(Candice Ward / USA Today Sports)
It was a bittersweet evening at the Saddledome tonight, as the Calgary Flames played three pretty composed, smart periods of ice hockey en route to a 4-1 victory over the visiting Carolina Hurricanes to kick off the home-stretch of the 2015-16 season.
Of course, the win was overshadowed somewhat by the loss of defender T.J. Brodie with a lower-body injury. Despite having to play the bulk of the game with five defenders – including seventh defender Ladislav Smid – the Flames never let the Hurricanes creep back into this one and coasted to the finish.
The Flames had an uncharacteristically good first period. They were skating. They were hitting. They were making smart decisions with the puck, and all of those factors colluded to produce a few good scoring chances at even-strength. Eddie Lack had to be sharp in Carolina’s net early-on. The Flames broke the deadlock in another unusual (for them) way: on the power-play. With Ron Hainsey in the box, a nice passing play left Dougie Hamilton all alone and his shot trickled through Lack for a 1-0 lead. But it would not last: as the goal was being announced, Elias Lindholm beat Karri Ramo with a nice wrister to tie things up. The Flames kept at it, though, and Michael Frolik even generated a pair of nice scoring chances late in the period – while the Flames were killing a penalty. Shots were 11-8 for the Flames and shot attempts were 19-14.
The middle frame had its good and bad. The bad? The Flames took a trio of “oh crap, he got past me” penalties and gave the Hurricanes three power-plays (one of them spilled over into the third). The good? Their penalty kill was good. After a couple kills, the Flames generated a power-play of their own and scored again off a really nice 52-second sequence of offensive cycling and pressure, culminating in Mark Giordano wristing the puck past Lack – in about the same spot on the ice that Hamilton scored from in the first. And 38 seconds after they re-took the lead, they increased it by way of some nice puck retrieval off of a aborted shoot-in. Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Jiri Hudler fore-checked and created a turnover, then Gaudreau tucked in the rebound after Monahan’s initial shot to make it 3-1. Shots were 9-6 for Calgary in the second, while they also had a slim 22-19 edge in shot attempts. The period wasn’t as close as it seems, though, as the Flames had an 8-2 even-strength shot edge (18-10 in attempts).
The Flames weathered an early storm in the third, killing off the remainder of their carry-over penalty from the second period. Almost immediately after that kill, some effective puck retrieval and a nice passing sequence led to a tap-in goal for Monahan to make it 4-1. From there, the Flames pressed from time to time, but for the most part they played smart defensive hockey and kept Carolina to the outside for the remainder of the game. Score effects were in full force, as the Hurricanes out-shot Calgary 15-4 and out-attempted them 25-10. But it didn’t matter, as the Flames had this game well in hand.
WHY THE FLAMES WON
Well, they were a lot better in all three zones than Carolina for the first two periods, and then were able to keep the Hurricane to the outside in the third. The Flames didn’t get panicky, and they never got hemmed into their own end, and they generally played smart, composed hockey, even after Brodie went down.
It was as complete a game as they’ve played all season.
Sean Monahan had four primary points – a goal and three primary assists – and the Flames only scored foiur times, so I think you can make a good case that he was pretty crucial to the team’s win this evening.
Also good tonight? More or less everybody, but particularly Michael Frolik (a beast on the penalty kill) and Karri Ramo (during a few late-game sequences where Carolina showed life).
The Flames are back in action on Friday night as they welcome the NHL’s worst team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, to town.