The Flames just dropped a brutal game to the Ottawa Senators last night. It was first matchup of the year, and a game Calgary was looking to use to pad their stats after taking three of four points against the Leafs the past two games.
That didn’t happen. Instead, the Flames got blown out of the building in a 6-1 loss, erased all the momentum they gained in Toronto, and dropped below .500.
After bringing in Jacob Markstrom at the beginning of the year and being the first team in history to have a goaltending tandem that both featured in the previous year’s all-star game, goaltending was finally supposed to be a strength for this team. Early on, it was. Markstrom was phenomenal and keeping the team afloat while they figured out the rest of their play, and truly earned every penny of his new contract.
But, after starting 15 of the Flames’ first 17 games, his play started to falter. He was pulled twice and is now on the injured reserve. We’ll never know if the heavy workload did him in, but from what Canucks reporters have observed after watching Markstrom play for the Canucks all those years, he was exhibiting signs of fatigue.
Enter: David Rittich.
He didn’t have a great start to the year, but David Rittich relieved Markstrom against the Oilers over the past weekend and played fairly well. Then, due to Markstrom’s injury, Rittich started on Monday against the Leafs, Wednesday against the Leafs, and then Thursday against the Senators.
Game 1 was a great 34-save shutout win. Game 2 was a very impressive 2-1 overtime loss with 39 shots against. Game 3 saw Rittich get pulled after allowing four goals on 20 shots through just over half a game. This was the fourth goal:
Three goalie pulls so far this season, the starting goalie on the injured reserve, and goaltending has yet again become a major area of concern for this team.
Artyom Zagidulin came in for relief last night for Rittich, but the backup for as long as Markstrom is on the IR will be Louis Domingue. He’ll be back for the team’s next game, but the Flames need points and they need them now. Will they turn to Domingue in net? It’s unlikely given how Rittich has played lately in spite of a tough showing last night. He wasn’t happy about it either.
The Flames line up against Ottawa again at 1:00 pm on Saturday afternoon, and Rittich will probably start in that game too. It’ll be his fourth consecutive start after a light schedule to begin the year, and for a goalie who hasn’t been able to stay healthy enough to shoulder the load of a starting goalie in the NHL, this is concerning.
It’s crunch time, and the Flames will need Rittich to be at his absolute best until Markstrom is 100% ready to return to the lineup. Fortunately, the Flames’ next back-to-backs are next weekend and then two weeks later, so Rittich most likely won’t need to start both sides of a back-to-back again. However, the duration of Markstrom’s injury could be the most important period of time for this team, and that’s saying something considering how underwhelming they’ve been so far.
Will the Flames be the first team to wear out their starter and backup goaltenders? Time will tell.