Exhibition hockey is rarely picturesque. Heck, it’s often “bowling shoe ugly,” and the best everyone involved can hope for is no injuries and for some positive signs. For the Calgary Flames, they managed to defeat the Vancouver Canucks at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Friday night in a rather disjointed 2-1 affair. But they got another strong performance from Brian Elliott and their de facto top line.
Here’s how it went down in Calgary’s fourth pre-season contest of this season.
The Flames were sharp in the opening period, aside from a late period lull that followed a Canucks power-play. The theme of the period was “skating hard.” A forecheck by Alex Chiasson led to a Canucks defensive zone penalty and, 19 seconds later, the game’s opening goal on the power-play. A nice rapid-fire “around the horn” cycle from Giordano to Bennett to Brouwer, and a quick shot, beat Richard Bachman to make it 1-0. The Flames had a five-on-three for nearly a minute later in the period but couldn’t capitalize. The Canucks gained some momentum later on after Mark Jankowski took a defensive zone penalty and the Canucks finally got some time with the puck, but Brian Elliott was solid and the period ended with the Flames up by a goal. Shots were 10-6 Calgary in the first.
The Canucks continued to gain momentum in the second, as the Flames failed to capitalize on a power-play that followed an awkward, late collision between Matthew Tkachuk and Vancouver’s Joseph LaBate.
Tkachuk hit and went to dressing room favouring his left arm. (Hit near bench) pic.twitter.com/yEPjEMTbWl
— FlamesNation (@FlamesNation) October 1, 2016
Luckily Tkachuk was fine and returned to the game. Micheal Ferland promptly fought LaBate. Jankowski took another defensive zone penalty and the Canucks finally broke through slightly after the penalty expired, with Deryk Engelland losing his man in the defensive zone and Guillaume Brisebois sliding down towards the net and beating Elliott with Vancouver’s 10th shot of the period.
But some nice forechecking pressure drew another Vancouver penalty, and the Flames capitalized off a wonky play that saw a Brouwer shot careen into the air and land in the blue paint, where Tkachuk drove the net and poked it in.
A whole lot of this in his future as a Flame. pic.twitter.com/FHk0ja4JI3
— FlamesNation (@FlamesNation) October 1, 2016
Shots were 13-7 for Vancouver in the middle frame.
The final frame was, even by pre-season standards, a bit disjointed. It was punctuated by a pair of scrums which seemed to put a bit of energy into the latter part of the period. Garnet Hathaway slid into Brendan Gaunce with a nice hit at the Flames blueline, leading to a crowd and Hathaway fighting Jack Skille. The ensuing Flames power-play was cut short with a skirmish in the Canucks zone. Vancouver pressed late with a power-play and the goalie pulled for the extra attacker, but they couldn’t equalize the game and the Flames held on for a 2-1 victory. Shots were 11-7 for the hosts in the third period.
The positives? The power-play moved the puck rather well and scored twice, with the Brouwer-Bennett-Tkachuk-Giordano-Hamilton grouping looking quite good. The secondary unit, featuring Matt Stajan’s line, wasn’t quite as well-oiled (but you wouldn’t expect them to be).
The penalty kill was okay. They cleared things out well enough, but they seemed too often to try for cute passes rather than make the safe “glass and out” play. Against Vancouver’s odds and sods, it wasn’t enough to sink them.
Five-on-five, the Flames’ top line was good, but everyone else seemed to need a bit of work. The breakouts were a bit uneven and they seemed to too often make one pass too many (or have a pass get intercepted and cause them to get hemmed into their own end).
HOW’D THEY LOOK?
As has been the story so far this pre-season, the goalies were really good. Brian Elliott is the personification of calmness in net, and the lone goal against came on a defensive breakdown at the tail-end of a penalty kill. Tyler Parsons came in for the third and gave up zero goals in what might be his only pre-season action before he heads back to junior.
The top defensive pairing (Giordano and Hamilton) and top forward line (Tkachuk, Bennett and Brouwer) were good, especially on the power-play. Heck, Bennett and Brouwer were solid on the penalty kill as well.
The fourth line of Jankowski, Klimchuk and Hathaway were uneven, with Hathaway standing out a bit with his physicality but the other two falling by the wayside tonight. The rest of the lines and pairings were a mixture of good and bad, with everyone having a few nice shifts but the whole group tending to get hemmed into their own end arguably too much considering the quality of the line-up the Canucks were dressing.
“It was unbelievable. I was so happy for him, how well he played, he deserves that little shutout in the third. Whether or not, whatever happens, he left his mark here for sure. He’s one of the best goalies I’ve obviously ever played with, so he’s got a bright future. What you guys just saw here is a glimpse. He’s got a lot better things to come in the future.” – Flames winger Matthew Tkachuk, on London Knights teammate Tyler Parsons’ NHL pre-season debut against Vancouver
“It just kind of lets everybody play with a little less tension. You’re not afraid if you have one little bobble or turnover it’s gonna end up in your net. That’s always a good feeling to play, it lets you play a little looser and when you’re looser you play a little more fluid and make better plays.” – Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan on the impact Brian Elliott’s calm demeanour has on the team.
“I think it’s important for young players, especially a guy like Benny, to penalty kill as much as they can because if he’s going to play (and he is playing) center in the National Hockey League, it makes you a better player when you have to go out there for 30 seconds and you’re committed to the details of the game on the defensive side. And that just helps their overall game, so I wanted to get Benny out there as much as I could, especially with Brouwer and the opportunity at the end of the game was good experience.” – Gulutzan, on using Sam Bennett on the penalty kill.
The Flames are back in pre-season action on Sunday when they host the Winnipeg Jets at the Saddledome. The Sunday night game kicks off at 7pm.