The breakout campaign for David Rittich shows no signs of slowing as the talented 26-year-old has not only entrenched himself as the top goaltending option for the Calgary Flames, but also as one of their most valuable commodities. He was masterful in a 35-save performance against the Winnipeg Jets as the Flames ended a rare three-game losing skid with a 4-1 road victory.
While a hat trick from Flames sniper Johnny Gaudreau spearheaded the attack in their latest triumph, it was the outstanding play of Rittich that deservedly shared the spotlight after besting the top team in the Western Conference for a second time this season. He made several remarkable saves during the spirited encounter, including shutting down what seemed a sure-fire goal on a Bryan Little one-timer that showcased both Rittich’s athleticism and never-quit mentality .
The positive result was exactly what the doctor ordered for the Flames in their first game back from the Christmas break. Rittich improved his personal ledger to an impressive 12-4-2 on the season and he continues to sit near the top of the leader board in pivotal statistical categories. He’s currently second in the league with a 2.22 goals-against average (GAA) and tied for third with a .926 save percentage (SV%).
With veteran Mike Smith having an up-and-down season, Rittich’s contributions have come at a perfect time for the Pacific Division leaders as his stellar play has been vital to their 23-12-3 record.
Rittich Proving a Model of Consistency
Rittich has given the Flames a chance to win in nearly every game he’s played this season. He’s only received the hook once, in a rough outing against the Columbus Blue Jackets when he allowed three first-period markers. The Flames bailed him out by rallying to beat the Blue Jackets 9-6. Other than that hiccup, he has proven to be as dependable as they come. He’s allowed one goal or less in six appearances, including his first career shutout in a 1-0 win against the Los Angeles Kings and has been the difference-maker in a number of the club’s one-goal victories, especially on the road.
Head coach Bill Peters has a heightened confidence level in Rittich’s abilities as the wins have mounted. It’s been reflected recently by the fact that, even with Smith available, Rittich has gotten the nod to start pivotal contests against the likes of the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning, the hated arch-rival Edmonton Oilers and the fellow Western powerhouse Jets.
Rittich is living up to the mantra of ‘Big Save Dave’ in his second NHL season. His inaugural campaign in 2017-18 was a mixed bag with some strong performances derailed by mediocre outings. It produced an 8-6-3 record with a .904 SV% and a 2.92 GAA. He entered this season expected to perform the duties of a backup goalie after being signed to a one-year, $800,000 contract. He’s since blossomed into one of the best bargains in the league.
Rittich Has Overtaken Smith in Battle for Number One
After falling short in the playoff chase last season, a majority of Flames fans would’ve pointed to the need for a strong season from the proven number one goaltender in Smith in order to have any chance to be part of this season’s playoff festivities. While Smith has been a source of frustration due to his inconsistency, Rittich has proven to be a revelation.
The calm under fire demeanor from Rittich this season is a far cry from the goaltender who wilted at times under an increased workload last season because of a Smith injury. Rittich’s improvements to read the play, his lateral movement and overall puck-stopping heroics have quickly made him a favorite among his teammates and fans alike.
He has already equaled the number of appearances he had last season and will presumably be a key piece of the Flames’ makeup moving forward. While fans would’ve thought that seeing him 20 to 25 times in 2018-19 would suffice, Smith’s troubles have provided Rittich with the opportunity to take the ball and run with it. He’s done that, and it would seem as though unlike last season, he’s more than ready to shoulder a number one workload.
Last Season a Valuable Tool in Rittich’s Development
Last season was a valuable learning tool for the Czech goaltender and there’s no doubt he’s put the experience to good use. While a fiery competitor, Rittich has some interesting personality quirks and showcased some of those traits in the win over the Jets. The highlight being when he kissed a goal post after the iron provided him with some good fortune when was beaten by a shot from Tyler Myers.
He’s also been known to raise his arms whenever a Flames teammate gets a potential game-winning breakaway in overtime. The team is no stranger when it comes to close games decided by either overtime or the shootout.
While standout play from the likes of Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Mark Giordano were elements that Flames’ top brass could count on heading into this season, Rittich turning into one of the league’s top netminders has been a pleasant surprise. He’s emerged as one of the team’s most important and consistent performers as we near the halfway mark.
Thanks to his exploits, the Flames have risen from last season’s level of mediocrity to become a legitimate Stanley Cup threat and the confidence that he’s displaying on a nightly basis would lead one to believe that a free fall like we witnessed last season simply isn’t in the cards.
The great thing about any NHL campaign is the unexpected storylines that are written. Rittich’s remarkable progression is one factor that Flames fans weren’t anticipating prior to the 2018-19 season and the hope is that his stock will continue to rise.
Have loved sports since an early age as both a fan and a participant and eventually was fortunate enough to get into the Sports Radio business. The highlight of my career was being part of Calgary Flames broadcasts at Sportsnet 960 The Fan during their run to the 2004 Stanley Cup Final. I was an on-air personality from 2001 to 2012 at the station and had the pleasure of covering many a game at the Saddledome over that period. In the last few years I’ve transitioned to sports writing and have been an NHL contributor for RantSports.com and most recently a UFC writer for Today’sKnockout.com.