The Calgary Flames put up a pretty good fight on Tuesday night to help keep their season alive, eventually pulling out a 3-2 win in overtime against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
After being traded to the Maple Leafs on Sunday evening, goaltender David Rittich made his debut with his new club on Tuesday after flying to Toronto on the Flames’ chartered plane
Rittich looked solid in his first start for Toronto, allowing just two goals on 27 shots in regulation before allowing Johnny Gaudreau to score the winner in extra time. He also had the quote of the night:
For this recap, we’re bringing back the Gould Stars. Rittich, no longer a Flame, isn’t technically eligible to be one of them (what lunkhead came up with that rule?). That said, his hastily recoloured equipment deserves its own special recognition.
No, David Rittich did not get a new set of blue-and-white pads over the span of less than two days. Somebody—presumably either a member of the Leafs’ training staff or, perhaps, Rittich himself—covered the red accents on the front of his old equipment with what appears to be blue hockey tape.
Obviously, it wasn’t a complete job. The other sides of Rittich’s pads, glove, and blocker all still bear the red and gold of his former club. In 48 hours, there’s only so much you can do.
Even Rittich’s “new” mask appears to be a repurposed remnant from his days in Calgary.
Its design is lifted—largely unchanged—from the mask he’d worn
with the Flames this season, with the obvious differences being the colour scheme and the updated logo on the sides.
Further investigation suggests this may not even be a different mask at all. Rittich’s mask was redone by a company called “Game Face Graphics
,” which specializes in mask wraps and decals.
Perhaps Rittich’s Flames design remains on that mask, simply covered by a new Leafs-themed decoration. Given his closeness to many in the Flames’ locker room and his attachment
to the organization that gave him his first NHL chance, it would be fitting for Rittich to carry a hidden piece of Calgary along with him in his journey with a new team.
Of course, he was going to fight.
Tuesday’s game was Flames forward Milan Lucic’s 1000th in the National Hockey League. The 2011 Stanley Cup-winner tallied an assist in the game to go along with his fight and now sits at 538 points (213 goals, 325 assists) and 1166 penalty minutes in his excellent career.
Lucic, 32, made his first big waves in the hockey world over a decade ago after being named as the 2007 Memorial Cup MVP. Playing for the victorious Vancouver Giants under former Flames coach Don Hay, Lucic established himself as a dominant and punishing player with legitimate offensive ability.
His most famous highlight as a junior came during that Memorial Cup. These days, it’s known in Vancouver simply as “the shift.”
Lucic channeled some of that lingering energy into his performance on Tuesday, which will be remembered as one of his finest as a Flame.
He got started early. Less than five minutes into the first period, Lucic played catch with Mikael Backlund along the right-hand wall before finding a wide-open Juuso Valimaki with a gorgeous cross-ice setup.
Valimaki deposited the puck past Rittich and into the wide-open Toronto cage. Chalk up an assist for number 17 in white.
Lucic dropped the gloves with the Leafs’ Scott Sabourin just past the halfway point of the opening frame.
Sabourin, playing in his first game as a member of the Leafs, deserves credit for having the willingness to fight an extra-motivated Lucic. Both players landed heavy blows but Lucic ultimately scored the takedown.
The last Calgary Flame to record a Gordie Howe hat trick—a goal, an assist, and a fight—was Alex Chiasson. He accomplished the feat in a memorable
8-3 Calgary win over the Anaheim Ducks on Dec. 4, 2016, which featured seven unanswered Flames goals.
During the second period of Tuesday’s contest, Lucic attempted to pull off an end-to-end rush and complete his own Gordie Howe hat trick. A well-placed stick from Travis Dermott ultimately foiled Lucic’s plan.
Lucic may not have come away with a goal, but he still managed to further re-establish himself as a useful player in today’s NHL.
Through 42 games this season, Lucic ranks eighth on the Flames with 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists). His 4.4 goals above replacement figure, calculated by Evolving-Hockey
, only ranks behind that of Mark Giordano, Chris Tanev, Elias Lindholm, Matthew Tkachuk, Andrew Mangiapane, and Johnny Gaudreau.
He’s not worth his contract, which will count for $5.25 million against the Flames’ salary cap in the 2021-22 and 2022-23 seasons. He’s also not close to making the Flames “actively worse,” as Yahoo! Sports’ Ryan Lambert—and many others—suggested he would
Lucic is far from being the perfect player. His contract does the team few favours and his lack of speed can be an issue in certain situations. That said, as he prepares for career game 1001 tonight, Lucic has done something many Flames fans might have thought unthinkable during his time in Edmonton:
He’s become somebody to root for.
The Three Gould Stars
It’s a play on my last name, see.
These “Gould Stars” will be used to recognize Flames 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: Derek Ryan seemed like a safe bet to be traded leading up to the Monday deadline. The 34-year-old pending UFA is currently in the final season of a three-year contract and counts for $3.125 million against the salary cap. He remains a Flame and was one of the team’s better players on Tuesday, posting a 57.77% expected goals rate in 11:31 of ice time at even strength. The Flames would be smart to look at a cheap, short-term extension for the versatile centre.
- Gould Star Two: Elias Lindholm is very good. He recorded a goal and an assist on Tuesday and remains atop the Flames’ scoring leaderboard with 36 points (11 goals, 25 assists) in 42 games. On a team with a minus-four goal differential, Lindholm is a plus-four this season.
- Gould Star Three: You didn’t think I was going to write 1,000 words without mentioning Johnny Gaudreau‘s overtime winner, did you?
If Gaudreau wants to come back, the Flames should do all they can to facilitate a long-term agreement. But—that’s a topic for another day.
The Flames will take on the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday evening in a critical game to determine playoff probabilities. You can catch that one on Sportsnet, broadcast nationally, at 5:00 pm MT.