David Rittich providing Flames with standout goaltending in young season

Calgary Flames goalie David Rittich ducks as the puck deflects off his mask during third period NHL hockey action against the Vancouver Canucks, in Calgary, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

CALGARY – These are the nights fans tend to take goaltending for granted.

At their peril.

Much of the talk following the Calgary Flames’ 5-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings Thursday revolved around the continued awakening of the team’s bottom-six forwards.

Fair enough, as third-liners Sam Bennett, Derek Ryan and Andrew Mangiapane played key roles in breaking open a game that was 2-1 heading into the third. They’d been quiet up until this week.

However, Thursday’s result could have been much different without having the luxury of standout goaltending, which David Rittich has provided plenty of early this season.

With the game not even a minute old, Dylan Larkin forced Rittich to come up with a beauty stop that otherwise could have changed the entire complexion of the evening. Less than a minute later Danny DeKeyser forced Rittich to make another dandy.

While the Flames haven’t exactly jumped out to the start they were hoping for this season, the notoriously slow-starting team has been able to count on one significant development so far this year: Rittich.

The undrafted 27-year-old Czech has provided the stability, poise and consistency many worried he may not be able to exhibit as the starter of this talented group.

His 27-save performance Thursday wasn’t the talking point of the fan base or the media, which is precisely why the Flames should be thrilled. It’s starting to become expected.

“It’s huge – momentum right?” said coach Bill Peters of the opening save. “I thought our first period was good, minus those first couple shifts. He made a big save. He’s solid. He’s been real good all year. He’s been good right from training camp on. I thought his goalie touches were better tonight – we’re going to be patient with it too. Confident guy, playing really well.”

The goalie-touch reference revolved around the adventures that Rittich isn’t shy about starting with his stick.

It was just one game earlier when he became the talk of the evening when attempting to score into an empty-net in a one-goal game that resulted in an icing call.

The netminder laughed it off, which is something else the personable lad is known for in his short time in the NHL.

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“Alright,” shrugged the man they call Big Save Dave when asked to assess a game in which the only goal he surrendered trickled through his pads and landed on the goal line before Darren Helm tapped it in. “Always can be better. I’m trying my best and trying to give the guys confidence. If I’m going to make some big saves they maybe gonna score and I’m happy about that.”

The win, pushing the Flames’ record to 4-3-1, was the most complete outing of the year so far, as all but three Calgary players registered shots on net, and everyone played a role.

The top line saw Elias Lindholm score his fifth of the season on the power play midway through a game in which Mangiapane opened the proceedings with a first-period deflection past Jimmy Howard.

Mangiapane left the game in the second after getting tangled up along the boards and falling awkwardly. Lindholm left early in the third and didn’t return after a series of aggressive give-and-takes with Helm led to a wood-chopper’s slash to the back of the legs that netted the Detroit veteran a five-minute major and game misconduct. Lindholm had trouble getting up and off the ice. No update was provided for either player.

Lucic replaced Mangiapane on the third line and made a big hit on Alex Biega behind the net before feeding Bennett for an easy finish out front – Bennett’s first of the year.

A fan favourite despite being unable to find his way offensively, Lucic was also in the mix for Ryan’s first goal of the campaign, which was actually put in the net by a Wings defender to break the game wide open at 4-1 early in the third.

Mark Giordano got Calgary’s second power-play goal of the night to cap the scoring.

Matthew Tkachuk and the Flames head to Los Angeles Friday for a rematch with Drew Doughty and the Kings that has Hockey Night in Canada promoting their ongoing feud as such.

Rittich, who has started seven of the club’s eight games, will split starts with Talbot on the two-game trip, which also sees the Flames in Anaheim Sunday.

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