Flames’ three biggest questions entering week of NHL restart

Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk says he's is sick of losing and wants the Flames to redeem themselves from last year by getting a good result against the Winnipeg Jets in the play-in round.

Cam Talbot did not see action in the Calgary Flames’ final intra-squad game of camp.

He sat on the bench for all three periods wearing most of his equipment, topped with a ball cap and face covering while he watched David Rittich play the whole game.

At the other end of the ice, Jon Gillies and Artyom Zagidulin split the action.

Is Talbot nursing an injury?

Is the club resting him as their chosen starter Tuesday in Edmonton and, subsequently, against Winnipeg?

Or does this mean Rittich is now their man?

Coach Geoff Ward said afterward he wanted to see the other two goalies and suggested we not read anything into it, which is hard to do given the importance of the decision.

Livestream the Flames in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, plus every game of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs on Sportsnet NOW.

Camp officially concluded Saturday, but the Calgary Flames still have a few questions to answer before they open their qualifying series against Winnipeg on Aug. 1.

Let’s examine the three biggest:

Who will start in net?

It may very well come down to who plays better against Edmonton on Tuesday, when Ward said he’s leaning toward splitting time between the two fellas.

“I think it’s important we see both guys under live bullets and see where they’re at,” he said, further suggesting they still haven’t made their decision on a Game 1 starter.

“We’re happy with the way the goalies have played.”

It has been pretty well documented around these parts that Rittich was the team’s MVP before Christmas, admirably shouldering the league’s heaviest load.

For the third year in a row he sagged in the second half, recording the second highest goals against average (3.55) and second lowest save percentage (.889) in the league in the new year.

That’s when Talbot shone, piecing together a brilliant couple of months that had him the easy starter had the playoffs not been put on pause for four months.

Talbot has 15 games of playoff experience to his credit, while Rittich is still awaiting his first playoff taste. That’s not insignificant.

All things being equal, management would likely love to be able to hand Rittich the keys to see if indeed he’s ready for the challenge. He’s under contract with the Flames for another year and is tabbed internally as the goalie of the future.

But is that future now?

Or do you start Talbot and risk him bolstering his stock as a pending UFA you’d like to re-sign at season’s end?

All that said, you can bet everyone making the decisions has only one consideration in mind – which goalie gives them the best chance to win now.

Give Talbot the edge so far in camp and during scrimmages, which is not irrelevant as coaches and management try to see who can jump into the fray as sharp as possible.

Both are popular in the room and the duo has a great relationship, meaning whatever decision is made will not fracture the team chemistry.

Expect the starter to have a short leash no matter who it is.

It says here: Talbot should and will start.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

Will Juuso Valimaki play?

Highly doubtful.

While speculation runs rampant that the 21-year-old first rounder won’t get his first taste of action this season in the playoffs, his status has remained a closely-guarded secret by the general manager who refuses to let the media talk to the Finnish blueliner.

The pairings to this point seem set in stone with Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie headlining a back end that has Noah Hanifin with Rasmus Andersson and Derek Forbort with Erik Gustafsson.

Oliver Kylington and Michael Stone played plenty of NHL games this season and are capable of stepping in if needed, leaving Valimaki pretty far down the depth charts given he has spent the year rehabbing from knee surgery.

In Friday’s scrimmage he was paired with black ace Alexander Yelesin, which is another sign he’ll remain shelved for the remainder of the season.

As good as he’s looked in camp, how effective could he be making his season debut with everything on the line?

He’s still the Flames’ future defensive star, which is all the more reason to protect him and be extra cautious about his return.

If he does play, it would require the team to protect him in the expansion draft ahead of captain Mark Giordano and anyone else the team might sign this summer. Not ideal.

The only way it makes sense to consider playing him is if the Flames get into injury issues as part of a deep run.

It says here: He’ll watch from afar.

How will Calgary use Sam Bennett?

Outside of Milan Lucic, no one on the Flames roster has had more success in the playoffs than Bennett.

He rose eyebrows as a rookie in 2015, acting as a human wrecking ball against Vancouver in his playoff debut when he was an integral part of the team’s only series win since 2004.

His three goals and boundless energy in three games caused the Canucks fits and had many believing the fourth pick overall would be a star.

He did it again two years later with two goals in the Flames’ four-game dismissal, and last year he was one of the lone bright spots against Colorado, leading the team in engagement as well as points, with five.

That number matched the amount of points accrued by the entire top line.

Earlier this week, Bennett reiterated how much he relishes the post-season’s physicality and emotion – two aspects of the game the Flames seem to lack the most every spring.

So, how do the Flames ensure Bennett is given ample opportunity to leave his mark in this series?

Well, an early injury to Derek Ryan opened the door for Bennett to move from fourth line winger to third line centre for the first two scrimmages.

He responded with three points in his first game as part of an eight-point outing between Milan Lucic and Dillon Dube.

Sure, intra-squad points mean little, but what did count was the fact he remained in Ryan’s spot even when the veteran centre returned to action for last Sunday’s scrimmage.

Ryan returned to his usual spot Thursday, which was understandable and expected given the chemistry and results his line had the final month of the season.

That bumped Bennett back to the fourth line, where he will no doubt be given ample opportunity to crash, bang and drag the Flames into the fight.

If he returns to past playoff form, coach Geoff Ward will strive to give the 24-year old extra ice time, even if he does line up at the start of the night on the bottom line.

There’s also a chance Bennett moves to the middle on that line with Tobias Rieder and Zac Rinaldo, bumping Mark Jankowski from the lineup.

It says here: Bennett will stand out once again on the fourth line.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.