The 2019-20 season was certainly an interesting one for the Calgary Flames. If you didn’t follow them closely and just took a look at the standings, it would appear they had a pretty good season as they finished third in the Pacific Division with a record of 36-27-7. However, if you did follow them closely, you would have noticed that despite the team being fairly successful, many players had disappointing seasons.
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Players like Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and captain Mark Giordano, who all set career highs in points in 2018-19, struggled to produce offensively this season. In fact, Gaudreau’s 58 points is the lowest total of his career, while Monahan’s 48 is his lowest since his rookie season. For goaltender David Rittich, it was a roller coaster of a season.
Rittich, 27, had a fantastic start to the season. The Jihlava, Czech Republic native appeared in his first ever All-Star Game after being named a replacement for the Arizona Coyotes’ injured goalie Darcy Kuemper. At that time, he had posted solid if not spectacular numbers, with a 2.79 goals-against average (GAA) and a .913 save percentage (SV%). More importantly, he was giving his team a chance to win every time he stepped in the crease, proven by his 18-11-5 record.
Rittich Vs Talbot
Soon after the All-Star Game, Rittich’s game started trending downward. By the end of the season, he saw his numbers decrease to a 2.97 GAA and a .907 SV%, which are both far below league average, and his record ended at 24-17-6. As a result of his struggles, veteran Cam Talbot, who was brought in to be a steady backup, saw his playing time increase as the season went on. (from Cam Talbot inks one-year deal with Calgary Flames worth US$2.75 million,’ Calgary Sun, 07/01/2019) By the time the 2019-20 season had ended, Rittich had appeared in 48 games, while Talbot played in 26.
Talbot had almost the exact opposite season as Rittich. The recently turned 33-year-old took some time to get adjusted with his new team, as he struggled at the beginning of the season. However, when Rittich’s play decreased and he began to get more starts, Talbot’s play picked up big time. While his record of 12-10-1 wasn’t any more impressive than Rittich’s, his 2.63 GAA and .919 SV% were far superior.
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Had the 2019-20 regular season not been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there may have been a real controversy as to who was the starting goalie in this season’s playoffs. At one point this season, Rittich was the no brainer, but Talbot was certainly making things more up for debate with his improved play. However, the season ending early likely helped Rittich’s chances. It seems like a near guarantee he will be the guy going in, but the question is, how long is his leash?
5-Game Opening Series
The fact that the play-in round, which the Flames are apart of, is just a five-game series rather than seven makes things even more difficult. If Rittich struggles in Game 1 and the team loses, do you risk starting him in Game 2 and possibly having the same thing happen? Going down 2-0 would be a very tough task for a team to come back from. Normally, a starting goalie would be given at least two games, but with the shortened series length, the Flames need to have a plan ready before the series even begins.
One thing that Talbot has that Rittich lacks is playoff experience. To this point in his career, Rittich has yet to appear in a postseason game. Talbot, on the other hand, has played in 15. While 15 certainly isn’t a lot, he played tremendously during his 13 starts for the Edmonton Oilers during the 2017 Playoffs, and proved that he can rise to the occasion.
As everyone knows, playoffs are a completely different game, as there is much more pressure on each individual to perform. Some players excel, while others crumble. Flames fans and management alike will both be hoping Rittich fits into that first category, but that remains to be seen. If he does falter, head coach Geoff Ward would be wise to turn to Talbot.
Flames’ Netminding Future
Of course, this is all hypothetical based on Rittich struggling. He could heat up and play as well or even better than he did to start the 2019-20 season, especially after a long period of rest. It will certainly be interesting to follow, as regardless of what happens it is likely to change the Flames’ free agency plans when it comes to goaltenders next season.
If they both struggle, the team may try to lure in a big-name goaltender such as Braden Holtby or Robin Lehner. With Talbot’s comments recently about how he wants to become a number one goaltender again, it seems likely he would leave as a free agent this summer if Rittich were to perform well in the playoffs, meaning the Flames would need to trade for or sign a new backup goalie.
Last but not least, if Talbot gets called upon and performs well, perhaps the Flames choose to keep him around and look at moving Rittich in the offseason. It is certainly something to monitor closely as the playoffs are expected to begin in just under a month’s time.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Oil On Whyte, NHLtradetalk.com, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.