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Flames 3, Maple Leafs 0: Rittich rises to the occasion in Toronto

The German chocolate manufacturer “Alfred Ritter GmbH & Co. KG” introduced its iconic grid-shaped “Ritter Sport” bar in 1932.

The distinctive square confectionery quickly caught on with consumers and now exists with at least 37 varieties in over 70 countries. In 2005, the company opened a “Ritter Museum” next to its headquarters in the German town of Waldenbuch.

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The museum undoubtedly contains all sorts of memorabilia and exhibits relating to the long-standing chocolate empire. A true Ritter Sport museum, however, would be remiss to exclude mention of the performance by the Calgary Flames’ “Ritter” against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday.

Entering his fourth full season with the Flames, Czech goaltender David Rittich needed to buck recent trends on Monday and put forth his best possible performance. His team entered the contest on a demoralizing three-game losing streak; Rittich, meanwhile, looked to silence his critics with a win for the first time in his last 10 games (dating back to Feb. 25, 2020).

How about a shutout to make the naysayers shut up? Rittich was the Flames’ most valuable player against the Maple Leafs, making 34 saves and stopping two consecutive shorthanded odd-man rushes while the Flames clung to a 1-0 lead.

With Jacob Markstrom out on a day-to-day basis with an upper-body injury and Louis Domingue in quarantine protocols after attending a close friend’s funeral, the Flames only had Rittich and Artyom Zagidulin available to play goal for them on Monday. (Fredrik Andersen and Jack Campbell also missed the game with injury; the Leafs started Michael Hutchinson in goal with Joseph Woll as his backup).

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In 2019-20, Zagidulin posted a 16-7-4 record in 30 games with the AHL’s Stockton Heat but only managed an .898 save percentage. The Flames needed Rittich to be good on Monday and he managed to exceed those expectations.

According to Natural Stat Trick, the Leafs dominated the 5v5 expected goals share on Monday by a count of 1.71 to 0.77. They outshot the Flames 23-20 at even strength and 34-33 overall. The Leafs had seven power play opportunities, including an extended 5-on-3 in the second period, but failed to convert on any of them despite firing a total of 1.14 expected goals’ worth of chances towards Rittich.

The Flames grabbed the lead just 3:55 into the game and Rittich played an intstrumental role in maintaining that advantage in all situations—including while his team was shorthanded.

After Mitch Marner took a tripping penalty at the 8:27 mark of the middle frame, one would be forgiven for assuming the Leafs might play a more conservative defensive style with one of their most trusted and offensively gifted penalty killers in the box. Instead, the home side caught the Flames off guard, generating back-to-back scoring chances against Rittich while down a man.

If number 33 in white had surrendered a goal on either of those opportunities, the Flames would have been right back at square one. Rittich did his job and, moments later, Matthew Tkachuk scored his first goal in 10 games.

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The Flames entered Monday’s contest having gone a full 180 minutes without holding a lead. They had spent 169:04 of that time playing from behind and the rest in a scoreless tie. Sam Bennett scoring early against Toronto helped to chip away at that narrative but it could have persisted even stronger than before had the Flames gone on to cave in against the Leafs’ counter-attack.

As seen above, Rittich and Tkachuk had other plans. Sean Monahan’s early third-period goal left only one thing to be decided and, eventually, Rittich skated off the Scotiabank Arena playing surface having recorded the fourth shutout of his career.

In other words, the Maple Leafs got RittichRolled.

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David Rittich is never gonna let you down. Graphic by Mike Gould. Click on this image to see even more highlights from Rittich’s performance.

If Markstrom remains on the shelf, look for Rittich to get another start for the Flames against the Maple Leafs on Wednesday. Domingue or Zagidulin could make their Flames debuts the following night in Ottawa.

Slumpbusters!

David Rittich was far from being the only Flame to shake a monkey off his back on Monday. As mentioned, Matthew Tkachuk entered the contest looking for his first goal in 10 games.

Sean Monahan, meanwhile, remained stuck at just two goals on the year after missing both of the weekend Battle of Alberta instalments with an injury. The 26-year-old centre had last tickled the twine nearly a month prior, chipping a puck past Toronto goaltender Jack Campbell on Jan. 24 while wearing one of the Flames’ polarizing alternate jerseys.

Both Monahan and Tkachuk registered a goal and an assist on Monday. Monahan now has 14 points (three goals, 11 assists) in 17 games this season; Tkachuk sits at 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in 19 contests.

Many of the Flames’ depth forwards would undoubtedly like to emulate Monahan and Tkachuk in breaking out of their slumps. Despite driving play at an effective rate, Josh Leivo remains stuck at zero goals and two points in 16 games this year. The injured Derek Ryan has just one assist in 10 games. Dominik Simon, Joakim Nordstrom, Buddy Robinson, Glenn Gawdin, and Brett Ritchie all remain pointless this season.

The goals will come. The Flames rank seventh among all NHL teams with 2.36 expected goals/60 at 5v5 this year; however, their figure of 2.15 actual goals/60 at 5v5 ranks 20th, behind the likes of Los Angeles, San Jose, and New Jersey. As the Flames get more positive regression overall, the fortunes of their struggling individual players will likely improve.

Nordstrom’s 2.50% on-ice shooting percentage at 5v5 ranks last on the team. The Flames have shot at just a 3.85% rate with Ryan on the ice. Leivo sits at 4.94%, while Ritchie, Gawdin, and Robinson all remain in pain at 0.00%.

For now, Monahan, Tkachuk, and Rittich make up the Flames’ first crop of Slumpbusters.

What penalties you gonna call? Graphic by Mike Gould.

(Seriously, isn’t it strange how players seem to snap these types of negative streaks all at once? This is purely observation bias but it definitely seems that when one dam breaks, others tend to follow).

Photo of the game

I have no idea how the photographers in Toronto do it. What an unreal shot. The shadows are incredible.

Also, go up and take a look at Rittich’s stick save on John Tavares one more time. It’s worth it. This photo was taken in the aftermath of that scramble.

The Three Gould Stars

It’s a play on my last name, see.

These “Gould Stars” will be used to recognize players who were noticeable—for reasons both good and bad—in the game being discussed. This is not a list of the three best players.

  • Gould Star One: Sam Bennett scored an extremely on-brand goal on Monday, crashing the crease and tapping in a puck that may or may not have crossed the line on its own power if left untouched. It was great to see Bennett contributing positively, although he somehow missed a gift-wrapped chance to double his goal total in the game.

  • Gould Star Two: Rasmus Andersson chipped in two assists on Monday and posted a +6.45 relative expected goals percentage at 5v5. The third-year Swedish defenseman logged 5:31 on the power play and finished third on the team with 24:25 of total ice-time. He’s good.
  • Gould Star Three: Poor Glenn Gawdin only played 2:16 on Monday, all at even strength. Josh Leivo barely fared any better, getting just 3:16. Both players saw only six extremely short shifts in the game. It’s hard to get much going in those types of circumstances.

The Flames will play against Toronto again on Wednesday, returning to Scotiabank Arena for a 5:00 p.m. MT match-up televised nationally on Sportsnet.