The Calgary Flames are not hard to figure out. A young, explosive team that will go only so far as its goaltending will take it—which, in any half-logical outcome, is not very far. But inexplicably, old man Mike Smith has been red-hot over the last month, and unheralded backup David Rittich red-hot before that, and the Flames have surged to the very top of the West. No one in their right mind thinks that netminding will possibly continue, and last night, Smith turned back into a pumpkin. And the Flames won the dang game anyway.
Calgary came back to beat the Flyers 6-5 in overtime for their 11th win in 13 games, and this one—like so many Flames wins are going to need to be, no matter how the season’s started—was in spite of the goaltending. Smith, who’d won six straight starts and allowed just nine goals over that span, gave up four goals on 14 shots through two periods before being yanked. Not because of his performance, apparently; head coach Bill Peters said Smith “wasn’t feeling right.”
The Flames still trailed by two with just over a minute remaining when they pulled Rittich and turned on the juice. (Maybe Calgary should just go entires games with the extra skater?) With 1:08 left, Rasmus Andersson’s first NHL goal:
Now within one, it was time for the usual suspects. Sean Monahan tied up the game with seven seconds left by cleaning up a rebound in front.
Neither goal was particularly pretty, but pretty doesn’t count any extra.
“Ending up finding a couple of greasy goals there,” Jonny Gaudreau said. The building was electric.” It really was! It’s been a long time since the Saddledome sounded like this, but why not? It’s been a long time since the Flames were this fast or this fun or this winning.
And it was Gaudreau who finished off what felt by that point like a fait accompli, just 35 seconds into overtime.
Look, it doesn’t pay to be sanguine about the Flames’ chances this year, specifically their chances of winning at this pace with the goaltenders they have. Smith, at age 36, is not suddenly going to permanently be the goalie he’s been since Thanksgiving. Rittich, a 26-year-old who’s been on the Stockton Shuttle the last couple of years, isn’t that much better a bet. This is a team that’s necessarily going to be carried by its offense, which does look pretty special. To put it another way, this is team that’s going to win some more 6-5 games, but it’s also going to lose some 6-5 games. That’s not a recipe for postseason success.
But that’s a long way off. Right now, on Dec. 13, the Flames, whose preseason ceiling was “maybe in the playoff picture?”, are atop the Pacific and atop the entire Western Conference. And if you can’t get excited for that, well, why even bother watching the sport?