Feb. 22, 2021, marked the one-year anniversary of one of the most historic and bizarre nights in Toronto Maple Leafs history. The Leafs lost to their own Zamboni driver, David Ayres, who happened to be the emergency backup goaltender for the Carolina Hurricanes that night. Ayres was called into NHL action for the first time that night in the middle of the game, he made eight saves and secured a win that will forever be talked about, as he became the first emergency goalie in NHL history to record a victory.
Exactly one year later to the day, another goaltender by the name of David made history on the same ice surface. David Rittich, who hadn’t won a game in his last eight starts, left Scotiabank Arena on Monday night with a perfectly executed 3-0 shutout against the NHL’s top team, the Maple Leafs. Rittich’s shutout was the first by a Flames goalie in Toronto since 1977 when the team was still the Atlanta Flames, so the win puts Rittich in pretty sacred company. History aside, the win was imperative for the Flames, and to do it against a dominant team such as the Leafs, Rittich deserves every piece of credit possible.
No Room For Error
From the moment the puck dropped between the Flames and Leafs, all the way until the final buzzer, Rittich gave the Flames the sample-size of goaltending they’d been waiting for, and the quality saves he’s capable of demonstrating. A 34-save shutout was the result of a goalie who was desperate for a win, as his last came all the way back on Feb. 25, 2020. Despite all the pressure, he looked very calm and well prepared, especially for someone who found out they’d be starting the morning of the game, as Jacob Markstrom is day-to-day with an upper-body injury according to Flames head coach Geoff Ward.
The win wouldn’t have been possible without the excellent play of Calgary’s penalty-killing unit, as the Leafs wound up going 0/7 with the man-advantage, despite their power play running at 37.5% heading into the game, well above the league average of 20.9%. The Flames were active with their sticks in the middle of their own zone when they were on the kill, which led to clearing the zone comfortably and getting fresh bodies on the ice to combat Toronto’s lethal power-play units.
It was so great to see Sean Monahan pick up his first goal in 13 games. He had been so snake-bitten for a reward, but hopefully that goal gives him a spark going forward, because his team is desperate for offense. Matthew Tkachuk scoring his 100th career goal was also a special moment for him, as he hadn’t found the twine in the previous nine decisions, but had a strong performance with two points. The Flames had tremendous contributions for all their players, as everyone was invested, but the first star of the game was Rittich for a reason – He was simply the best Flame.
Good Time To Heat Up
With Markstrom out day-to-day, this is an ideal time for Rittich to find his game and get some repetition in the net. He will likely get the next start on Wednesday in Toronto, which would serve as the perfect opportunity for Rittich to continue his hot play. In his last two starts, he’s allowed two goals on 59 shots against, and both of those starts have been against the likes of Matthews and Connor McDavid – Not easy players to hold at bay, but the win serves as a confidence boost for Rittich.
“Obviously it was a huge win – a confidence booster for sure. We had a couple tough starts when we have up a couple goals. But we were talking in the locker room about how we have to change it up and I’m really glad they changed it when I’m in net,” said Rittich in his post-game interview.
We likely won’t see any in-game dramatics like throwing sticks following an emotional victory from Rittich, but we should still expect his usual emotional self. After earning his first victory of the 2020-21 campaign, he let out a loud yell inside the empty arena, which was picked up on the broadcast and could be heard across Canada, as if to let out a sigh of relief after knocking off the power-house Leafs.
The Leafs could potentially suit a stronger lineup on Wednesday night against the Flames, as several of their players were out on Monday with injuries, so the Flames will need to readjust for a much hungrier Leafs group. The Flames received a harsh lesson on Saturday about what happens when superstars have a quiet game; they usually don’t stay quiet the next night, as McDavid single-handedly made the Flames look silly with a five-point game just a night after being held off of the scoresheet. Now that Rittich has reminded the league what he’s capable of, and with Markstrom out, look for Rittich to steal the keys to the crease for a few games now. ( From ‘Connor McDavid lights up Calgary Flames in lopsided victory for Oilers,’ Edmonton Sun, 02/21/21)