Decisions loom for Flames with potential goalie controversy on the horizon

Jan 23 2020, 1:38 pm

This week Jordan Binnington, Frederik Anderson, and Braden Holtby have been tabbed to lead their respective divisions at the 2020 NHL All-Star Game in St. Louis

All three have turned in solid performances this season, enough so to earn recognition as some of the NHL’s best goaltenders.

But something all three also share in common, is they sit below both netminders who have shared the Calgary Flames crease this season in save percentage.

That’s how impressively David Rittich and Cam Talbot have been able to carry the load for the Flames through the first half of the 2019-20 season.

The pair have been one of the NHL’s most effective tandems with Talbot sitting tied for 11th in save percentage with a .922 mark and Rittich not far behind in a tie for 20th at .913.

For goalies who have each played at least 16 games, that marks the fifth best tandem in league, trailing only the Stars, Bruins, Blue Jackets, and Islanders.

In a position that has bred inconsistency and frustration for the Flames since Miikka Kiprusoff’s retirement, Calgary’s goaltending this season has been surprisingly reliable.

As the playoff push approaches, the question is will Flames interim head coach Geoff Ward continue to use the pair as he has all season in 1A and 1B roles?

Or will he anoint one as his go-to starter down the stretch in the hopes of solidifying the crease ahead of a potential first-round series (that is if the Flames get in).

Both Rittich and Talbot have put together strong cases to be that goalie and we’ll likely get an answer to that question over the next few weeks post-All Star break.

The case for ‘Big Save Dave’

Even though the Flames have touted their 1A and 1B system between Rittich and Talbot, the argument can be made that the former is already their everyday starter.

Of the 50 games Calgary has played so far this year, Rittich has started 36 of them and has been in net for 19 of the team’s 26 victories.

While his stats aren’t quite as flashy as Talbot’s with a 2.77 goals against average and a .913 save percentage, his sample size is twice the size of his partner in the crease.

Both his goals against and save percentage are hovering right around his career average as well, so there’s little chance of Rittich punching above his usual weight.

The 27-year-old Czech product has been consistent enough this year to earn his first All-Star Game selection and already has the experience of leading his team to a divisional title last year in the regular season.

Taking away last week’s loss against the Ottawa Senators where he allowed four goals on 20 shots, Rittich was coming off back-to-back 35-save performances against Toronto and Montreal.

On many nights this year, ‘Big Save Dave’ has appeared to be the lone Calgary player to show up when the rest of squad hasn’t.

The case for Talbot

It might just be recency bias, but Talbot has looked outstanding between the pipes for Calgary over the last month and a half.

Since his start on December 7 against the Los Angeles Kings, Talbot has compiled an impressive 6-2-0 record with a 2.05 goals against and a sparkling .940 save percentage.

The former Edmonton Oilers castoff finally seems to have found his groove in Calgary after winning just one of his first six starts with the Flames.

Winning each of his last four games, the 32-year-old Talbot has only allowed three goals twice dating back to December 10 in a span of eight contests.

His recent hot play was culminated with a nod last week by the NHL for their three stars of the week, while also helping the Flames keep pace in the insanely tight Pacific Division.

If you subscribe to the theory that a team should ride the hot hand, then Talbot unequivocally should be handed the reigns down the stretch drive for a Flames team needing above average goaltending to compete with the Oilers, Canucks, Coyotes, and Golden Knights.

However, it’s been two full seasons since Talbot had any semblance of a starter’s role and hasn’t put up a save percentage over .908 since 2016-17.

Most likely, Ward will continue to split Talbot and Rittich and make a decision post-trade deadline as to who will take over the crease.

But, that day is coming soon and these next few weeks will be vital in deciding that starter.