Calgary Flames Goalie David Rittich Emerges an NHL Starter

David Rittich
OTTAWA, ON - MARCH 09: Calgary Flames Goalie David Rittich (33) prepares for a face-off during third period National Hockey League action between the Calgary Flames and Ottawa Senators on March 9, 2018, at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, ON, Canada. (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

David Rittich is a great example of a late bloomer. Up until a few years ago, it would have been crazy to view Rittich as a future NHL starter. Over in the Czech Republic, Rittich did not make his debut in the Czech Extraliga until the 2014-15 season. By that time, he was already 22 and finally making his debut in a top tier European league. His early numbers were not very strong as he posted a .892 save percentage in 23 games. The following season, his numbers improved significantly. With a 2.53 goals-against average, and .918 save percentage he had finally arrived as one of the best goalies playing in the Czech Republic. That season, he was able to lead BK Mlada Boleslav to the league semifinals.

After that successful season, Rittich was rewarded with a two-way contract from the Calgary Flames. From there, he proved his worth in the minors with the Stockton Heat as he displayed his NHL potential with a save percentage of .924 in the AHL. During the 2016-17 season, he got a chance to play one game in the big leagues, but it was the 2017-18 season where Rittich’s career picked up. In that season he took part in 21 games and showed that he could be a fairly reliable backup at the NHL level.

David Rittich Battles with Mike Smith

The emergence of Rittich as an NHL starter picked up early in the 2018-19 season. Before the campaign began, Mike Smith looked like he would be the Flames starter by default. Rittich was expected to have a typical backup workload, around 20-30 games. This was not the case as Rittich played terrific hockey to create a job share situation.

Later on, he was able to eclipse Smith as the starter. The job became his to lose with a really good run of performances early in the season. In the end, Mike Smith was able to take the starting seat back from Rittich. However, this had more to do with Smith playing well than it did with struggles from the man known as “Big Save Dave” in Calgary. Rittich ended up playing in 45 games in 2018-19. His performance earned him a new two-year contract with the Flames worth $5.5 million.

Early 2019-20 Season

This season, David Rittich has enhanced pressure on himself. With Smith gone and Cam Talbot being viewed as an unreliable backup by many, Rittich needs to perform. And so far this season, he has lived up to and even surpassed expectations. Even in a losing effort to start the season against the Colorado Avalanche, Rittich still made some big timely saves. Most notably, his save on Joonas Donskoi on the doorstep was an absolute robbery.

The next game saw an incredible performance from “Big Save Dave” as he put up 34 saves in a shutout performance in the Flames home opener. He was unbelievable, especially in the third period when he was forced to make save after save. Rittich helped the team kill all six of their penalties with a number of saves, including on a five-on-three in the third period.

That performance against the Vancouver Canucks was certainly his best of the season so far, but he backed it up against the Los Angeles Kings a few days later. Barring a tough bank-in goal in the first period, David Rittich was phenomenal. In the first period, the Kings were all over the Flames, consistently generating scoring opportunities. It was Rittich who kept the game within striking distance. Eventually, the Kings won in overtime, but Rittich played a critical role in the Flames picking up a point.

Against the Dallas Stars, Rittich was sensational as he only gave up two goals on 36 shots. The big standout moment for Rittich in this game was his save on an Alexander Radulov penalty shot in OT. This save was critical to give his team a chance in a shootout. They were able to pull it off as Rittich only gave up one goal in the shootout.

A Tough Night

Against the Vegas Golden Knights, Rittich gave up six goals. Even though Rittich’s performance wasn’t ideal, he still played better than his .800 save percentage on the night would suggest. He made a few big saves including one on Mark Stone in the first period where he showed off the quickness of his pads.

2019-20 Season Expectations

The simple fact that the Calgary Flames trusted David Rittich to start five straight games to start the season is proof that he has established himself as a bonifide NHL starter. He came into the preseason with the starting job, but there was always a chance that he would have a short leash and the Flames would be quick to turn to the newly signed Cam Talbot. During the preseason, Rittich played outstanding and put those thoughts to rest. Now, the starting job in Calgary belongs to David Rittich, and the high expectations in Calgary rest on his shoulders.

With his strong preseason and solid start to the season, Rittich looks certain to receive a heavy workload in terms of starts. So far, he has started five of the Flames six games to start the season. Rittich’s numbers this season have been quite misleading. His goals-against-average is currently sitting at 3.16 and his save percentage is at .906. These statistics do not accurately measure the magnitude of his saves and are heavily skewed by his performance against Vegas.

Even with those less than stellar numbers, Rittich has been a key factor in a few Flames games so far this season. The Flames have struggled so far this season and have been in defensive shambles. Rittich has played a critical role in keeping the Flames at .500 in his starts.

Beyond the Numbers

His performance against the Canucks was dominant with both a high quantity and quality of saves. Against the Kings, Rittich made a bunch of big saves to keep it competitive. Eventually, the Flames got their legs underneath them and managed to pick up a point. And against the Stars, Rittich was phenomenal in getting his team to overtime. He then followed up with a save on a penalty shot and a couple of saves in the shootout. Setting aside the Vegas game, Rittich has put up an impressive .929 save percentage. His performances have definitely been good enough to secure him a role as an NHL starter.

With every high-level performance, David Rittich endears himself more and more to the crowd at the Saddledome. Since last year, “Big Save Dave” has become one of the Flames fan favourites. And based on his early-season workload, the fans in the Saddledome are going to have a lot of chances to cheer him on, and Rittich is likely going to give them something to cheer about.

 

Main Photo:

OTTAWA, ON – MARCH 09: Calgary Flames Goalie David Rittich (33) prepares for a face-off during third period National Hockey League action between the Calgary Flames and Ottawa Senators on March 9, 2018, at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, ON, Canada. (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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