Darryl Sutter’s Nick Ritchie shootout decision should be final straw

Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Middleton
1 year ago
Playoff hopes are on the line. It’s do or die. Up to this point in the story, the Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators have been swinging momentum one way and the other, with the Flames dominating the second half of regulation with the puck at five-on-five.
The Predators had the lead twice through regulation, and the Flames came back both times to take the game to overtime. And despite the exciting overtime, nothing was decided, so of course, a game with this kind of implication was going to be decided in a shootout. We pick up the story in the third round of the shootout after Jonathan Huberdeau scored in the first, and Jacob Markstrom stopped both Predators’ shots. There is a myriad of players to choose from on the bench, every single one of them itching to defibrillate their team’s dying chances of a postseason berth. The one head coach Darryl Sutter chooses? Nick Ritchie.
Yes, Nick Ritchie.
The team’s leading goal scorer, Tyler Toffoli, Elias Lindholm, Andrew Mangiapane, Blake Coleman, Dillon Dube, or even a defenceman in Rasmus Andersson were all options available, but instead, Sutter went for the slower, big, and physical depth player. The hockey world was shocked, to say the least.
Every single person watching that game was asking one question: why? What in the world would cause Sutter to go with Ritchie over someone with 34 goals this season?
Well, Sutter explained that the reason he selected Ritchie was because of his (one and only) shootout goal this season that he scored in a game with the Arizona Coyotes against Juuse Saros and that missing the overtime chances makes more of a difference than the selection of a player in the skills competition.
There is so much to unpack with this quote. First, yes, of course, the chances in overtime can’t be overlooked. There were so many opportunities for the Flames to end the game and seal Nashville’s playoff fate, but instead, they were unable to convert and ended up on the wrong side. But, an NHL coach perpetuating the idea that the selections in the shootout when the game is on the line don’t matter feels crazy.
This choice falls right into a vat of other decisions that leave fans and media members alike somewhat baffled. Of course, every coach has their reasoning, and I’ve even written before that you may disagree with his decisions, but they’re not made without a thought process. However, this has to be it for Sutter. I share the mindset of many others that say they don’t see a way this can continue into next season.
Fans are fed up; two of the team’s top prospects, Jakob Pelletier and Matt Coronato, are in the press box as we all watch a Nashville team full of young players and rookies keep up with and beat the Flames; and Ritchie was the third choice in a do or die game in the shootout. What more is there to say?
As much as the result might hurt for some (and be relief for others), it feels like the perfect representation of the 2022-23 Flames season. They outplayed their opponent; they out-shot their opponent; they were clearly slower than the Predators for a good chunk of the game; and a veteran depth player that is primarily used for his physicality was used in a big spot, and the game was eventually lost after regulation to give the team a franchise record 17 overtime and shootout losses.
It really is hard to make this stuff up.

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