CALGARY – Should he, or shouldn’t he?
Will he, or won’t he?
On Wednesday they pertained to Matthew Tkachuk.
On Saturday night the same queries can be asked of Leon Draisaitl.
No, the Oilers superstar doesn’t owe anyone a fight, as many wondered about Tkachuk.
But does he owe the Flames a stick flip?
Should the NHL’s leading scorer feel the need to punctuate an Oilers goal with a celebration aimed directly at David Rittich’s post-shootout impression of Jose Bautista?
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 30, 2020
Okay, okay, it’s not as juicy a storyline as that which preceded Wednesday’s 4-3 Flames win, but it’s a thing.
Or is it?
Did Rittich’s unique celebration and brief stare-down following a poke check on Draisaitl to end Wednesday’s shootout stick in the craw of the Oilers?
If so, no one inside Edmonton’s dressing room was saying the last few days.
Yes, we’re having some fun with this, because, frankly, that’s what this suddenly overheated rivalry should be all about. A response from Draisaitl or one of his teammates on Saturday night would amount to the type of playful jab hockey needs more of.
“That was a new one,” said a smiling Flames GM, Brad Treliving, of the toss. “We don’t need it every day, but that was a new one.”
For the handful of people who missed the game that the entire hockey world kept an eye on, Rittich immediately leapt to his feet following the game-saving poke check to start a celebration. While looking directly at the German star, he casually flipped his lumber into the air in mic-drop fashion, a la Joey Bats following his three-run dinger that ultimately clinched the Toronto Blue Jays’ series win over the Texas Rangers in the 2015 playoffs.
“I don’t know why I did it – I just wanted to change my celly after a shootout and I just did what I did,” said a beaming Rittich, one of the most colourful lads left in the game today.
“They compare to Bautista, the baseball guy. I didn’t have any idea. I’m not baseball fan. I’m not watching that on TV. Sorry guys. I (since) saw some video of it. It’s funny, but I didn’t have any clue if he did it before. I just did it because my stick was already in that position where I can throw it.”
Unapologetic about savouring a big win he played a huge part of with 31 saves, Rittich would be shocked if told such a move could have been interpreted as showboating.
He was just having fun. There was clearly no targeting or malice involved, no attempt to show anybody up or rub anything in. This is just an animated guy, who minutes earlier was seen kissing his posts and swimming on the ice after Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was the first of two Oilers to hit the post.
“Because I don’t know where’s the puck,” chuckled Rittich when asked about the swim move. “I heard the post and I was just worried it was going to hit me and I’m going to put it in. I’m trying to stay away from the puck and not let anything in.”
Rittich is now 6-0 on shootouts this season, helping the team pick up a half-dozen valuable points that have the Flames in a deadlock with the Oilers. With Edmonton’s win over St. Louis Friday night, the two Alberta teams sit just two points behind the division-leading Vancouver Canucks.
As every player will tell you, Saturday’s game at the Dome is all about the two points up for grabs, not who owes anyone anything.
But let’s face it, a stick-flip celly of any sort would be entertaining, and isn’t that what this is all about?
“It came out of nowhere but I loved it,” said Noah Hanifin of Rittich’s latest animation. “I liked the kissing the post even better. I was a little nervous and thought it was bad karma and thought, ‘don’t kiss them until its over.’ I saw him kiss one and then he was swimming. He gets into that mode when he’s having fun. I think that’s what makes him successful.”
As Mark Giordano said, if Rittich isn’t having fun and expressing himself in different ways, that’s when he’d get worried.
“Guys are competitors – we all remember Ovi going down and putting fire out on his stick,” chuckled Flames interim coach Geoff Ward, who will start Rittich again Saturday. “Stuff happens all the time. I think the biggest thing is you need to know the right level of emotion to get you playing the best. When we hit the ice we want the guys to be emotionally engaged. I think what you’re seeing is that, but the bottom line is you also need emotional control and emotional focus. When it gets too far you can do something to hurt your team.”
This didn’t hurt anyone.
In baseball, bat flips are an age-old practice that is clearly considered a way to show up pitchers. In hockey, well, no one has ever done it before.
It’s just plain goofy. It’s just so Rittich.
“Last year was the salt right?” said Ward of Rittich’s on-ice Salt Bae sprinkling celebration. “This year its baseball.”
Puck drop is 8 p.m. Stick drop to follow. Or not.