January 04 2017 11:25PM
This year's edition of the Colorado Avalanche are not a great hockey club. They're near the bottom of the rankings in most major statistical categories. They're often out-shot. They give up good chances. They take a lot of penalties.
The Calgary Flames didn't play a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination. But they took advantage of all the favours the Avalanche did for them – whether it be giveaways, silly penalties or just playing a generally sloppy game – en route to a 4-1 victory at the Saddledome.
The opening period lacked a ton of flow, but the Flames managed the puck reasonably well and didn't give up too much against the road team. Heck, Brian Elliott didn't face a shot until halfway through the first. The Flames opened the scoring on the power play, after Rene Bourque was sent to the sin bin for holding. Eight seconds later Kris Versteeg opened the scoring off a nice passing sequence following the face-off win. Shots were 9-4 Calgary in the opening frame.
The second was a bit disjointed, in that the Avalanche began to press a bit (but weren't executing well) and the Flames were content to attempt to defend their lead but didn't want to press all that much. For their part, the Flames gave up a few odd-man rushes that didn't end up in the back of their net for various reasons – primarily a mix of bad bounces and poor execution on the part of the visitors. On their third power play of the period, the Flames finally scored again off a similar rapid-fire passing and shooting play that resulted in their first PP goal. This time, a rebound careened to Mikael Backlund for his 12th of the season to extend the Calgary lead to 2-0.
So Swede pic.twitter.com/gaoU9SgfuG— FlamesNation (@FlamesNation) January 5, 2017
Shots were 14-7 Flames in the second period.
The hockey world almost saw a Mark Giordano/Jarome Iginla fight in the third period. Iginla got called for a holding penalty on Giordano as he was leaving the Flames zone. Giordano got the puck into the zone while Iginla followed him and the duo nearly came to blows after the whistle.
Ref breaks up the potential Gio v Iginla fight.— AOL KEYWORD: Mike (@mikeFAIL) January 5, 2017
My heart isn't ready for this. pic.twitter.com/RAou2TuGw7
Calgary didn't score on that power play, but Alex Chiasson took advantage of a gorgeous pass from T.J. Brodie and tucked it past Calvin Pickard to make it 3-0. Almost immediately afterwards, the Avs took successive high-sticking minors and gave the Flames a lengthy two-man advantage. They took advantage, as Johnny Gaudreau beat Pickard with a gorgeously sneaky move.
Patrick Wiercioch scored late to spoil the shutout attempt for Elliott and make it 4-1, but that's as close as they got. Shots were 14-7 in the third.
WHY THE FLAMES WON
I'm sure we've used this explanation before, but for both clubs the answer is "They are who we thought they were." The Flames looked like a bubble playoff team. The Avalanche looked like a team that's beginning to think about next season.
The Flames were just a little bit better than Colorado everywhere it counted. It was a bit disappointing to see them give up that last goal, particularly given how well they had played until that point.
It could've been worse, actually. Pickard made 33 saves for Colorado and a lot of them were good chances.
THE TURNING POINT
Backlund's second period power play goal was a dagger in the heart of the Avalanche. They could probably eke out a goal in the third period if they had to. Eking out a pair was too tall of an order.
For old time's sake, let's go with Giordano. He had two primary assists, drew two penalties, and very nearly engaged in fisticuffs with a local legend.
Stick-taps to Backlund, Brodie and Gaudreau, all who were quite good.
(Percentage stats are even strength. Game score is overall. Data from Natural Stat Trick.)
THIS AND THAT
#Flames C Mikael Backlund buries rebound on PP. That's goals in five straight games, plus a career milestone — 200 points.— Wes Gilbertson (@WesGilbertson) January 5, 2017
Tkachuk extended his points streak to seven games with an assist on Backlund's goal.
The Flames power play has scored in 12 of the 14 games they've played since December 1. Their 19 PP goals in that span leads the NHL.
"We have it going. I think if you guys look at our power play, it's very confident moving the puck. We've ironed a lot of the wrinkles from the start of the year. Dave's done a really good job with that group. I thought they could've even had a couple more. The penalty kill, same way. I thought it was very efficient, the way we cleared the puck. And I will say it again: you have to win the specialty teams game in this league and we're starting to do that, and you can see the results." - Flames coach Glen Gulutzan on his club's special teams performance.
"Just some emotions. I think we bumped into each other a couple times before that. I tell you guys all the time, the guy's one of the most competitive guys out there. Just words, really. We were bumping into each other all night, sort of." - Flames captain Mark Giordano on his almost-fight with Iginla. (He added, "Sometimes you get into fights with your buddies...")
The Flames (21-17-2) are traveling tomorrow, as they amp up for a key home-and-home set with the dastardly Vancouver Canucks. For your convenience, Friday's game in Vancouver is at 8 p.m. MT and Saturday's game in Calgary is also at 8 p.m. MT.