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Rieder snaps 75-game goal-less drought in Flames' loss to Capitals

Oct 22, 2019; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames center Tobias Rieder (16) shoots the puck against the Washington Capitals during the first period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-405135
Oct 22, 2019; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames center Tobias Rieder (16) shoots the puck against the Washington Capitals during the first period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-405135

The goal was, by all accounts, insignificant.

The Calgary Flames, already down 5-2 at the time, were well out of the picture of Tuesday’s game against the Washington Capitals.

A comeback was not happening on this night.

There were 15.2 seconds remaining on the clock.

The play, too, was not on the short-list for the night’s highlight reels.

But for Tobias Rieder, a simple rebound tap-in off an Andrew Mangiapane shot was a massive deal in the 26-year-old’s world, no matter how much he downplayed the situation. Rieder had gone 75 National Hockey League games and two jersey changes — from the L.A. Kings to the Edmonton Oilers to the Flames — between goals.

That, basically, is an eternity for an everyday NHLer, especially for a forward.

“Obviously I’m happy it went in, but, at the same time, the game was pretty much over, so it didn’t really mean a whole lot at that time,” Rieder said Wednesday, discussing his first goal as a Flame as the team regrouped from an eventual 5-3 loss. “But, personally, it meant a lot.

“It always feels good to score. Obviously, it’s been a long time. It is good to get the first one out of the way. Too bad we lost the game, but it’s always nice to get a goal.”

There had been slumps before. When he was younger, playing with the Kitchener Rangers in the Ontario Hockey League and with the Portland Pirates in the American Hockey League, he would have swapped his sticks. Always a CCM, of course, but changing the colour, the pattern, the style …

It never worked.

“I feel like as soon as I start switching things around it makes it even worse,” Rieder said. “I tried early on in my career to switch it around a bit … I haven’t done it since. (The goal-slump would be) just in my head, so I stuck to what I like and what I always used … I had a couple of different sticks going, and I realized I was thinking way too much about the stick.

“But I stopped right away after that.”

Of course, his offensive prowess isn’t the reason Rieder was inked to a one-year deal by the Flames this fall after a professional tryout offer. The German left-shot winger also kills penalties, adds speed and gives the team some added depth and experience (he has logged nearly 400 NHL games and has scored 56 times in the best league in the world).

Rieder has also played the last three straight games in the wake of injuries to Sam Bennett and, on a two-game road trip to California, filled in when Mangiapane was at home recovering from an upper-body injury.

Through eight of the Flames’ 11 games, Rieder has averaged 11:42 of ice time, which is more than Mangiapane, Mark Jankowski and Austin Czarnik. He’s also maintained a steady spot on the Flames’ penalty-kill unit and averaged 2:04 of ice-time when the Flames are burning an infraction.

This year, so far, has started positively.

“I think it’s been pretty good,” he said. “Obviously, scoring a goal helps a lot. I think my overall game has been solid, and I think I’ve been been really good on the PK.

“That’s what I take a lot of pride in and just hope to move forward from there.”

He also wants to build off his first goal in the Flaming ‘C.’

But prior to arriving in Calgary, his NHL drought was well-documented.

Last year with the Oilers, it was a struggle. After he recovered from an injury early on in the 2018-19 season, he was rarely used and wound up only logging 11 assists in 67 games. It got worse when Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson told season-ticket holders, “if Toby Rieder would have scored 10 or 12 goals, we’d probably be in the playoffs.” (Nicholson later apologized)

Rieder still has a long way to go in improving his confidence — and trying to stay in the lineup on a daily basis — but finding the back of the net always makes a guy feel better.

“It’s important to stay positive,” Rieder said. “It doesn’t matter what situation you’re in. You always have to stay positive. That’s just my normal mindset.”

kanderson@postmedia.com

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