Saturday, 27 July 2019

Flames Need His Fire

If there's one thing that can derail a hockey season quickly for both a team and a player, it's inconsistent goaltending. The Flames suffered through this last year at time with Mike Smith, and it led them to pursue a different path with their netminding this season. After inking Cam Talbot to a deal in free agency, they turned their attention to their more reliable netminder in RFA David Rittich, and the two sides came to an agreement today with Rittich signing a two-year, $5.5 million deal. When Smith faltered last season, it was Rittich who stepped up and played extremely well, and the Flames are looking for that consistency from the 26 year-old this season as he is likely the starter for Calgary unless Talbot outplays him in camp.

Rittich played 45 games for the Flames last season, and was a large part of the reason why Calgary won the Pacific Division. He posted a 27-9-5 record with a 2.61 GAA and a .911 save percentage - the best numbers of his short NHL career thus far. There was some concern that Rittich may have ran out of gas later in the season, though, but the Flames see the potential of the Czech goaltender after signing him to a new deal. With Rittich undergoing a more rigorous training regimen this summer, he's hopeful that his numbers don't dip like they did last season while playing more minutes.

"I would like to play more than last year, but it’s up to how I play," Rittich told Eric Francis of Sportsnet. "I'm working really hard so I think I can play more than 60 games."

If all advanced metrics are correct, playing more than 60 games likely won't be needed unless the Flames go deep into the playoffs - something they were expected to do this past season. Part of the reason that expectation was assigned to the Flames was due to the play of "Big Save Dave", a nickname that Rittich earned with his play throughout the season. He'll need to fall into that persona again for the Flames to make a deep run this season.

"In my head, I just want to be better than last year – I want to be stronger and faster, that's my progress," he told Francis. "If you look back three years, every year is better and that's how I want to work. I just want to be better this year than last year."

With Rittich and Talbot penciled in as the tandem to start in Calgary this year, the Flames have significantly less money tied up in their netminders than other teams. If they get the same production out of Rittich as they did last year, they've found real value in that position. They'd just need Talbot - who struggled with Edmonton and Philadelphia - to find his game once more. If he does, there's a good chance that the Flames could win the Pacific Division for a second year in a row with both goaltenders costing the Flames a mere $5.5 million this season - less than what they're paying Milan Lucic.

With their goaltending stabilized, the Flames look like they're just about ready for the season. Rittich gives them a quality starter and should be the goaltender that gets the call most nights. If he can turn in another .674 points percentage rate as he did last year, the Flames will be in a good position for that deep playoff run in 2019-20.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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