Last night, David Rittich wasn’t David Rittich. The problem was that the Calgary Flames remained the Calgary Flames.
Feel of the game
Even before it slipped out of hand, the Flames were never entirely in this one. They didn’t start as disastrously as they had in games past, but Vegas was getting all the chances. Unlike their previous two games against Dallas and LA, the switch never flipped for the Flames, who had a brief lead that slipped away just as quickly. Vegas kept piling on, the Flames couldn’t muster much pushback, and that was all she wrote.
Really, last night’s Flames looked a lot like the team that has shown up in every game this season: slow starting, discombobulated, sloppy with the puck, defensively unsound, yadda yadda.
The good news
Well, if I really have to find some thing other than “it’s over” and “it’s still early in the year”…
The powerplay was actually looking great, and it wasn’t just one unit. The only time the Flames looked like they could wrestle control back from the Golden Knights was when they were on the man advantage. It’s cruel misfortune that they couldn’t get a goal out of it, because Vegas was absolutely out of answers. Their expected goals for (xGF- a measure of how likely a shot is a goal depending on what type of shot it is, how far away from the net it is taken, whether it’s a rebound or not, etc) was 1.42 goals, which is tidy work for only eight minutes of 5v4 powerplay time. If they buried one – ideally, two- it’s a whole different game.
It was nice to see Rasmus Andersson score a goal. He’s spent two games on the first pairing this season, but it’s looking more and more like that he’s earned that spot moving forward.
The bad news
At the risk of repeating myself here and in previous Embers, let’s just sum up the standard things that were bad: slow start, lots of turnovers, never threatening in the offensive zone at 5v5, passive penalty kill, bad depth players. Now, let’s move on to the unique bad thing about tonight, as it was the major difference in tonight’s results.
David Rittich had his first stinker of the year. He did make his trademark big saves -often thanks to some poor Flames defensive play- but he did the exact opposite of that (small goals?) just as often. It was bad, and that happens to good goalies. I don’t think it’ll be a frequent occurrence; he’ll bounce back and return to being the Big Save Dave we saw in games one through four. He’s probably thankful Cam Talbot is starting the next one, though.
The larger point is that Rittich’s bad game didn’t really matter with the Flames being unable to generate anything else on the ice. Even if you take away three of those goals he normally saves, the Flames lose. Rittich has been the story of the season thus far, keeping the team in games where they really could’ve been down by multiple goals after one period.
The Flames, like they did in the first four games of the year, relied on Rittich to make up for their glaring mistakes. First and foremost, that’s not a sustainable way to play hockey: no team can rely on their starter to bail them out each and every game. There needs to be some help from the rest of the roster, which just isn’t there so far. What’s even more frustrating is that we know the Flames are better than relying on their goaltender, having just finished first in the West last season without having a reliable goaltender for all 82 games.
This team can play some beautiful hockey. It’s maddening that they don’t. Last season, the Flames (mostly unchanged, mind you) scored ~3.5 goals per game. They have yet to cross that mark this season, with the high point being three goals, requiring some heroic efforts to achieve that.
Other minor gripes:
- It was very funny to see Mark Jankowski and Sam Bennett collide, leading to a Vegas goal. It’s mean, but sometimes all you can do is laugh.
- The Flames actually had a lead for once in a hockey game, something that they have rarely done this season (and really isn’t talked about a whole lot- they’ve only had leads in two of their five games). They responded by forgetting how to play hockey.
Numbers of note
2:09- The total time the Flames have been leading in the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. That’s out of 300 minutes.
41.37%- The Flames’ xGF% at 5v5. This is despite holding a 53.57% advantage in the CF% department. The difference in the two possession numbers? A 46.81 SF% and a 40 SCF%. They held the puck, but never did anything with it.
17:10- Noah Hanifin’s time on ice at 5v5, the leader on the team. The Flames have been quietly using him and Travis Hamonic as equally as the Mark Giordano-Andersson/TJ Brodie at 5v5
78.62%- Andersson’s on-ice xGF%, a staggering 54.21% relative to the rest of the team. He was really the Flames’ individual bright spot last night.
0.00%- Step on up Bennett, Jankowski, Milan Lucic, Derek Ryan, Tobias Rieder, Andrew Mangiapane, Brodie, and Michael Stone: this was your GF% against Vegas. Each of these players was on the ice for at least one goal against without being on ice for one goal for. This is the entire bottom six and third pairing, by the way.
0-2-1- My record while writing the Post Game Embers, which will likely transfer to Nathan until I find a way to uncurse myself.
The Flames are back at it again today with their weaker goalie in net.
Hopefully that inspires them to actually play 60 minutes of good hockey, because they’ll be exposed early on if they don’t. The team feels like they’re resting on their laurels early on, confident that they can come back from any deficit. Bravado like that isn’t bad in general, but they haven’t lived up to that reputation. Maybe this Vegas game was the kick in the pants that they need.
On the other hand, it is equally as likely that they play down to a 1-4-0 opponent. Let’s see who shows up.