The Calgary Flames and goalie Mike Smith might just be at a crossroads.
The netminder has been the focus of “goaltending controversy” in hockey press circles and being bested by Ryan Miller and the Anaheim Ducks Wednesday did not help.
The Flames dropped the midweek decision by a final score of 3-2. The hope was that they would be able to come back and win after trailing following two periods, just like they’d done the three previous games in a row.
Smith, however, was not overly helpful.
It’s hard and probably ill-mannered to suggest that Wednesday’s loss was his fault, but the picture is dim. Smith made 19 saves on 22 shots, posting a save percentage under .900 for the eighth time in 11 starts. He allowed five goals by the Colorado Avalanche on November 1 but hung in against Maple Leafs on October 29 and put up a solid performance.
Prior to that, Smith was dreadful against the Penguins and allowed six goals against.
After 11 starts, the Kingston native has a 3.66 goals against average and a .872 save percentage. He has one shutout in a remarkable performance against the Predators in October, when he turned aside 43 shots.
In the preseason, the position of goaltender was pretty much established. David Rittich failed to impress enough to rustle the gig from Smith. And things hypothetically should’ve gone alright.
The trouble is in the type of shots that seem to be squeaking by. We’re talking low percentage goals, like the kind Jakob Silfverberg scored on Wednesday. Smith had a clear view and should’ve made a routine save, but the biscuit dribbled through his pads to mark the first time the Ducks scored the first goal in a game in eight outings.
In fairness, the Flames are doing fine.
They’re tied for the top of the Pacific Division with 19 points, sitting pretty with the Canucks and Sharks. And they’ve allowed as many goals against as Vancouver, but they’ve scored more to tilt the differential in their favour. Barely.
But you have to imagine the clock will run out, which puts Calgary in a tough position. The Flames can make a go of it this season and rest confidently on a goaltender worth his salt or they can roll the dice and hope Smith turns things around.
Some fans argue that the time is now for Rittich, who perhaps should get another look. The 26-year-old has four wins in five starts this season, with a .927 save percentage and a 2.23 goals against average. He allowed three goals against the last time he played, which amounted to a sub-standard turn against the Blackhawks on November 3.
The other, more popular option – as always – is a trade. The Flames could go knocking on the door of the Blue Jackets, who are not that pleased with Sergei Bobrovsky. The netminder has blown off team meetings and things are cool if not frozen between he and general manager Jarmo Kekalainen. Bob wants out and that could open the door for the Flames – if the Islanders don’t get there first.
Timing is everything and there is something righteous about suggesting the Flames stand by their man. But Smith isn’t producing and something has to change if the club wants to maintain its grip in the Pacific.
With the Canucks and Pettersson surprising and other teams picking up steam, the rubber really will hit the road in short order. And with Smith in goal, the rubber will likely see a lot of Calgary twine, too.