January 11 2017 11:16PM
After a stretch of games where the Calgary Flames were able to bank a lot of points against the lesser lights of the National Hockey League, they've had a tough stretch of games against Vancouver (twice), Winnipeg and tonight's game against the San Jose Sharks where they've been playing in tight-checking games where the margin of error is very thin.
After letting some points slip through their grasp against Vancouver and Winnipeg, the Flames overcame a slow start to capture a hard-fought 3-2 victory over the Sharks at the Scotiabank Saddledome. Once again the game turned not on the play of the team's most expensive forwards, but on the efforts of the much-heralded 3M Line of Matthew Tkachuk, Michael Frolik and Mikael Backlund.
The locals immediately looked a lot better than they did in Winnipeg, skating well and narrowly missing on a handful of early chances. However, despite these efforts the Sharks opened the scoring. With Michael Frolik in the penalty box, a Brent Burns point shot was redirected by Logan Couture and eluded Chad Johnson to make it 1-0. Deryk Engelland was an unintentional partial screen on that goal, staggering around in some discomfort after blocking a shot with the back of his leg earlier on that kill.
The Flames responded about a minute and a half later, with a goal from a familiar source: the 3M Line. Frolik chucked the puck into the Sharks zone and then the Flames were able to recover the puck. Engelland's point shot was stopped but Frolik knocked the rebound past Aaron Dell to tie the game at 1-1. But it was not to last, as once again a Burns point shot eluded Johnson. This time it got through traffic clean, without being tipped, to make it 2-1. Shots were 12-8 Sharks in the first.
Calgary was a bit more scrambly early in the second, but gradually quieted that down and had a few nice chances. They had a good penalty kill on a Tkachuk minor, then evened things up with a Tkachuk power play goal before period's end. The Gaudreau first unit generated very little, often getting crossed-up with each other as soon as they entered the zone. However, the Backlund second unit (or maybe they're the first unit...) generated a Mikael Backlund point shot, which Tkachuk tipped in front of Dell to make it 2-2. Shots were 9-7 Flames in the second period of play.
Both clubs pressed in the third, but the Flames were a bit more effective at gaining the zone and making the Sharks run around in their own end. Mikkel Boedker beat out T.J. Brodie for a breakaway but got hauled down, leading to a penalty shot. But Chad Johnson made a big save to keep the game tied. Three minutes after that stop, the Flames took the lead for the first time in the game; the Backlund line ran around in the Sharks end after a dump-in and cycled the puck to the point. Dougie Hamilton's point shot (with Tkachuk tangling with Brenden Dillon out front) beat Dell to make it 3-2. The Flames got a late power play after Gaudreau was hauled down trying to take a shot on an empty net, but that led to a late shorthanded chance for Boedker with 10 seconds left and a second big Johnson stop. Shots were 11-8 in the third.
WHY THE FLAMES WON
The Flames seemed to do a good job wearing the Sharks down over the course of the game. The Sharks generated more in the first, but the Flames kept at it and – especially the 3M Line – really used the chip-and-chased to wear down the Sharks defenders.
This was a big test for the Flames. Thanks to the 3M Line and some nice play by a 19-year-old rookie in Tkachuk, they captured a big two points in a playoff-like atmosphere. Consider this test passed.
THE TURNING POINT
We have two for tonight.
Johnson's stop on the Boedker penalty shot (with the game tied) and his stop on the Boedker breakaway (with the Flames up one) were massive and helped cement this result.
This feels repetitive, but Tkachuk was great tonight. He was involved in the guts of the game, generated a lot of scoring chances – including a team-leading five shots – and was a pain in the butt for the Sharks all game long. We've seen him play well against bad teams, but he was top notch in a game that the Flames needed to have to stay in the thick of the playoff race.
Also good? Backlund, Frolik, Johnson, Giordano, Hamilton, Stajan and Hathaway.
(Percentage stats are even strength. Game score is overall. Data via Natural Stat Trick.)
THIS AND THAT
Mirco Mueller wasn't listed on the game sheet as playing, but he was on the ice for a little bit before being removed early in the first.
Per the NHL rulebook, the Sharks weren't given a penalty for dressing an ineligible player but they weren't allowed to replace him. As a combination of them rolling with five defenders, one of which was a rookie, four Sharks defensemen (Brenden Dillon, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun and Brent Burns) all played over 20 minutes apiece. After the game, Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan credited assistant coach Paul Jerrard for noting the ineligible player and alerting the officials.
Micheal Ferland left the game with 2:48 remaining in the second period after an awkward collision in the Sharks zone. He headed to the Flames room and didn't return for the third period due to what the team termed a "lower body" injury. Gulutzan didn't have any updates on his condition after the game.
"The last 10 seconds we fell asleep at the wheel, and it nearly cost us." - Gulutzan on the late breakaway for Boedker.
"I think everybody was pretty shocked when you're on a power play and all of a sudden, 8 seconds left, a guy's on a breakaway from the blueline. It is what it is. You just try to stay focused, stay with him and thankfully nothing came of it." - Flames goalie Chad Johnson on the late third period breakaway for Boedker.
The Flames (23-19-2) are back on the practice ice tomorrow, and then are back in game action on Friday night when they host the New Jersey Devils.