The Calgary Flames enter Wednesday night time’s sport (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+) in opposition to the Buffalo Sabres as the prime group in the Western Convention, stashing 30 wins in 47 video games. Solely the mighty Tampa Bay Lightning have a greater report league-wide.
Certain, it helps when Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan have 27 and 25 targets, respectively. And sure, it has been good to have Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk escape. Even the protection has been stout. However the actual purpose the Flames have not fallen behind the Vegas Golden Knights or San Jose Sharks in the Pacific Division? David Rittich.
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In 24 begins, the 26-year-old Czech netminder has 17 wins for Calgary. He boasts a .920 save proportion and a pair of.46 goals-against common, and has been even higher in opposition to convention foes.
It goes with out saying that a group wants a reliable goaltender to win (hey there, Philadelphia Flyers), however Rittich’s actual worth comes from the incontrovertible fact that he wasn’t supposed to be the man this season. Getting into the season, it was anticipated that he would again up Mike Smith — after narrowly beating out Jon Gillies for the No. 2 gig — and simply see a begin right here and there behind the veteran.
Flames goalie coach Jordan Sigalet even advised The Calgary Solar at the tail finish of the preseason, “Ritter has to battle on daily basis to hold his spot up right here.”
OK, that is all positive and effectively. However what occurs once you’ve constructed a roster to contend and hold tempo in the meat grinder that’s the Western Convention, and unexpectedly your No. 1 goalie — who you depend on for 50-plus begins and regular play — falters onerous virtually instantly out of the gate and by no means pulls out of the nostril dive? The backup wants to step into the highlight. “Huge Recreation Dave” has achieved precisely that, and here is how.
We have seen this development of an anointed starter failing fairly a bit, and it has been a typical theme with the Flames since Miikka Kiprusoff retired. The Flyers have handled their justifiable share of it, operating seven completely different goalies out of the tunnel this season. The Carolina Hurricanes have struggled with underperforming starters (learn: Scott Darling), Cory Schneider’s speedy decline hit the New Jersey Devils onerous and the New York Islanders wasted their ultimate season with John Tavares partly due to poor goaltending. 9 instances out of 10 when a beginning goalie turns in a foul season, the group collapses in on itself.
After failing to make the Panthers’ roster in 2017, the veteran has develop into an electrifying goal-scoring power for the Golden Knights this season.
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With out many choices, the Flames turned to Rittich, who is simply in his third season on North American ice and commenced the 2018-19 season with all of 16 NHL begins below his belt (with lackluster outcomes). All Rittich did was publish a .939 save proportion in October, serving to buoy the membership as Smith flopped to a .878 in the opening month (he has but to attain .900 in any month, and has generated an .889 on the season).
If Rittich does not reply the bell, it is anybody’s guess the place the Flames are proper now. However we are able to confidently predict they would not be pacing the West. And so they most actually would not be holding off the Golden Knights and Sharks of their division. It is why having a sturdy No. 2 goalie is ever-so essential in right this moment’s NHL. Apart from offering effectiveness when the starter wants a time off, as the league continues to see fewer and fewer true Martin Brodeur-esque workhorses, having a dependable secondary netminder provides groups choices.
Of the prime 10 goalies in even-strength save proportion with a minimum of 15 video games this season, 5 opened the marketing campaign anticipated to journey pine as a rule: Rittich (.934), Jaroslav Halak (.933), Jack Campbell (.932), Anton Khudobin (.932) and Casey DeSmith (.928). Names like Curtis McElhinney, Linus Ullmark and Mikko Koskinen aren’t far off that tempo, both. What occurs to the Bruins and Penguins if they do not have dependable choices when Tuukka Rask and Matt Murray are gradual to get in gear in October?
Halak and Khudobin have been massive offseason signings for the Bruins and Stars, respectively. Boston has handed Rask and Halak an equal 23 begins apiece, whereas Khudobin has dealt with about 40 % of the begins for Huge D. Workloads proceed to stage up. Toronto’s Frederik Andersen is the solely one in every of 14 goalies to begin greater than 30 contests with a save proportion sitting at .920 or higher.
Go searching the NHL and you will see an increasing number of golf equipment closely valuing the No. 2 goalie roster spot, retaining the starter brisker whereas not sacrificing an excessive amount of in the crease. However it additionally gives bailout choices, like what we have seen in Calgary. If Rittich does not carry out at or close to this stage, the Flames aren’t the place they’re right this moment.
Whether or not Rittich continues to stand tall in the internet for Calgary is one other query. We have seen lightning in a bottle earlier than from different shock performers standing in for struggling or injured starters. And the Flames can be clever to examine all choices in the goaltending market at the commerce deadline. However regardless, he acquired them to this level. With out discounting the large seasons of the younger expertise up entrance, the Flames owe their season to a goaltender who virtually did not make the group.