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.
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.
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.
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.
|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|
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.
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.