EDMONTON — Geoff Ward has picked a starting puck-stopper.
He’s informed both David Rittich and Cam Talbot of his decision.
The Calgary Flames interim coach just isn’t ready to tell everyone else who will be between the pipes for Saturday’s Game 1 of their best-of-five play-in series against the Winnipeg Jets in an empty Rogers Place.
“We’ve narrowed it down to two,” Ward said after Saturday’s morning skate. “And it’s not (Jon) Gillies or (Artyom) Zagidulin, I can tell you that.”
We knew that already, although those Stockton Heat sidekicks are both bubbled with the Flames as emergency options.
Rittich was Calgary’s clear-cut starter for the first half of the season, even representing his club at the 2020 NHL All-Star Game, but Talbot was the better of the two backstops in the weeks leading up to the pandemic pause.
They split the crease in Tuesday’s tuneup against the Edmonton Oilers, each surrendering two goals in that contest.
If Talbot is tending twine for this 8:30 p.m. MT clash, his past playoff experience may have tipped the scales in his favour. The 33-year-old has made 13 career starts on this stage and also advanced to the 2014 Stanley Cup final as a rookie backup with the New York Rangers.
Rittich, 27, is the guy who is signed beyond this season. Big Save Dave was just a spectator last spring, so a Game 1 start could be an important show of faith from the organization.
Ward shared the news with both masked men on Friday night.
“With us, it’s almost like we have two No. 1s instead of a No. 1 and a 2,” Ward said. “So for them, they both know that our team trusts them when they’re in. Our team has confidence playing in front of both guys. And they both know that both of them could see time in this series and throughout the playoffs.
“So it’s important that they feel a part of it. It’s important that they know that they could be called on and that everybody has confidence in them. And then it’s just a matter of figuring out how things are going to fall based on what happens in games. But we feel like both our guys are ready to go. We like where our head-space is, both of them.
“And I think we’re just going to get a lot of support from that position. When one is not in, he supports the other one extremely well … These guys have been great with it, both of them.”
With Vezina Trophy finalist Connor Hellebuyck at the opposite end, the Flames might need great goaltending to get past the Jets in this best-of-five set.
Ward’s refusal to reveal his starter is just a little show of gamesmanship, a ploy to make the opposing coaches do a little extra prep.
“The reason for not divulging it, quite frankly, is now they’re going to have to do some work on both guys, not knowing who is going to be in for Game 1,” Ward said. “So it leaves a little bit of uncertainty in their mind. I don’t think it’s going to be huge but it may turn out to be a little bit of a factor, and we have to work all angles that we possibly can to gain little advantages where we can.”