David Rittich entered the season as the backup to Mike Smith, starting just seven of the team’s first 20 games. However, as the season progressed, it was clear that the newly-coined Big Save Dave would move forward as the Flames starting goaltender by the All-Star Game.
Unfortunately, battling injury for over half the season, the Flames opted to rely on Smith again while letting Rittich reprise his role as the backup. In a season that could be seen as Rittich’s rise in the Flame’s goaltender ranks, his formidable play has given fans and the Flames hope of having a reliable starting goaltender for years to come.
2018-19 season summary
Early in the season, Smith vastly struggled in net. It was Rittich’s perfect opportunity to steal the starting job, and he made his case. In every aspect of the game, Rittich outperformed Smith. While it seemed like the coaching staff did everything they could to get Smith back to the All-Star form he was just one season prior, Rittich slowly and surely put up solid numbers in every chance he got.
For much of the year, Rittich was grouped among the best goaltenders in the league, in both traditional stats such as save percentage, as well as analytics-based numbers like goals saved above average. It was everything Rittich could have hoped for, coming off a shaky end to the previous campaign. The steady improvement in Rittich’s play coupled with his on-ice poise (unless angry) had many calling him the next Miikka Kiprusoff.
Flames fans have been waiting years and years for a bona fide starting goalie and pouring every ounce of hope into it being Rittich just seemed like the natural thing to do. He was so easy to cheer for; his admiration was rapidly earned. From hug after hug with Matthew Tkachuk, to absolutely calling Johnny Gaudreau’s overtime goal against the Colorado Avalanche, Rittich was a joy to watch.
When you have faith in your man>>>>>> pic.twitter.com/WezzRckPaC
— FlamesNation (@FlamesNation) October 14, 2018
In his eighth appearance of the season, Rittich earned his first career shutout against the Los Angeles Kings. The shutout came amidst a personal six-game win streak for Rittich. Later in the season, starting from the epic Calgary versus Tampa Bay showdown, Rittich had a span of earning standing points in 12 straight appearances (9-0-3). He ended the season with a phenomenal 27-9-5 record.
|Games Played||Save Percentage||ES Save Percentage||PK Save Percentage|
Data from Natural Stat Trick.
Compared to last season
Rittich improved his overall and even strength save percentage, up from .904 and .908, respectively. His save percentage on the penalty kill took a bit of a hit, dropping from .881 last year. Going 8-6-3 last season in 21 games played, the turnaround for Rittich was nothing short of exceptional. This year, he started 42 games, compared to last season’s 16. Most notably, he more than tripled his win total to go with his increased workload.
There are bounce back seasons, and there are breakthrough seasons. When comparing 2018-19 to 2017-18, calling Rittich’s performance anything less than a breakthrough would be criminal.
What about next season?
Expect the Flames to re-sign Rittich this offseason, who will require waivers moving forward. That shouldn’t be a problem though, as he should be the starting goaltender for 2019-20. The argument of who the Flames should use as their starter last season lasted a total of 87 games. As it turned out, had it not been for Rittich’s aforementioned injury, that argument would have likely resolved itself much sooner. As pointed out by Pat Steinberg, prior to getting hurt, Rittich posted a .920 SV%, compared to after, where he dropped down to .902%.
The big question mark will be how the Flames manage Rittich’s upcoming workload. Will Rittich fully recover from his injury and maintain a high level of play? With uncertainty of what the Flames’ goaltending tandem will look like heading into next season, it’s harder to predict what said workload will be. It would be reasonable to expect that he’d at least get half the starts, as Rittich made his case that he’s capable of excellent goaltending and can see success at the NHL level.
The Flames have a promising goaltender in Rittich, and it would be very much in everyone’s benefit to have him be the starter come October. Only time will tell if Rittich can replicate the success he enjoyed this year. The Flames’ competitive window is now open, and suffice to say, having Rittich as one of the two goaltenders the Flames can rely on night-in and night-out should definitely be a part of their long-term plan.
2018-19 player evaluations
#4 Rasmus Andersson | #5 Mark Giordano | #7 TJ Brodie | #8 Juuso Valimaki | #10 Derek Ryan | #11 Mikael Backlund | #13 Johnny Gaudreau | #18 James Neal | #19 Matthew Tkachuk | #21 Garnet Hathaway | #23 Sean Monahan | #24 Travis Hamonic | #27 Austin Czarnik | #28 Elias Lindholm