Flames' miscues, lack of emotion throw Rittich to the wolves vs. Canadiens

The Montreal Canadiens jumped out to an early 4-0 lead and held on to beat the Calgary Flames 4-2.

When last we saw David Rittich, the Calgary Flames netminder was thrust into the middle of one of the biggest playoff meltdowns in club history.

Following a five-month pandemic pause, he was put into a 3-3 tie and promptly allowed three goals in the middle frame of a 7-3 elimination game against the Dallas Stars in which his team had essentially given up.

On Thursday he was thrown to the wolves once again.

Another five months after that humbling summer evening, the 28-year-old was given his first start of the season against the league’s hottest and second-highest scoring team, in their home-opener no less.

Such is life for a backup goalie, which is exactly what Rittich was reduced to in the off-season after the Flames signed Jacob Markstrom to a pricey, six-year deal.

Suffice it to say the nightmarish run he’s been on since playing in last season’s all-star game continues.

Not that this one was on him.

With the help of several miscues in front of him, an opportunistic Habs team victimized Rittich by way of three special teams goals in a game the Flames opened rather well.

Despite exhibiting a noticeable jump in their start the Flames found themselves down 2-0 in the first period, thanks to two power-play goals.

As players and the coach admitted afterwards, the early deficit sent a team already reeling from two-straight losses into a tailspin.

“I just think we lacked some emotion,” said Sean Monahan, offering up a significant indictment on a team that has the experience to be stronger than that.

“You’ve got to be invested emotionally in games, and when that’s lacking it’s tough to get momentum. We’ve got to play for each other. We’ve got a tight team, so we’ve got to regroup here real quick. We’ve got to be invested a lot harder and play harder, and when you do that that’s when you get results.”

The effort wasn’t questionable in the first, when a Juuso Valimaki penalty midway through led to Brendan Gallagher’s crease tap-in Rittich had no chance on.

Five minutes later, Shea Weber fired one of his legendary point blasts wide, only to have Valimaki deflect it in off of his stick.

The Valimaki/Nikita Nesterov duo was victimized a third time when a bad pinch midway through the game by the Russian led to a two-on-one in which Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s shot deflected off Rittich’s glove before being promptly batted in out of the air by Josh Anderson.

“It wasn’t on him,” said Ward of his goalie, who has lost five straight starts dating back to last season.

“I don’t think he had a chance on any of the first three goals. For playing his first game I thought he gave a good accounting of himself. The goals were happening out of things that were weird circumstances in the hockey game.”

Nothing is weirder for a team as highly touted as the Flames than to abandon the fighting spirit they’d previously exhibited several times already this season.

Despite firing just 21 shots at Rittich, the 5-0-2 Canadiens finished with a 4-2 win that included two late, meaningless cheapies on Carey Price by the visitors.

“I thought the first we came out with the right attitude and right mindset but you can’t let a game slip away and let the mistakes pile on after you get down a couple,” said captain Mark Giordano. “We didn’t keep playing the same way.”

Is that mindset concerning for the coach of a team that has now lost three in a row?

“It could be,” said Ward, whose club faces Montreal again Saturday, no doubt with Markstrom in net. “We’ll have to wait and see how we respond to it. You have to find moments in the game where you can garner emotion, especially since there’s no crowd.

"With the lack of crowd you’ve got to try to generate that emotion, especially when you’re behind. We have to be emotionally attached every game.”

The lone goal Rittich should have stopped was Tyler Toffoli’s shorthanded breakaway shot that somehow slid through the goalie’s pads.

It was the sixth of the season for the free-agent signing, and it was the Habs’ fifth shorthanded strike of the year, tying an NHL record as the most scored by a team seven games in.

“We were very opportunistic tonight,” said Weber, whose team opened the season with six impressive road games. “I don’t think that was our best effort by any means. We’ve got a lot of room to improve here.”

Price made 23 stops, losing the shutout in the final 78 seconds when Milan Lucic and Rasmus Andersson scored for a Flames club now sitting at 2-3-1 and reeling over the type of stretch teams can ill-afford to go through in a 56-game season.

“Teams go through it,” said Ward. “It probably would have been easier for us if we hadn’t lost the previous two games.

"I think the emotion comes from how hard you compete and that certainly is a factor in it as well. This may be a real good lesson for us early.”

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