on as Smith was struggling and Rittich was starting to turn the narrative in his direction. Let’s not forget last season was Rittich’s first seeing anything close to regular action on the world’s best circuit.

In a league that eats goalies and chews them up, he was by no means the first to falter when given a shot to start regularly in the NHL. To make definitive judgments based on two months of work was wholly premature. And let’s also remember he was very strong prior to Smith’s injury, which suggested the raw talent to succeed was absolutely there.

In a position that is anything but a perfect science, seeing steady progression is almost always a positive indicator. Essentially, that’s all we’ve seen from Rittich since he started playing high level hockey in the Czech Republic. As shown below, Rittich’s first season in the Czech Extraliga (his country’s top domestic league) was very mediocre, but he climbed the ladder quickly.

Minor professional NHL
Season Team GP SV% Season Team GP SV%
2014-2015 Mlada Boleslav BK 23 0.891 2017-2018 Calgary 21 0.904
2015-2016 Mlada Boleslav BK 48 0.917 2018-2019 Calgary 21 0.926
2016-2017 Stockton 31 0.924

Rittich’s career path looks very much the same at lower levels throughout his career, too. In an eerily steady fashion, Rittich has started in a new league (Czech U18, Czech U20, Czech second tier pro) and struggled. And, without fail, he’s taken a sizeable jump the next season. Knowing that, maybe we shouldn’t be stunned he’s done that in the NHL, which was a new league for him last year.

CONCLUSION

Before Christmas, one of our “Flames Wishlist” items was more playing time for Rittich. Well, knowing the way he’s played, you probably don’t have to close your eyes too hard for that to become a reality. Rittich has been outstanding to watch and the numbers back him up as one of the NHL’s best through the first half of the season.

Yes, getting the job done over an entire NHL schedule is something we still need to see from Rittich. As of right now, though, all we can go on is what we’ve seen from him to date. Rittich has taken a massive jump from one NHL season to the next and, judging on what he’s done his entire career, that really shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise.

  • Heeeeere’s Johnny

    At the very least I have hope that Rittich can do an adequate job holding the fort until we see what we have in Parsons. We’re going to need a backup / 1B for next year though. It ain’t Gillies and it ain’t Schneider.

  • kirby

    Seeing the nuances of his play last year, the way Rittich is performing this season is no surprise whatsoever. Some people freaked out about how he wasn’t starting caliber because he struggled a little when thrust into the #1 role due to injury, as if that’s supposedly abnormal for a rookie goalie in the NHL who’s also adjusting to living in a new country. He had it all along and still hasn’t even reached his potential.

    Just like Smith’s struggles this year are absolutely no surprise after seeing how he constantly plays with sloppy clunky technique, let’s soft bad angle shots squeak through him, is weak on his posts, and tries so hard to play the puck as if he’s Marty Brodeur circa 1999 that he forces plays which repeatedly lead to stupid turnovers, scramble drills and empty net goals against. The times he would actually make a nice pass did not outweigh those plays.

    Dave is calm, cool, collected, has fun, and always has his teammates back. Mike is a hot head, easily knocked off his game, and calls out his teammates for effort and execution while he’s playing like trash.

    It’s not surprising at all to see why one guy is absorbing the #1 role while the other is being phased out.

    • BringtheFire 2.0

      Okay, all that is fine, but what happens in the playoffs? If he buckled under the weight of the starters role last year due to inexperience, will the same apply to the pressure of the playoffs? I love the guy, but let’s keep an even keel. He still has a lot to prove.

      In my view of this team, Rittich has to do it in this year’s playoffs to be proven as legit.
      Yes, he’s looked like a starter all year, but Calgary goaltending has broken our hearts before. Goaltending voodoo…it can all fall apart in a heartbeat…just some caution…

      • kirby

        Okay, so would you argue that we should start a rapidly regressing Mike Smith in the playoffs who has no future with the team and hasn’t even himself proven whatsoever that he won’t “buckle under the weight”? Rittich is our young goalie who’s consistently finding ways to prove himself. We have to get him that experience if we hope to grow with him as a young team with a young potential #1 of the future goalie.

        And hey, Cam Ward didn’t have any experience when the veteran Martin Gerber buckled under playoff weight. Less than 2 months later, he’s hoisting the Conn Smythe trophy and the Stanley Cup. The Capitals choked with Braden Holtby in net for YEARS, until they didn’t. Marc-Andre Fleury developed a rep as an unreliable postseason choker, was allowed to be plucked off their roster, and next thing you know he’s the hottest goalie in the game carrying a team to the Finals, etc etc etc.

        All that to say, yes goaltending is obviously fickle. Obviously nothing is ever guaranteed no matter who you have. Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur and Dominik Hasek lost in the playoffs too. Stating confidence in Rittich isn’t an automatic correlation to “he’s carrying us to the Stanley Cup right now” and falling short of that this year doesn’t equate to failure or “buckling”……but it IS saying that he’s the horse we should ride on that quest right now because he is obviously the guy who gives us the best chance to win, and the guy who has a future to build on with this team. Mike Smith is neither of those things, so “inexperience” or not feels pretty irrelevant in the equation when you recognize all that.

        This is just as much about the big picture as it is about immediate payoff. Even Crosby had to lose in the postseason before the Pens learned how to win. It’s a process, and Rittich has made himself a big part of ours.

        Experience has gotta start somewhere.

        • BringtheFire 2.0

          No. I’m definitely not saying start Smith in the playoffs, and I do agree that experience gotta start somewhere. What I’m saying is that dude has never been a starter, wasn’t drafted and hasn’t played a full year, but people seem ready to anoint him. I mean, even in your post you’re comparing him to Roy and Hasek, which is cool, but….you know?

          All I know is that before last season I drank the kool aid and kept drinking it long after I should have stopped. I was disappointed with last year. I guess that kind of soured me on hope.

          It’s just that we look so good and our coach seems so competent and sure of himself and the new players are doing so well and this is what I’ve been waiting for since the eighties…but I still have doubt. It lingers at the edges of the crease.

          Hope and excitement, yes, but even keel. That’s all I’m sayin’.

          • kirby

            Obviously i wasn’t comparing him to Hasek and Roy lol come on man. As i clearly stated after that part of the comment, it was a statement directly highlighting the fickle and non-guaranteed nature of the goaltending position in general.

            And to your whole “be even keel” sentiment, it seems to me as though you’re reading things into what i said that i’m simply not stating, and trying to argue against points i’m not making as a result. I even said that i’m not expecting immediate Stanley Cup success or anything like that, and that riding him as our #1 as he continues to prove himself is part of a more important bigger picture as opposed to thinking he’s suddenly this bonafide elite last-piece-of-the-puzzle type player right now.

            There are obvious signs of promise and things to be encouraged by. There is no reason to treat him as anything but our #1 right now, and he continues to give us hope that maybe he can be a long term answer as opposed to just a short term band-aid. I don’t understand how you get the impression that i’m jumping ahead of anything or flying off the handle with unrealistic expectations. You know?

            But i know what you mean about the tortured Flames fan mentality lol i’ve lived in that same reality for many many years.

          • kirby

            And to follow up, if you aren’t saying to start Smith in the playoffs due to Rittich’s inexperience, then what’s the point in worrying about it? It is what it is, he’s our guy right now and possibly for years to come. If you agree he’s our best option, that he’s our best goalie, and the guy who’s worth riding as our #1, then like i said….experience or not is kind of irrelevant in the equation isn’t it?

            He’s not being “anointed”, he’s just being recognized for what he’s proving.

      • Rudy27

        The way this team has been going in the past decade, I’d argue that there’s as much pressure just to make the playoffs as there is to win in the playoffs. If Rittich keeps playing and growing in confidence as he is, the playoffs will not see him regress as he would go in knowing he is a quality NHL goaltender.

  • Korcan

    For me, its not just the stats, but how he “looks” in net that is impressing. Calm, efficient, and in control of his movements. He rarely looks to be scrambling and his positioning is very good, which leads to difficult saves looking easy. These are all core elements that lead to long-term success. He does not rely on his athleticism to compensate for positional weakness. I think the Flames (fingers crossed) may finally have the good young starter they have been looking for.

  • RKD

    Last season Big Save Dave was thrown to the wolves when Smith went down in Feb. The team was already trending downwards. This season Rittich has been playing since the beginning, he’s a lot calmer and stronger mentally. His fundamentals are sound and his lateral movement is spot on. He’s definitely matured but also improved his goaltending to a very high level.

    • kirby

      No. We can easily do better. Mike Smith is not a “mentor”, and he’s not even a reliable backup at this point. At his age and seeing how slow and clunky he already looks, he’s only gonna be worse at this time next year.

      There is absolutely zero reason to bring him back in any capacity whatsoever.

        • kirby

          A leader? You mean how he calls out teammates for causing the team to lose in a time where he was costing us more games than anyone, and having teammates on the ice literally yell at him to shut up and make a save?

          He’s a veteran. Yeah. That doesn’t automatically mean he’s a “leader” though. And the difference in the teams confidence/play on the ice in front of Rittich as opposed to games Smith starts, where it feels like every time he plays we automatically start the game down 1-0 lol, i think tells us everything we need to know about who they believe in and respond to.

          He’s not a “mentor”. He doesn’t have good habits. He doesn’t have good technique. He gets moody and defensive when things don’t go his way. His play on the ice steadily regresses. Tell me why you’d want to keep him around to “mentor” and teach these habits to a young goalie who’s basically the exact opposite of him in every way?

          What do you know better about it?

      • buts

        Kirby you say Smith calls out his teammates after a loss, that he’s terrible moving the puck, when a Gio says he’s a big help. You say he’s not a mentor. He’s struggling for sure but he’s not as bad as your ranting. You sure seem to know a lot, I say you don’t.

        • kirby

          Gio says that because he’s a good leader.

          But i remember a game last year where, just as i was talking about with Smith desperately trying to be a playmaker with the puck and choking it up, Smith went behind the net to play the puck with 2 defenders bearing down into the zone as the Flames made a change. Gio was standing by the circles slapping his stick on the ice calling for the puck. Smith instead tried to be a hero, and instead of just giving it over to Gio who was literally yelling for him to give up the puck and get back in net, held it and tried to get cute. Coughed it up along the boards opposite from where Gio/any support was, and gave up a goal into a damn near wide open net as he scrambled to get back in position after his stupid turnover. Gio skates back to the bench shaking his head and rolling his eyes.

          That tells me what i need to know. The fact that Gio doesn’t take every opportunity to publicly blast him doesn’t mean the team believes in him to carry them or make the saves he needs to make for this team to be successful. It means Gio is a good leader who will keep those grievances in house and be diplomatic and try to build his guys up outside.

          And it’s not ranting, it’s blatantly obvious observational perspective. He DOES call out teammates, several times now. He IS brutal with the puck, to the point where me and anyone i watch games with literally CRINGE when he goes behind the net to play it. He’s not a mentor or a leader, the team obviously doesn’t respond to him on the ice and guys on more than one occasion have been spotted yelling at him during a game or on the way into the locker room.

          No offense, but your judgment of what i do or don’t know doesn’t really bother me. Open your eyes. It’s not hard to see.

  • Just.Visiting

    I had always been in the Gillies camp. I still hope Gillies turns it around and potentially competes for the backup spot for next year.

    I’m very pleased to state the obvious. BSD is giving us the most consistent goaltending we have seen since the Kipper days, with great movement, smart positioning, a bit of luck and a confidence that allows those in front of him to be play a better game.

    I think that BSD is our primary guy unless and until he loses that role, with Smith taking games as appropriate to ensure that Smith stays sharp and BSD doesn’t burn out. Fingers crossed that Smith recognizes and accepts the shifts in roles and embraces it in a positive sense of helping the team win in a different, but still meaningful, way.

  • Flaymin Frank

    There’s a constant undertow of doubt from certain groups in the media and fan posters regarding Diesel. He’s good now but sample size is small. Or “remember what happened last year”. Usually these are the same who say Neal is just on the cusp of breaking out. Give Diesel the love and respect that he deserves. We don’t have to make a bobble head fan appreciation night yet. But he’s doing some special things right now. Is he the next Jim Carey Net Detective – maybe.

    • oilcanboyd

      We are always hopeful, but then again, Koskinen in Edmonton was playing lights out and now has lost 3 in a row with SV% below 0.900…and last game he looked like Brian Elliott, 4 goals against on 6 shots. Then there is Curtis McElhinney (Flames 2007-10) who has recently became real good…goalies are voodoo.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    I seem to remember that when Rittich crashed in the NHL last year, he went down to the AHL and essentially played bad enough to lose his starting position. The truth is that Rittich was blatantly mis managed last year by GG.

    The coaching staff showed no confidence in him and then had to rely on him to be a starter. That type of coaching does not breed player confidence. On the flip side, BP has coddled Rittich more than most of us have liked. Rittich was not given the starting job even when Smith was costing the team games. Gradually, Rittich has taken on a more significant role and he has excelled.

    Now if Smith goes down with an injury, Rittich knows the coaching staff has confidence in him and he has confidence in himself to take it to another level. It is always a feel good story when the good guy gets the girl.

    • Chucky

      You are right there is a huge difference from last year in the way that the coaching staff has approached this and I think you may not have gone far enough. To me the big difference is that even with Smith struggling he coaches have insisted that BSD earn the starting spot. Right now he knows that he belongs in the net starting the tough games.
      Last year he grudgingly got the start because there was no other choice. This year he knows he belongs.

      The comments that indicate he fell apart last year are a result of short memories. The team collapsed and he was abandoned. His good positional play dd not get lost and he showed the tremendous determination to win that we are seeing again this year. Hopefully he can take experiences like last night where he stole a game against a top contender and build the confidence to perform up to that standard in the play-offs.

  • Jobu

    Love this guys attitude. Kissing posts, taking pucks off the head, celebrating breakaways early, jokes with the media and the refs.

    It’s clear this guy just loves the game!! And that attitude is infectious – loosens everyone up.

    Also, the kid can PLAY!

  • Sol Goode

    One thing that does not get mentioned very much is just how poorly the team was playing in front of him last year.
    I don’t thing it’s a coincidence he is playing much better with a better team in front of him.

    • FLT

      Very true. The entire team was often hot garbage in the 2nd half of last season. There’s probably a chicken and egg argument here, but regardless it’s not fair to pin the whole thing on BSD.

  • SgtRoadBlock

    well now we need to find cap room for Matty. Big Dave and Sam…
    That why i think any one over the age of 28 is not safe and could be move to open up cap space before the Draft day BT big Day

    GFG

    • corsiainthockey

      Chucky ‘ s raise probably be in the $8 M range. Benny ‘ s probably just a cost of inflation raise, say $2.5M, but Rittich?.. He shouldn’t get billions as there isn’t enough of a sample size. I would like to see a 2.5Mish with performance bonus if he can maintain a save% above say 0.925 (or something like that).

      • SgtRoadBlock

        still that $13 million to find room for, Smith off the book two buy outs will be off too at end of the season,The Cap will go up about $4 million..

        we could see two players be moved like Fro,Stone,Neal,Ryan AND Tj being move for picks for Cap space Plus r Ahl Roster is thin very thin need new Blood,
        Again Draft day is long time from now…but a good Gm plans for next year and even plan for Seattle incoming year after…

        GFG

        • Flamesforever

          I definitely see Frolik and Tj being moved at the draft, we need the picks. And we have the young guys (Ras and Dube) apprenticing to take there place. Also I could see Stone being moved depending on his health status.

      • KKisTHEproblem

        Agreed. I’d like to see a 2 year show me contract but partly depends on whether a 1 year still leaves him as an RFA. Not sure of the status of that. If he is UFA either way, I’d like to see a 2 year at between $2 and $3 (if possible)

  • FlamesFanFromMI

    Mike is costing us points Rittich is not if we don’t have enough points we are not going into playoffs end of story
    These annoying adds are pissing me off can read anything

  • Spider you muda&@#ker

    Ride Rittich till he shows you he cant then we might be F@cked because Smith looks like a guy whos career is over. Only thing that bothers me a bit is they should have been riding Rittich earlier in the season the team would be up by another 4-6 points. I understand why BP kept rolling out Smith because he was trying to get his confidence going but Im not sure its only confidence with Smith it looks physical to me now aswell. The one thing thst has me really high on Rittich is when he had a couple of tough starts especially the game against Columbus I was listening on the fan 960 and he talked about losing his confidence a bit. He went on to say that he gained his confidence back in practice! That was very impressive to me and his next start after Smith went on an ok run Rittich was back at the top of his game again. This shows me that Ritter is at the top of his game not only physically but mentally aswell.