After losing 2-1 in a shootout to the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Wednesday, the Flames returned to Calgary with three of a possible four points following a 3-2 overtime triumph over the Canadiens in Montreal on Thursday.
Here are four thoughts from the game.
After flying from Calgary to Toronto on Tuesday, arriving at the team hotel around 7 p.m., playing the Maple Leafs on Wednesday in a game that took four shootout rounds to decide and flying from Toronto to Montreal right after the game and checking-into their hotel at approximately 1 a.m., it looked like the Flames were running out of gas late in the second period of Thursday’s game against the Canadiens.
Trailing 2-1 following 40 minutes, the Flames seemed to find their second wind in the third period, when Garnet Hathaway scored his first goal of the season and the second of his NHL career to square the score and force overtime. Sean Monahan completed the comeback, adding to his franchise record for most OT-winners with the ninth of his career, scoring 1:14 into the extra period to give the Flames’ the wins.
One of the advantages of travelling with the team is I generally have a pretty good idea of how the team is feeling. I was tired despite the fact that stuffing my face with smoked meat and poutine was the most physically draining thing that I did during the road trip. If I was tired, I’m sure the players were after an hour-long practice on Tuesday, a full morning skate on Wednesday and two overtime games and three flights in three days. To their credit, the Flames dug deep and found a way to win on Thursday.
When the season started, David Rittich was the Flames’ fourth string goaltender. With Mike Smith the starter and Eddie Lack the back-up in the NHL and Jon Gillies getting the bulk of the starts in the AHL, Rittich had to make the most of his limited starts in Stockton, while patiently waiting for an opportunity to prove that he could play at the next level.
After going 5-1-0 with 2 shutouts, a 2.17 goals against average and .931 save percentage in six games with the Heat, Rittich was recalled by Calgary to replace a struggling Lack. The 25-year-old Czech was solid in his first-career start, stopping 24 of 26 shots in the Flames’ 3-2 victory over the Avalanche on Nov. 25. In his second start on Thursday, Rittich seemed to fight the puck at times but battled through some early struggles to stop 35 of 37 Canadiens shots to improve to 2-0-0 in his NHL career.
Rittich faced the same number of shots as Carey Price and made one more save than the world’s best goaltender. While two starts is a small sample size, Rittich is starting to earn the trust of Flames coaches and teammates and could be in Calgary to stay.
I wish NHL head coaches had a challenge flag in their pocket like NFL head coaches do. The act of them tossing it onto the ice would add drama. Flames bench boss Glen Gulutzan didn’t have a flag in his pocket, but he pulled a rabbit out of his hat when he challenged an incidental contact call with his team trailing 2-1 in the third period.
Referee Steve Kozari waived-off Garnet Hathaway’s goal claiming that the Flames forward made contact with Carey Price, prohibiting the Canadiens goaltender from keeping the puck out of his net. Upon further review, the call on the ice was overturned and the game was tied at two. When Kozari announced the referees’ ruling to a chorus of boos by Canadiens fans at the Bell Centre, Gulutzan’s fist pump was epic.
The challenge was the turning point in the game. In hindsight, I can’t help but wonder if it will prove to be a turning point in his team’s season. Okay, maybe that’s a stretch, but if I noticed Gulutzan’s fiery fist pump, so did his players.
HATHAWAY TO STAY?
Garnet Hathaway probably played the best hockey game of his life on Thursday night. Was it his most productive? No. The 26-year-old had 11 goals and 19 points in 18 games with the AHL’s Stockton Heat this season before being recalled last Wednesday.
But with a goal, which was his first goal in six NHL games this season and in 28 games dating back to last season, along with five shots and five hits, Hathaway probably played his best NHL game on Thursday night.
With Kris Versteeg out for months following hip surgery and Jaromir Jagr out for who knows how long with a nagging lower body injury, Hathaway has an opportunity to play an increased role and a chance to prove that he deserves to stay in the NHL. He took a big step in the right direction on Thursday night.