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Photo Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

David Rittich should still be the night one playoff starter

Seeing Mike Smith’s recent uptick in performance is nothing but positive for the Flames. Smith’s 3-0-1 record in four consecutive starts is an encouraging sign, but also remains a small sample size compared to the entire season’s body of work.

Likewise, while David Rittich’s play has dipped of late, it’s in contrast to his larger scale of work. Lots can change over the next 22 games, but through three quarters of the season, the evidence suggests Rittich is still Calgary’s best bet to start night one of the postseason.

The narrative for some right now suggests Smith is in the process of, or has already succeeded in, winning back the number one job. While that might be partial true internally, my feel is it’s far too early to draw that conclusion. With 60 games to use a sample size, Rittich has had the more trustworthy campaign and should still be the frontrunner to start for the Flames night one of the postseason.

Let’s take a closer look at how the season has played out for both goalies.

DAVID RITTICH

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Month GS Record SV% EVSV%
October 4 3-1-0 0.939 0.955
November 7 5-1-1 0.911 0.941
December 9 5-2-2 0.915 0.919
January 7 6-0-1 0.911 0.918
February 4 1-1-1 0.853 0.853

Rittich had an outstanding month of October and has struggled in four February games, but by and large, he’s been steady and consistent the majority of this year. The 23 games in the middle of Rittich’s two extremes really tell the story for me. A 0.913 mark over the course of three months is very respectable and was more than enough to give Calgary an opportunity to win in front of him.

Rittich has shown he can play at, or above, league average for an extended period of time. For the most part, specifically through the first four months of the season, you had a good idea of what Rittich was going to give you on a nightly basis. That was the opposite of Smith during that stretch, as Calgary’s veteran goalie was wildly inconsistent until recently.

Rittich’s February numbers are a total departure, which leads me to believe this is more of a blip on the radar than a negative trend. Perhaps he’s fatigued or maybe it’s just a bad stretch, but Rittich hasn’t looked quite as good recently, even dating back to January. He’s also been strong and steady for most of the season, so I’m curious to see how things progress between now and April.

MIKE SMITH

Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports
Month GS Record SV% EVSV%
October 9 4-4-1 0.878 0.896
November 6 3-3-0 0.895 0.902
December 5 4-1-0 0.899 0.899
January 4 3-1-0 0.888 0.904
February 5 3-2-1 0.907 0.926

Give credit where it’s due: Smith has looked solid over his last four games, and probably the best he has all season. Starting four straight for the first time since the very beginning of the year, Smith is 3-0-1 with a 0.915 save percentage during this stretch. He looks engaged and far more calm and composed between the pipes, which has not always been the case.

Until only recently, Smith faced a couple of significant issues: too many pucks going in relative to shots and the type of shots getting by him. It seemed as if a questionable goal was on the docket on a nightly basis, which is not a comforting thought heading into the playoffs. Thankfully, Smith seems to have gotten on top of this trend, at least temporarily, in his last number of starts.

With somewhat similar peaks in October and February to Rittich, Smith’s game has been consistently below 0.900 most of the year. This recent reversal is promising and comes at the right time, as it allows the Flames to ramp up his workload down the stretch. It’s also just a stretch of four games, though, which means he’ll need to keep playing at this level for a while longer to truly be “back”.

CONCLUSION

At all points of the season, I’ve believed in the importance of having both goalies at optimal. For most of the year, that meant ensuring Smith was not forgotten while Rittich was leading the way and getting the bulk of the starts. The roles have been reversed since the beginning of February, but that doesn’t change the importance of investing in both players.

Going too long between starts for Rittich doesn’t make a lot of sense, even with his play dropping off this month. Rittich has put together the better body of work and has only run into trouble in his last four starts. Smith has made this a conversation, which is a positive, but if the playoffs were to begin today, I still think Rittich has earned the right to start night one.

Let’s see how much things change in the next 22 games.

  • calgaryfan

    As a Flame fan I hope Smith plays lights out and the Flames win the cup. But reality is, Smith likely implodes and continues to be the Mike Smith we have seen for most of his time as a Flame. The team won the last four games because they are playing better not because of Smith. Rittich would have won those games if he got the starts.

  • Skylardog

    Some creative paperwork moves that would allow some moves at the trade deadline

    Its about cap. The first one is a must, as long as the pay to get the asset is not too big. This is available if I understand the rules right. Please feel free to correct me if I am wrong on how this works.

    1. Michael Stone to LTIR, frees up $3.5 million. Kylington can be used for $0.731 which means we could add a Dman worth up to $2.769M at the deadline without effecting the cap hit, and it would free up another $0.731 to use on another player, say a forward or a goalie. This is really an insurance policy in case Stone is out for the season and playoffs. They say Stone is in better shape than he was at the start of the season because he can train and work out, he just can’t get hit. We could have 10 good defensemen for the playoffs if we did this. If Stone never plays again, then we have filled a hole for next season already.

    2. A bit of a stretch, but put Neal on LTIR as well. Heck, we look better without him, but we could bring him back in the playoffs if the injury bug started to bite. None of us would complain if he didn’t hit the ice again this season, right? Can you imagine how good a forward we can get for a cap hit of $5.75M. The neat thing here, is that with a trade in the summer, or at the deadline, we can move out say Brodie or Frolik, and resign this pick up. This is free money to get better at the deadline without moving any key parts before the summer. The player would have to be a forward. The danger is if you can’t move assets in the summer to free up the cap space you just added. Add in Ky’s salary and we are up to a cap hit for a forward of $6.48M. We haven’t even touched the $4.5M in room we have built up by managing the players during the season. We can add roughly $11M up front, if we don’t use the space on a goalie.

    3. Bring in an insurance policy goalie. If you don’t add a really big fish forward, like Stone, then you have the original $4.5M built up cap room plus Ky’s $0.731 to spend on a goalie. That’s enough to bring in Howard, who has a hit of $5.3. The cost is the question. For a second is about the max I would think we pay for a rental goalie, although I believe it is too much.

    I am not condoning any of these moves or trades, however, there are smart moves given the money and flexibility we have. The Stone LTIR is a no brainer. Just saying there is a framework we could play around with.

    This kind of opportunity is why you make a push this year. How often do the gods align this perfectly for a team. May not happen again in our lifetime. Are core is uninjured, guys are having career seasons. The team is one of the best in the NHL. If not now, when? The hockey gods are smiling on this team.

    Let Tre pick the players to add in.

    Can we just get to 1 PM Monday already please.

    • Puck Head

      If it was my decision and I could only add one core player I would go for a goalie like Howard. A goalie is the one player who can single handedly get a team to the promised land.

      • Skylardog

        Its funny because earlier on adding a goalie was the one thing I believed you had to get done. Now I am leaning against that move. But if you jump at say Stone, or a big fish forward or 2, then you have to also add the goalie as insurance. You can’t spend up front without stabilizing the goalie issue.

        If you stay pat, then no moves should be made in goal unless you an add a guy for next season and /or beyond as a backup or a starter.

      • Jourflamesfan

        I agree. All I want is a goalie.
        However, it won’t be that easy to get one and you dont want to just throw assets away for someone who is no better than what we already had.

      • Jumping Jack Flash

        I just don’t see the value in Howard. He has looked really poor in the games that I have watched. I think McElhinney is a better option but I could be alone on this one.

      • Off the wall

        I believe Skylar is referring to three different scenarios.

        I like number 1 myself. It’s extremely doubtful Stone will see hockey action, though I’m not sure Treliving sees it that way.

        $3.5M plus the savings of using a 22 man roster for most of the season ( $4.5M) gives us approximately $8M.

        I’m all for improving our team. We don’t even need to trade anyone to make scenario #1 happen.

  • Skylardog

    Mark Stone sitting tonight. It would appear (although not confirmed) he has indicated he will not sign in Ottawa. This should open up the flood gates for the whole trade thing to get going. I assume Stone is now officially on the trading block.

  • FlamesFanFromMI

    Couple of things are similar as past. Who remembers Chad Johnston’s crazy run while Elliot was struggling? Then Elliot came back and then he laid a big egg in playoffs Anaheim won in 4 I can still remember idiots in Anaheim chatting “you can’t win here”. All the Stone trade talk is reminding me of Olli Jokinon and how everyone wanted him to be flame finally got traded I think had 2 goals and then it went downhill afterwards. I have seen this before and live through it so I am going to sit and laid back and watch. See how things unfold.

  • Luter 1

    The fact they are playing fast with Neal out of the lineup should make it much easier to have him sitting come playoff time if nothing changes with his game (can’t imagine he comes back faster or more physical). I think this has really allowed Flames to think of standing pat for this year and count on fill-in bottom 6 with the likes of Mang, Czarnik, and the Stockton trio. If they could get a physical bottom 6 player like Clifford or Kassian, it would temper some of the shenanigans afforded our better players. Monahan has been getting pounded lately.
    I’m betting they’re shopping Brodie if the right deal came, too much young depth for the future and I don’t see Brodie as a guy that would shine in playoff type hockey.

  • Puck Head

    What about Varlamov from Colorado? He’s 30 and in his final year of his contract? He shouldn’t cost much to get and could be extended if he plays well.

  • buts

    EDEH, your right I’m being negative. It’s a tremendous opportunity coming our way in April and I see our GM wanting depth on D, possibly adding a top 6 forward and ignoring a painfully obvious weakness in our goaltending. Smith has been bad for a large sample size. I’m hoping that I’m wrong and your right. With average tending by Smith this year we would have 10-14 more points and running away with Tampa. One bad goal in a tight playoff game is all it takes to get eliminated.

  • The Red Knight

    I’d say a season is a small sample size compared to a career, how many games has Rittich stolen? 1-2 ? Smith has done it for most of his career, I’m not confined Rittich ‘s number reflect his play more than team play . Here’s hoping but Smith has played better than Rittich of late so not sure what the logic is here.

  • Albertabeef

    Well lets look at the whole season’s stats but lets just look at the wins, Dave has 20 and Mike has 17. In those games the Flames won Dave has a 2.17gaa and a .929 sv%, Mike has a 2.22gaa and a .919sv%. Among goalies who have played min 15 games the two sit 23rd and 27th place in GAA, and 25th and 28th in save percentage. The stats are relatively close only problem is only 29 goalies have played at least 15 games so it kind of makes them both look bad. For reference McElhinney is 17th in GAA in wins(15) 1.92, and 16th in sv% with a .938.

  • thepharmacist

    Rittich getting so few starts after the All Star break doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, unless management directed for Smith to play more for the following reasons: (1) To showcase him because the plan is to have him involved in a packaged deal to bring in another goalie along with a impact player. (2) See more of him so that they can be confident that they don’t have to go out and get another goalie at the trade deadline . Or : (3) The decision has been solely by BP for reasons that he feels Smith’s puck playing (sweeper goalie ) gives the team the best chance to win and that he has intended all along for Smith to be the starter in the playoffs because of his experience. If it is the latter, I strongly feel that that would be a regrettable mistake. I am glad that Smith is playing better. He has improved on some of the technical flaws that have been evident throughout the season during the past few games. He looks more confident. That is all good. But it is only a small sample size of games that he hasn’t had to be that good in. Ultimately he hasn’t had to make the big saves which has been more indicative of how well the team is playing better defensively in front of him. On the contrary, it is also said that Rittich’s play has dropped off a little bit. Sure probably, but not that much. You can make that argument based on an even smaller sample size. He was in net against more difficult opponents and for the most part he had more defensive lapses in front of him. But overall, eventhough Rittich can not play the puck anywhere as well as Smith, the Flames goaltending is better when BSD is between the posts. He will give us the best chance to win in the playoffs when we are facing the best opponents. Last year, WSH almost went out in the first round in the playoffs because the wrong goalie started. They recovered. I am not sure we would be able to recover if we do the same. As for not giving Rittich the starts he needs to sustain his confidence and his winning form is what concerns me more than elevating Smith’s confidence. Hopefully in the end, both goalies can live up to their fullest potential leading into the playoffs. That would be a win win. My prescription : Get Rittich in the net. TOMORROW NIGHT.

  • Jourflamesfan

    Dorion returned to Ottawa on Tuesday from the road trip and has been huddled with his scouting staff at the rink working the phones.

    A league executive told this newspaper on Wednesday that every team contending for a playoff spot will call the Senators about Stone. It’s believed the Winnipeg Jets are the leading contender for the 26-year-old winger, but the St. Louis Blues are also expected to make a call.

    A report on Thursday indicated the Calgary Flames would be interested, but they’d want the opportunity to sign Stone to an extension. There were three scouts from the Jets in the building to see the Senators in New Jersey, but if they were there to see Stone or Duchene, then they got no new information.

    https://ottawasun.com/sports/hockey/…e-for-senators