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Photo Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Calgary has a tough decision looming in net, and that’s a good thing

Despite being in the final stretch of what is likely the second-best regular season in franchise history, Flames goaltending has been a fiercely polarizing topic all season long. While I can’t tell you the conversation is going to die down anytime soon, I can tell you this: Calgary has a difficult goalie decision approaching very quickly. Will it be Mike Smith or David Rittich to start the 2019 postseason?

All of a sudden that’s not such an easy choice, which is only positive news for the Flames.

ALL SEASON

Seventy-six games in, there’s no doubting who’s had the stronger overall body of work. Rittich has had the better, more consistent season as opposed to Smith, which deserves some recognition. In November and December, specifically, Calgary owes a lot of their success to Rittich’s solid play.

Goalie Starts Record SV% EVSV%
David Rittich 39 26-7-5 0.911 0.922
Mike Smith 37 21-15-2 0.899 0.908

Rittich’s strong first half of the season allowed the team to thrive even as Smith struggled. It also served another purpose: it allowed Smith to get his game in order without the pressure of a team resting on his shoulders. And, as you take a look at the month-by-month spreads, Smith has been able to figure things out.

Rittich Month Smith
GS SV% GS SV%
4 0.939 October 9 0.878
7 0.911 November 6 0.895
9 0.915 December 5 0.899
7 0.911 January 4 0.888
6 0.884 February 7 0.919
6 0.901 March 6 0.912

The biggest positive when looking at those trends is Smith’s recovery, because he has returned to being a viable NHL goaltender over the last couple months. I would caution you to look at Rittich’s statistical drop as a big time negative, though. A closer look at things since Calgary’s January break fleshes that out a little more.

SINCE THE BREAK

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Smith and Rittich have basically had an even playing time split since the Flames came back from their nine-day CBA break. The overall numbers heavily favour Smith, which underlines his positive trend; in 13 starts since the beginning of February, Smith has allowed two goals or fewer 10 times. I know he struggled early, but even those staunchest in the anti-Smith camp can’t deny he’s turned a corner.

Goalie Starts Record SV% EVSV%
David Rittich 12 7-3-1 0.894 0.900
Mike Smith 13 7-6-1 0.916 0.924

Rittich’s numbers aren’t as alarming as they seem, though. Remember, perhaps Rittich’s two worst outings of the year have come since February began: a 6-3 loss in Tampa Bay and a 6-2 loss at home to Toronto. The Flames were no good in front of Rittich on both nights, so it was hard to pin much on him in either loss.

I’m not cherrypicking starts to make Rittich’s numbers look better, I assure you. However, knowing how steady Rittich has been all season long, I think it’s valid to remove a pair of bad outings where the team was junk in front of him to help illustrate consistency. Removing the Leafs and Lightning losses, Rittich’s save percentage since Feb. 1 sits at 0.916, while his season number jumps from 0.911 to 0.917.

It just so happens Rittich’s two worst starts this year have come in recent memory, but that doesn’t mean he’s fallen off a cliff. The fact is, both goalies are in relatively strong form, which is only…

GOOD NEWS

David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

Regardless if you lean more towards Rittich or Smith at this point, it’s tough to deny Calgary’s goaltending situation has stabilized in a big way. I believe Rittich is the team’s best option to start the playoffs; I like how calm he is in the crease, how he challenges shooters, and how he doesn’t play deep in his net.

If the Flames opt to go with Smith, or if Rittich gets hurt or struggles, I’m still comfortable in their ability to win, though. Having two capable goaltenders playing well is important heading into the playoffs; Washington, Pittsburgh, and Chicago have all used two goalies in deep playoff runs in recent years.

Sure, the ideal circumstance is having one guy carry the ball from start to finish en route to a Stanley Cup. Ideal circumstances are rare in the playoffs, though. That’s why the Flames wanted a tough goaltending decision going into this year’s postseason. With what we’ve seen of late, they’ve got one, and that’s an extremely positive development.

  • MDG1600

    When the playoff predictions start flowing in I expect some Flames fans to be upset that more people aren’t calling for Calgary to go deep in the playoffs. I am already hearing the talking heads on TV say some variation of – “Calgary has had a great season but I am not sure their goaltending is good enough for a deep playoff run”. For all goalies with over 20 starts this year Rittich has the 28th ranked SV% and Smith the 48th ranked SV%. For some reason we as fans have trouble accepting that so far this year Calgary has had very average goaltending at best. All the more credit to the quality of the team when you look at the wins they have accumulated.

    The real question heading in to the playoffs is can either of these guys elevate their game?

    • Flameon13

      I would say its too late for Smith to elevate his game at this point. It has been a hard enough road to get him back from terrible to average, but as for Rittich we have all seen that he has that other level when he can play unreal for stretches of time. whether or not he plays on that level during the playoffs depends on his mindset going into it. If he lets nerves get the better of him having the responsibility of being the starter then that can lead to an early exit, but if he can get himself excited and ready to grab the bull by the horns then I believe he will reach that level and carry us deep into the playoffs.

      • Jessemadnote

        Why would it be too late for Smith to find his game? He was an all star last year and our first half MVP. The guy has also been improving as the season goes on, I think both Rittich and Smith are capable of going on a run here and that’s a very good thing.

    • BringtheFire 2.0

      I don’t accept that Calgary has had very average goaltending all season long. I think save percentages are down around the league and our goaltending has been outstanding when we needed it the most, hence second in the league. I mean, one game we won 9-6. What’s that game alone do for the percentage? The infamous 9-1?

      Our goaltending is excellent, imo.

      • Kevin R

        Everyone is waiting for us to clinch before resting that top line. I think they need some games off sooner than later as they really arent saving games for us lately. we have the depth, time to use it & get guys rested for the big show.
        We have 6 games left same as San Jose, we win two of them & get a loser point from another & San Jose would have to win their remaining 6 to beat us. Time to rest some guys.

        • redwhiteblack

          The real question hanging over this team is “What is wrong with the top line?” If Monny needs surgery again is playing him at all smart? Many players have more goals than he does since the All Star break. If just a funk they need to get going right now. I would argue resting them does not solve anything.

    • HOCKEY83

      These are the goalies the flames could face in the playoff. other than bishop, binnington and keumper who are all probable first round losers in the other division all the other teams are hoping their goalies pick it up for the playoffs…flames are looking just fine. all goalie stats are down this season for most.

      Ben Bishop – .932
      Jordan Binnington – .930
      Darcy Kuemper – .921
      Pekka Rinne – .915
      Marc-Andre Fleury – .914
      Philipp Grubauer – .914
      Connor Hellebuyck – .913
      Devan Dubnyk – .912
      David Rittich – .911
      Semyon Varlamov – .910
      Martin Jones – .989

  • Honkydonk

    Rittich is weak glove side and close angle shots. Those are the type of shots you get in the playoffs not to mention teams will play you up to 7 times with a book on the goalies.

    My vote goes to smith by a tad

  • SgtRoadBlock

    so if Smith takes us to the cup vs Tampa do we resign him and show the locker room we reward people for winning or do we let him go and join the UFA bin and tell the locker room bah he failed us no cup and the same can happen to you ??

    • Flameon13

      I like the second option better. Even though BT trusts them, some of the players need that reminder to make sure they play hard. A big trade during the offseason might also remind them that the season doesn’t end at all-star break or TDL it ends when the cup is hoisted. As for goaltending I’d look at Robyn Lehner as a UFA or Cal Peterson as a trade option.

  • Flint

    It shouldn’t even be a discussion. For the sake of totally being biased toward Smith, or as biased as we can be, let’s ignore that he was brutal in 2018 and just take this year.

    Smith’s exceptional games have come against: ARI x 3 (28th), FLA (8th!), ANA (31st), NYI (21st), OTT (19th), VAN (24th). That’s all of them 8 above avg sv% games. The rest he’s been a .905 goalie or worse. The numbers in brackets are where the team ranks in the league in scoring. So, Smith is getting the softballs. Who knew FLA was 8th in league scoring?

    Rittich has been exceptional against: CLB (14th), NYR (23rd), VGK (12th), NJD (22nd), OTT (19th), CAR x 2 (17th), EDM (20th), PHI (13th), and very good against COL (10th), CHI (9th).

    So, yes, by a small sample of the last 12-13 starts the numbers favor Smith, but that’s the problem with small sample. Plus it’s more heavily affected by competition as seen above. Even with just the 2019 stats Rittich has earned the start and has been playing the tougher teams. Smith is the backup and he’s finally doing well at that.

    You extend it to the whole year. Forget about it, it’s not even close. Mike Smith has been a sub .900 goalie for the last 365 days, 12 games doesn’t make a good goalie a bad one and it doesn’t make a bad one a good one.

    • Flint

      I should amend, in the sake of fairness. Mike Smith has not been a SUB .900 sv% goalie in the last 365 days, as his sv% has been .900 over the last 365 days. I shouldn’t have written “sub” … but there’s no edit button.

    • Cfan in Van

      I don’t often see the quality of competition summed up when these comparisons are presented. It’s seemed like Rittich continuously gets starts against better competition, and that makes a huge difference.

    • calgaryfan

      I think the Flames know Rittich is the number 1 just by the starts he has had in March. Smith has had the easier games except the back to back where Smith got the Jets.

    • Albertabeef

      “CLB (14th), NYR (23rd), VGK (12th), NJD (22nd)” Rittich was not exceptional in these games, he struggled and got lucky to win. Not to mention VGK he played twice and split the decisions. Vegas, TB, and T.O., to me were the only high placed teams Dave has faced since January. How do you get COL and CHI as 9th and 10th place? Cherry pick much? Or just making up your own crap as you go? Basically any team past 8th place in the league(actual standings) is average at best.

    • Jessemadnote

      “12 games doesn’t make a good goalie a bad one and it doesn’t make a bad one a good one.” But if you remove the first twelve games of this season Smith has a .910 save percentage in the past 365 days. 12 games out of 37 starts is a pretty good chunk.

      • Flint

        How is that 365 days? 365 days is March 26th 2018 to March 26th 2019.

        If you want to talk small sample (ie the last 12 games then you need consider the things that influence that…one of which is quality of the teams. That’s why large sample is better because it smooths out the noise. So take 365 days (one year to date)… Smith is .900 including these last 12 games.

  • Cheeky

    Many on here seem to have amnesia, yes Smith is playing much better lately but at this point in time he is a good back up. We are never resigning him so get over it, Rittich could be our future but we will never know if he isn’t given the opportunity. Smith is like a roller coaster, he has his ups and downs, it’s either early season Smith or now Smith. Rittich on the other hand is consistent, he is solid. Just because Smith has put it back together lately doesn’t mean he will take us to Lord Stanley. Czarnik was scoring a goal a game at one point lately, now he’s back to his usual form. I’m not against Smith, I’m just a realist who knows that a steady quicker 26 yr old Rittich is a better option than a 37 yr old unsteady slower Smith…

    • Lazarus

      I don’t see anyone banging the drum to resign Smith. I’d start Rittich In the playoffs too, better to have Smith come in if Rittich falters then to have Smith start Game 1 with the Dome faithful foaming at the mouth waiting for Smith to slip up so they can let him have it..you know that would be the exact situation.
      No, I just don’t see the need to dump all over Smith when the guy has remained healthy and put in the work to turn his season around.

      • HOCKEY83

        I don’t know a single fan that would want the flames to lose the first game of the playoffs just to get smith out of there. Whoever is in net…win…that’s all that matters no matter who the win is attained. 1-0 or 10-7

      • Flint

        You seem to take the criticism of Smith very personally. DO you truly believe that there are any Flames fans out there hoping that Smith starts the playoffs and hoping we get swept and hoping that Smith plays poorly to proive a point? I doubt that.

        What I think people are concerned about is starting the inferior goalie for any reason other than straight up looking at the stats. This post for example says “a tough decision”…. that IS the fear of the fans that anyone thinks it’s a tough decision. It’s not. It’s a simple decision. RIttich is measurably better and has been measurably more consistent.

        Look, I’m happy for Mike Smith that he;s turned things around. Good on him! My fear is that people conflate that with him being the better goalie which by all measures is false.

        • HOCKEY83

          How do you figure I’m taking this personally because I’m responding to Lazarus comment.

          “the Dome faithful foaming at the mouth waiting for Smith to slip up so they can let him have it..you know that would be the exact situation.” all I said was I don’t think any fan would wish this. I’ve also said many times i think rittich will start and should start but wouldn’t surprise me if smith started. Not sure what you’re talking about

    • Albertabeef

      Dave scares the crap out of me. He is NOT a proven playoff goalie(yet). His stats have taken late season nose dives twice now in two seasons(you talk about amnesia lol). I think his confidence is vulnerable. I think it would be best to start with Smith than yank Dave if it doesn’t go well.

      • Albertabeef

        If we yank Dave in the playoffs, we can not allow him to play another game. Look what pulling him did to him earlier this year, he was damn shaky for at least the next month. Can’t have a shaky goalie in the playoffs or we are doomed. It’s best to start Smith and allow Dave to play hero later.

          • Albertabeef

            I’m not planning on Dave being the hero. If Smith plays his pants off he stays in. When both goalies are playing somewhat close hockey you go with old experience first. Smitty’s numbers have just been too damn good the last 3 months not to give him his last chance at glory.

    • HOCKEY83

      Does it take just one season to measure consistency now. Rittich was not good last season after smith went down. I think if Rittich is decent again next season then that will prove consistency. as far as Czar goes that chances he will be a member of the flames next season is probably close to 0% if the flames want to make room for guys like dube and are dead set to play neal again. Same goes for Fantenberg…not a flame next season if they want the D prospects to play.

  • First Name Unidentified

    Well last year after the all star break during a playoff like atmosphere both the goalies came out flat and we’re embarrassing. I hope that’s not the case during real playoffs. I would also punt Mony down to third and promote Doc to the first for the final stretch. Can’t hurt, Doc’s on fire, maybe he fires up both Johnny and Lindy. Mony can recover with the other recovery items like Benny and real deal. Jank can complement Hath and Mangi. Why not give it a try?

  • flames66

    The most important stat is team wins and losses Rittich has 7 regulation losses all year and Smith has double the losses in less games at 15. Team plays better with Rittich

  • Puck Head

    Numbers aside, Smith has to be the most unorthodox (and weird) goaltender I have ever watched. He is not calm and steady but instead makes the most awkward and ad lib saves imaginable. Visually speaking, he does not instill confidence in me and is the opposite of what I expect from a goaltender – calm and cool. If Dave gets injured or sharts the bed then you have to go with Smith. Otherwise, start BSD and hope that he takes the reins and runs with it.

    • HOCKEY83

      This i agree with. Very weird saving style. Flails his arms and legs out on a lot of easy saves. always looking behind him. but he wasn’t like that during the first half of last season. those 20 or so extremely easy goals he let in this season i think ways heavy on him. Always worried that the next simple shot is going to squeek through him. Ritter all the way but the flames are my team so whoever they go with I’m in til’ it’s over.

  • HOCKEY83

    These are the lines it looks like peters might go with against Dallas. as per NHL.com

    Johnny Doc Fro
    Tkachuk Backs Lindholm
    Neal Monny Czar
    Mangi Janks Hath

  • Guest

    Smith has been facing SOFT teams. Too bad these numbers are not adjusted for bad teams.

    Smith is 1-5 against quality teams since end Dec, and only one good start in there. He’s been better than the early year disaster but he’s been hidden most of the second half. The few times he’s been run out against good teams it mostly been a failure.

    No fault on Smith. He’s old. Everyone loses their fastball and his is gone.

    • Albertabeef

      When your fastball fails, you turn to the knuckle ball to extend your career. He’s totally knuckle balling it out there lol. Too bad he’s like Blue Jay pitchers and gets almost no run support the last couple months of the season.

      • Albertabeef

        Flames had only scored 7 goals in Mike’s past 5 starts going into the last game against LA. Now 7 goals in 6 games. He can’t do everything, and should not be expected to.

      • Puck Head

        Seems to me like you’re making an excuse for him with this argument. Good goaltending with good defence and a forward unit that can outscore the competition win cups. Poor goaltending can be, without a doubt, the Achilles heal.

        • Puck Head

          At the end of the day I think it’s safe to say that a Smith is ok but not great. Rittich is an unknown with the potential to be great?

          It’s a conundrum. If the goaltending was solid, Neal was a sniper and the top line didn’t disappear we would be having different conversations while tickling Tampa’s toes for first overall.

          • HOCKEY83

            Tampa is on pace and still in the running to set an all time NHL win record. They are a very special team. Flames will more than likely hit 50 wins…That’s great for any NHL team