Well, that’s more like it.
After a woeful performance on Wednesday in their season-opener at the Scotiabank Saddledome, the Calgary Flames played a much more composed 60 minutes of ice hockey tonight in Vancouver in their do-over game. As a result of some nice play, particularly in the third period and particularly by their top line (“Boys and the Huds”), the Flames skated to a 3-2 overtime victory over the Canucks.
Here’s how it went down at Rogers Arena, where the Flames spoiled Vancouver’s home-opener.
The Flames were quite good in the first period, to the point where everyone was probably wondering where the heck this level of play was on Wednesday night. They moved their feet quite well, and the top two lines (anchored by the speed of Johnny Gaudreau and Mason Raymond, respectively) were really effective. Gaudreau’s speed drew a penalty, which led to Dougie Hamilton’s first goal as a Flame on a really nice cross-slot feed from Gaudreau – with a lot of patience by both men to let the pass and then the shot open up. The Flames led in shots 15-9 and attempts 23-21, but face-offs were even at 10-apiece.
Vancouver was a lot better in the second, as likely the Flames feeling happy with themselves and the Canucks feeling the game slipping away led to about 10 minutes of really strong play by the home side. Bo Horvat scored on an early power-play, as the Flames defense had trouble clearing the puck from the side of the net. Horvat had two chances to beat Jonas Hiller top corner and he converted on the second shot to tie it up. The next penalty kill was better for the Flames, but the shift after that kill was a bit chaotic, as Jared McCann got the puck after a side-boards scrum left him all alone and he went high glove-side on Hiller to give Vancouver the lead. It’s McCann’s first career goal, and it was a nice one. The game got a bit chippy after that and the Flames gradually began to get shots and zone time, but no goals for them in the second. Shots were 11-10 Vancouver, but the Flames had a 22-17 edge in shot attempts and a 15-11 edge at the face-off dot.
The Flames carried their momentum over into the third period, and had 20 minutes of hockey that made their “good” first period look awful by comparison. The club managed to hem Vancouver in their own zone for 30+ seconds on four separate occasions, visibly wearing down Vancouver’s defenders. And finally, after a period of pressure, Vancouver finally broke down. A dump-in by Dougie Hamilton was mishandled by the Canucks defenders as Johnny Gaudreau whirled into the zone in rabid pursuit. Jiri Hudler grabbed the puck, fed it to Sean Monahan and Monahan tucked it past Ryan Miller to tie the game. The Flames had a clear edge in shots (12-8) and shot attempts (20-10) in the third, but the only thing that kept Vancouver afloat was their slight (12-8) edge in face-offs in the final period of regulation.
And so, we went to three-on-three overtime for the first time in Flames history. The Flames went with three primary combos: Monahan/Hamilton/Giordano, Stajan/Russell/Wideman (they got hemmed in for awhile), and Gaudreau/Hudler/Wideman. Outside of the shift where Russell and Wideman couldn’t get the puck out, the period was fairly back-and-forth, but finally Gaudreau got on the ice and after a Wideman back-check kept the puck in the offensive zone, Gaudreau wandered into the slot and shelved one past Miller for the victory. (Vancouver had a 2-1 edge in shots and 4-2 edge in attempts in overtime.)
Johnny Gaudreau was awesome tonight. He drew a penalty and set up a goal in the first. He was voracious on the fore-check in the second period. He was all over the puck in the third, and really seemed hell-bent on tying the game and getting a goal at all costs.
Oh, and he was one of the most successful Flames in terms of puck control, puck possession and zone entries.
Mason Raymond and Brett Kulak were also pretty good, and I was much more impressed with Dougie Hamilton than I was in his first game (where he was pretty lousy). Really, outside of a couple penalties from Wideman, nobody was out-and-out bad.
WHY THE FLAMES WON
Well, the Flames found another gear in the third period.
They were about as good as Vancouver, on the whole, for the first 40 minutes of the game, but in the third the top line really kicked it into gear and took over the game and Vancouver simply didn’t have an answer for them.
The Flames weren’t perfect – they played with very little defensive structure in the second and got really, really scrambly – but they were in a completely different league than they were on Wednesday night.
The Stockton Heat made their AHL debut tonight in Stockton Arena against the Rockford Ice Hogs, Chicago’s farm team. And they DESTROYED Rockford. Jon Gillies made 19 saves for a shutout in his pro debut and the Heat got goals from Derek Grant (twice), Markus Granlund, Bill Arnold, Oliver Kylington, Jakub Nakadal and Freddie Hamilton for a SEVEN-TO-NOTHING victory.
So it was a pretty solid Saturday for the Flames organization.
The Flames enjoy a day off tomorrow before they’re back on the ice to prepare for their next game. It’ll be a big test for them, as they host the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night at the Saddledome – and they’ve struggled against the Blues over the past few seasons.