What a difference 1.1 seconds can make.
That was the amount of time left in the Calgary Flames’ Feb. 11 road win against the New York Islanders when goaltender Mike Smith went down in a heap. The news on Smith two days later, following an MRI, suggested the injury might not be as serious as it first appeared.
However it’s now March 1 and Smith is just starting to take some shots in practice. There is still no definite timeline for his return.
To their credit, David Rittich and John Gillies have both played some very good games in Smith’s absence. But the team hasn’t been winning, and with a 3-5-1 record since Smith was injured, the Flames are currently on the outside of the playoffs looking in.
In no way am I suggesting that the most recent up and downs have all been about goaltending. Not for a second. But you could make an argument that Smith was the team’s MVP before he went down. He has a 23-16-6 record with a 2.51 goals against average, and a .921 save percentage this season, his first with the Flames. On top of that, his outstanding ability to play the puck has changed the way this team defends, and certainly makes a significant difference in their transition game.
The Flames have 17 games remaining on their schedule and the numbers suggest Calgary possess one of the more favourable schedules in the league. But the team is now on a two game losing skid after they played very well in Dallas but lost to the Stars 2-0, followed by a frustrating 5-2 setback at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche.
It’s crunch time for this crew. The time for this talented but still growing group to put together a run is now.
The Flames may need as many as 10 wins during that final stretch to reach the playoffs. To do that, Calgary will need quality goaltending, as good teams always do. That’s a tall order for the rookies Rittich and Gillies until Smith returns from injury.
The Flames went 17-5 down the stretch last season to earn a playoff berth. In my opinion Glen Gulutzan’s gang is more than capable of getting in again, and making some noise if they do. It’s all up to them.
For now the journey continues without Smith and it’s still unclear how much longer he will be out. Smith provided a solid backbone for the team, especially early in the season, and the team always has a good chance to win when he’s in the lineup.
Now it’s up to the rest of the Flames to come up with a body of work that ensures that this team is in playoff contention when Smith makes his way back into the crease.