It’s time the Calgary Flames give Cam Talbot an extended look in their crease. The team no doubt views David Rittich as their long-term starter – and probably even their playoff goalie. But he’s in the midst of several weeks of inconsistent play. Talbot, meanwhile, is coming off wins as the starter in back-to-back games.
Talbot has started three consecutive games only one time this season. He’s well-rested and his play is currently trending upward. He also offers a steadiness in net that Rittich, at times, does not.
With the Flames in the heat of the Western Conference playoff race, they need to see what Talbot can offer when given the lion’s share of the starts. He’s earned the opportunity.
Cam Talbot: From Oilers Cast-off to Flames Saviour?
Talbot’s tenure with the Flames got off to a rocky start. After signing a one-year, $2.75 million contract in the offseason, he opened with a 1-5 record across his first six starts.
It appeared as though he may not have left behind the struggles of his 2018-19 season. Prior to joining the Flames, Talbot had spent three seasons and part of a fourth with the Edmonton Oilers. But a poor showing in his fourth year with Edmonton prompted a trade to the Philadelphia Flyers. He never regained his form, and he ended up seeking a new home in free agency.
The Flames gave him that second chance, bringing him in to backup Rittich. Adding to the busy Battle of Alberta offseason narrative, Mike Smith also changed sides, going to the Oilers after spending the prior two seasons with the Flames. Coincidentally, the two goalies also exchanged blows in the heated Battle of Alberta game on Feb. 1.
But since the shaky start, Talbot’s been steady when called upon. As of Mar. 5, he’s improved his record to 11-10-1. He hadn’t played quite well enough to challenge for the starting role, but that’s changed over the past few weeks.
In a season of inconsistencies, Talbot’s recent steadiness is what the Flames need today. Rittich’s wavering performances – coupled with his emotional on-ice outbursts – don’t exactly define “steadiness” at the present moment.
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Talbot is coming off two shutouts and four wins in his last six appearances. Granted, he allowed four goals in three of those six games, too, but one of these came after he relieved Rittich in front of an overwhelmed defense.
Talbot’s statistics also reveal consistency: he sports a 2.66 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage. This consistency was a difficult task to accomplish, as well, given that he started only 14 of the team’s first 50 games.
David Rittich’s Post-All-Star Break Struggles
Ever since his “stick flip” celebration against the Oilers on Jan. 29, Rittich’s performance in net has wavered. He’s also allowed three or more goals in 7 of 11 starts since the All-Star break. Over that stretch, he’s 5-4-1, with Talbot getting the loss in one game after Rittich was pulled.
In previous seasons, Rittich’s play down the stretch has faded. Is it possible that he’s tiring out once again after one of the league’s heaviest workloads prior to the All-Star break? The Flames goaltender even had to postpone a scheduled Mexican getaway when called upon as an All-Star Game replacement.
Rittich’s poor play – which has come more frequently of late – can also tend toward volatility. He’s a fiery competitor with an exuberant on-ice personality that’s rare in today’s NHL. That personality, however, can show through when things don’t go well for the Czech netminder.
After a disappointing overtime loss to the Nashville Predators on Feb. 27, Rittich demolished his stick on the edge of his team’s bench. He did so with little regard for the well-being of those surrounding him, coming dangerously close to hitting both Johnny Gaudreau and Andrew Mangiapane. His team appreciates his passion, but everyone could do with fewer of these moments.
Fortunately, the team’s surging offense has offset Rittich’s and the team’s defensive struggles. The Flames have scored three or more goals now in 13 straight games.
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And the story here isn’t that the Flames can’t win with “Big Save Dave” in net. If the playoffs started today, he’s their man. He’s especially struggled at home, as has the rest of the team, but he still holds an overall record of 24-16-6. But part of the story is simply that Talbot has earned the additional playing time. He just hasn’t yet received it. Rittich is the team’s starter, so even a strong showing from Talbot is typically followed by another Rittich game.
The Flames’ New Plan: Play Talbot Over Rittich
Ride Talbot while he’s hot. Don’t shut Rittich out of the situation, obviously, but see what Talbot’s calming presence can do for the team. He’s not too far removed from successful seasons as a full-time starter, either. Let him lead a 1A-1B plan for a few weeks.
In the worst-case scenario, Talbot immediately proves that he’s truly not an NHL starter at this point in his career. In the meantime, Rittich receives extra rest and can possibly force his way back into the starter’s role with improved play.
The Flames will keep relatively busy with 14 games over the regular season’s final 30 days. The goaltending situation is complicated by the fact that those 14 games contain only one set of back-to-back matchups. So coach Geoff Ward will need to deploy his netminders wisely. Right now, Talbot is the hot hand and he’s earned the chance to show what he can offer to the team’s playoff push.