One step forward and one step back. That’s the theme of the Calgary Flames this season. At a time when they needed to win so desperately, they blew their opportunity to string together back-to-back wins against the Winnipeg Jets and draw a little closer to the Montreal Canadiens in the standings.
This is the sixth time this season the Flames have given up five or more goals, and despite only notching one tally again on Monday, Flames goaltender David Rittich should have started in net.
Markstrom’s Struggles of Late
The Jets were the better team on Monday night by a wide margin. Sure, the teams were tied in faceoffs won, and the Flames led the Jets in hits and shots, but it was about the quality of shots generated by Winnipeg and their ability to capitalize. It’s hard to fault goaltender Jacob Markstrom entirely, but allowing four goals on 23 shots is not the night his team was hoping for from their star netminder, and I’m sure he would say the same. Rittich replaced Markstrom at the start of the third period as the Flames fell 5-1 (from ‘Scheifele shines after line change as Jets take rubber match against Flames,’ Winnipeg Sun, 03/30/21).
Markstrom has struggled since his return from an upper-body injury. In his 11 starts since rejoining the team, he has gone 4-6-1 with a save percentage of 0.884 and a 2.91 goals-against average. He needs to get his reps in and try to lead his team closer to a playoff spot. However, Rittich should have started Monday’s game.
Rittich Deserved the Start
Rittich earned the reins from the drop of the puck against the Jets. He won the Flames their last game, so why didn’t the team let him try to get hot? Rittich and the Flames defeated the Jets 4-2 on Saturday, and he played a solid game against a lethal team. He set aside 22 shots, battled hard in the crease after two goals beat him in the second period, and managed to stay the course to earn the victory.
Rittich has only started 11 games this season, but if he’s winning, he should be getting more starts to try and build his confidence. After Saturday’s game, Monday was a prime opportunity to see how he would respond. You have to wonder if the players would have performed differently in front of a goalie who was fresh off a victory. Before their 4-2 win, the Flames had lost four straight games and three straight with Markstrom in the crease. During that four-game slide, whether Markstrom or Rittich was in net, the Flames couldn’t score, with four goals in four games.
Win and You’re in
In 12 games in 2020-21, the Flames have scored one goal or less. Yes, a lot of the blame has to be laid on the players. Only Johnny Gaudreau and Andrew Mangiapane have goals in the double-digits, and a lot of the players seem to be having a difficult time staying consistent.
Regardless of who starts, Calgary isn’t good enough to allow anything past their goal line. The team must find a way to wear down their opponents in the offensive zone, but until then, their offence ranks 23rd in the league (goals scored). Right now, it’s imperative that Markstrom or Rittich be their club’s best player every time they’re called upon.
The Flames will need to go on a serious run if they hope to make the postseason. To do that, they need to start whoever is winning in the crease — the classic “win, and you’re in” motto. The Flames’ next opponent is the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday, and it’s unknown who will start in net at this point. My guess is Rittich, especially after Markstrom had a tough outing in his last game. Head coach Darryl Sutter hinted at the end of his press conference that playing Rittich for the third period on Monday was to give him some more playing time. Hopefully, he wants to keep him sharp for more starts while Markstrom struggles.