Let’s be honest and upfront: there are MANY reasons why the Calgary Flames will be going on summer vacation in 7 games. There isn’t just one reason to pinpoint for the the lack of spring hockey in Alberta, there’s a lot of them. Coaching. The abysmal (my favourite adjective) Power Play. The inability to score goals. Calgary’s horrendous home record. The list goes on and on and on, but the one at the top of the list lately and when the Flames needed it the most, has been their goaltending. When Calgary needed anyone wearing a set of pads and a mask to steal them some wins to sneak them into the post season, they didn’t.
Now, to disappear as the Flames have done takes a team effort for sure, but the guys who get paid to keep the puck out of the net haven’t been helping either. When the season really hit crunch time and the Flames need win, they’ve gone 6-12-2 and the playoffs have gone out the window. Part of this mess is due to Mike Smith’s untimely injury in Calgary’s 3-2 win over the NY Islanders back on February 11th. Smith would injure his groin with 1 second left in that game and he would not play again until March 13th, a 5-3 loss to the.....NY Islanders.
In the interim that Flames would trot out David Rittich and Jon Gillies as their starters and the reuslts were.....meh. Rittich took over for Eddie Lack as the Flames backup on November 25th and all seemed right with the world. David Rittich looked the part and it seemed as if the Flames had two solid keepers that they could ride this season to the playoffs. SEEMED being the key word. Before David Rittich got the starter’s role when Smith went down he was 5-1-2 as the Flames backup. After? 3-4-1. Not good enough and that 8 game span showed that Rittich isn’t quite ready to handle the starting role and he’s much better suited to be the Flames backup...for now. He hasn’t had a start since Mike Smith has come back and the only ice time he’s seen has been in mop up duty in 2 Flames losses.
Jon Gillies? He’s still a....work in progress? Time may being running out for the Flames young keeper and his brief stint as a backup/starter probably left more questions than answers. Gillies went 2-2-1 when given the chance to start and once Smith was healthy he was jettisoned back to Stockton and that is probably for the best. Gillies isn’t quite ready and that’s “O.K.”, but he needs to be careful with Tyler Parsons slowly knocking on the door behind him. Gillies did look over matched at times and the Rittich/Gillies tandem finished with a combined record of 5-6-2 in Smith’s absence. I guess you can look at being close to .500 as a “success” when you’re missing your team MVP, but on a team expected to make the playoffs, not good enough.
That brings us to the team M.V.P. in Mike Smith. Smith turned heads when he was traded for and then turned those heads again with his play this season. Prior to being injured in the final seconds of Calgary’s 3-2 victory over the Islanders Smith was the Flames rock. He was 23-16-6 and he was clearly carrying the Flames. Without his play they aren’t even sniffing the playoffs, but once he was cleared to play again it all fell apart. Since returning to the Flames lineup Smith has been a shell of the goalie he was earlier in the season. He has 1 win in 6 tries and he’s given up 20 goals in those 6 starts, twice being pulled in favour of David Rittich.
What gives? Is Smith still hurt? If he is then the Flames management and coaching staff need their heads examined for throwing him back in the lineup to push for the playoffs. Maybe he’s just overworked. Mike Smith has started 53 of the Flames 75 games so far this season and twice he’s gone 6 or more straight games (the most was 8 in a row) without a game off. He’s started 60+ games 3 times in his career, all with the Coyotes, but he’s also 35 this year. In the real world 35 is young, in goalie years 35 is getting up there. The last time Smith started 60+ games was in 2014-15, while he got 55 starts last season with Arizona.
Whatever the case may be, the Flames needed their goalies to step up in the last 2 months and they have done the exact opposite. The three netminders are 6-11-2 in their last 19 games and they’ve surrendered 4 or more goals 10 times in that stretch. Yes, there’s other mitigating factors that have lead to the Flames demise this season, but the stunning fall off of Calgary’s goaltending is right up there at the top of the pile.