(David Banks / USA Today Sports)
For the first game of the 2016-17 season, the Calgary Flames looked like a National Hockey League team for three consecutive periods. Playing the Chicago Blackhawks for their first road game in two nights, the Flames played a smart, structured and generally all-together strong game against a Blackhawks club that hasn’t been great this year.
Chicago was decent. The Flames were better. The visitors notched their second victory of the season, in a shootout, by a 3-2 score.
Calgary came out and played a really smart first period. They skated. They back-checked. They killed a penalty. They scored a power play goal. It was magical. After Johnny Gaudreau drew a minor, Dougie Hamilton’s point shot trickled through some traffic and, with a whack from Sam Bennett, beat Corey Crawford. Chicago had a couple okay chances, but the Flames did their best to keep them off-balance and minimize their good looks. Shots were 14-8 in the opening frame for the Flames.
The second period was a bit more even, as Chicago seemingly came out of their locker room realizing they were losing to a team with just a single win this season. They capitalized on a Flames defensive gaffe early in the period to tie it up: Deryk Engelland’s attempted pass to Troy Brouwer just inside the blueline was stolen by X and one-timed by Patrick Kane past Brian Elliott to make it 1-1.
That didn’t last long, though, as the Flames responded back on the power play with a nice play. After an initial point shot was saved by Crawford, Sean Monahan managed to win a corner battle for the loose puck and pass it to Johnny Gaudreau on the half-boards, who immediately passed it cross-ice to Mark Giordano for a one-timer. Crawford got across to make that save, but Monahan tapped the rebound home. It was a textbook power play goal and they pulled it off nicely to make it 2-1. Shots were 11-8 Calgary in the second.
The Blackhawks tied the game a few minutes into the third period. Kane got his legs moving in the Flames zone, encircled the zone and then passed the puck to Brian Campbell. Campbell attempted a pass to Artem Anisimov, which was deflected by T.J. Brodie…into his own net. The game got scrambly late, and Elliott kept things tied with a couple big stops in the dying seconds of the third.
It was off to overtime! The Flames had some chances, then managed to kill an early penalty from Michael Frolik (that prevented an Artemi Panarin breakaway). The extra hockey solved nothing, so we went to the skills competition. It was a very long shootout, with many big names missing the net entirely. Kris Versteeg waited out Crawford and tucked the puck behind him to win it 3-2.
WHY THE FLAMES WON
Two primary reasons. First and foremost, their defensive play was a lot better and so Elliott wasn’t hung out to dry nearly as often as he was in his other starts. Granted, the two goals against him were (a) at even strength and (b) preceded by defensive gaffes by Engelland (on the first goal) and Brodie (who literally put the second goal past Elliott).
Oh, and their power play seemed much more confident and competent. Chicago’s PK woke up a bit as the game wore on, but the Flames seemed much more on top of things than they were basically at any point during the season to this point.
THE TURNING POINT
The penalty kill in overtime. With Frolik in the box, Brouwer and a rotation of defensemen did a very strong job keeping Kane and the other dangerous snipers at bay. Two minutes of smart, structured defensive zone play got the Flames a chance to win it in the shootout…which they did.
Gotta give it to Elliott. He was consistently good and occasionally very good. He seemed like a completely different player than he’s been in any of his other appearances. (There wasn’t the typical-at-this-point initial save followed by looking around frantically to find out where the puck bounced to.) He was also really sharp in the shootout.
Oh, and Gaudreau looked like he could score several goals. He didn’t, but he was consistently dangerous and won battles frequently. He seems ready to burst (with goals) at any moment.
(Percentage stats are even strength. Game score is overall).
THIS AND THAT
Louie DeBrusk did colour commentary on the Sportsnet broadcast with Rick Ball and was quite good.
Crazy … Blackhawks have allowed two power-play goals tonight, and their PK percentage has actually improved.
— Wes Gilbertson (@WesGilbertson) October 25, 2016
Legend has it a fan once brought a goat to the #Blackhawks‘ penalty kill and put a curse on it.
Or something like that.
— Chris Kuc (@ChrisKuc) October 25, 2016
The Flames (2-4-1) immediately hop on a plane to face a familiar foe. They visit the St. Louis Blues tomorrow evening in the final game of their two game road trip.