The Calgary Flames are sending a few players to the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star game in St. Louis, MO this year. It’s a deserving honor for those selected, two of whom are making their first career appearance at the event, and one who might be making his final one. There is also a ‘Last Man Standing’ candidate, who has yet to miss an All-Star weekend but is poised for a new first.
It’s hard to argue with the selection of goaltender David Rittich to this year’s 2020 Pacific Division All-Star roster. Named as a replacement for injured Arizona Coyotes goalie, Darcy Kuemper, Rittich is a worthy consolation based on his work between the pipes this season. Rittich has posted a 2.77 goals-against average (GAA) and a .913 save percentage (SV%) up to this point, but perhaps his All-Star worthiness lies in another asset he offers the Flames, an unbridled desire to compete in every game.
To put it plainly, without Rittich the Flames would not be among the Pacific Division leaders (57 points). Calgary hit the All-Star break in a four-way tie for second place in the division, just one point out of the lead. They were able to pick up valuable points early in the season largely due to the play of No. 33. Through the tumultuous first few months, he appeared in more games than any other goalie in the league, but he also provided desperately needed consistency for his teammates.
Rittich has been less consistent lately though, with just two wins in his last five starts (2-3-0) and his slightly pedestrian numbers in that span (3.00 GAA and 0.895 SV%) are likely connected to his early-season workload. That being said, his 19 wins rank sixth in the NHL (19-12-5), and the 27-year-old sits in the top five for games played (36) and time on ice (2,125:41).
Matthew Tkachuk will attend the first NHL All-Star game of his career, fittingly in his hometown of St Louis. He has been the prototypical ‘straw that stirs the drink’ this season, as the 22-year-old is doing it all after signing a three-year, $21-million extension this summer.
He is often the voice in the media scrums, answering tough questions during losing streaks or after tough performances. Tkachuk has shown accountability and transparency about his playing style and approach to games. If he is required to throw his weight around and antagonize opponents he will, and by doing so, engages his teammates and brings them into the fight. Tkachuk essentially embodies everything you want in a hockey player: he plays with an edge, has a nose for the net, is productive offensively and he’s fearless. Just ask Zach Kassian.
His numbers are solid too, tied for the lead in Flames scoring with 15 goals and 23 assists in 49 games. He has four game-winning goals, one possibly the goal of the year, when he scored the overtime winner by shooting the puck between his own legs to defeat the Nashville Predators.
It was announced recently that Tkachuk’s younger brother Brady (Ottawa Senators) will make his first All-Star appearance as well, replacing Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews, on the Atlantic Division roster.
Last season, Mark Giordano barely missed the cut in ‘Last Man In’ voting, which left many upset. Giordano had a great season but was omitted from the festivities, despite winning the Norris Trophy, as the league’s best defenseman, at the end of the season.
This year, however, Giordano will get his third chance to represent the Flames at the All-Star weekend (2015, 2016). While he may not be having the same season as last, the reigning 2019 Norris winner is still playing at a high level. He leads all Flames defensemen in goals (5), assists (17), points (22) and power-play goals (2) in 50 games.
Giordano is tied for 15th among NHL defensemen in ice time (TOI) averaging 24:08 per game. At 36 years old, it’s impressive to watch him play as many minutes as he does, as well as the kind of minutes he plays, primarily matched up against his opponent’s top line or playing on the top penalty-killing unit.
Giordano is an All-Star not only because of his numbers but also because of the way he controls a game with his work ethic and leadership. The Flames have looked to ‘Gio’ to help guide them out of their early coaching controversy and subsequent slow start to the 2019-20 season. He never wavered in his approach and, as a result, neither did his teammates.
Outside Looking In
Johnny Gaudreau is usually synonymous with ‘All-Star’. He has been an All-Star in five consecutive seasons (2015-2019), including his rookie season. He failed to receive an All-Star nod this year, relegated to the ‘Last Man In’ category, which gives fans the opportunity to vote in a player at the last minute.
There aren’t many Flames fans clambering to vote Gaudreau into the final Pacific Division spot. That’s not to suggest they wouldn’t want to see No. 13 enjoy the weekend, but his play has been rather disappointing this season and lack-luster based on expectations. He is tied for the team’s scoring lead (with Tkachuk) with 13 goals and 38 points in 50 games but, regardless of that fact, Tkachuk is the All-Star and Gaudreau is not, at least not yet.
The difference between the two this season comes down to Tkachuk’s intangibles. He is inherently valuable to the team and has used his attributes to set himself apart around the league. Gaudreau has not performed up to his talents – speed, creativity, and dynamic play-making ability – on a consistent basis this season and after putting up 99 points in 82 games last year, he is on pace for roughly 62 points this year.
An All-Star nod could be just the kind of gratification needed to boost Gaudreau’s confidence, but the time off during the break might be just as beneficial. A chance to rest, reset and to refocus. The Flames are just one point out of first place in the Pacific Division and will need Gaudreau and every one of their star performers to shine in the second half.