Post-Game: Embracing the grind

Just over two weeks ago, the Calgary Flames played a pretty nice game against the Minnesota Wild. On the road, they grinded out a 1-0 win. Tonight, against the same opponent that they began their stretch of improved play, the Flames continued to embrace their grinding style. They beat the Wild 3-2 in a shootout at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

THE RUNDOWN

The locals came out with some energy in the opening period, but it was the Wild that scored first. Left somewhat unencumbered at the front of the net, Chris Stewart deflected a Jared Spurgeon point shot past Chad Johnson to make it 1-0. That lead evaporated a while later off a really nice read in the offensive zone by Sean Monahan. After a zone entry, Monahan held onto the puck and waited for reinforcements. A nice pass to Jyrki Jokipakka later, the Flames had a point shot that rebounded right to a diving Kris Versteeg for a 1-1 goal.

A few minutes later, with Erik Haula in the box, the Flames connected on the proverbial unicorn of goals: a home power play goal. After a face-off win, Mark Giordano’s point shot was stopped by Devan Dubnyk. The puck rebounded to Matthew Tkachuk (who was stopped) and then re-rebounded to Mikael Backlund, who buried it for a 2-1 lead. Shots were 9-7 for the hosts.

The second period was very low-event. Shots were 7-5 for Minnesota. The Wild failed to generate very much and the Flames were content to run down the clock and occasionally try for an offensive chance when Minnesota made mistakes in defending. Beyond that, there’s nothing to report about the second frame.

The third period was a bit higher-paced than the third. After pressing, the Wild finally tied the game about mid-way through the frame. There was a goal-mouth scramble that the Flames cleared, but the puck went right to Mikko Koivu in the slot and he buried it to make it 2-2. The Wild had a couple power plays in the remainder of the third, but the Flames had a couple big kills on two offensive zone penalties taken by Tkachuk. Shots were 13-9 Flames in the third.

Jason Zucker took a penalty with two seconds left in regulation, so the Flames had a 4-on-3 advantage to begin overtime. The Flames had tons of zone time and led 4-1 in shots in overtime, but couldn’t score. So it was off to the shootout! The locals countered a goal by Jason Pominville with markers from Versteeg and Monahan, winning the shootout 2-1 and the game 3-2.

WHY THE FLAMES WON

To some extent, the Flames won tonight because they managed to score opportunistic goals early and play fairly solid defensive hockey from there on out. But they also managed not to let the game get away from them when the Wild did score. If this game took place in October, likely the Flames would’ve been a lot sloppier in their own end and allowed a goal on one of those late penalty kills. But the Flames seem to have figured out a lot of their play in their own end – it’s by no means perfect – and that’s given them the ability to stick around in games like this rather than see them slip away.

Let’s also not forget: the Flames won the special teams battle tonight. For this group, that’s an accomplishment.

THE TURNING POINT

The Wild had a couple of golden opportunities to take a lead on Tkachuk’s two third period penalties. Instead, the Flames gained some momentum and seemed to fluster Minnesota with a pair of pretty sharp kills.

RED WARRIOR

We’re nothing if not consistent here, so I gotta go with Backlund. He had a goal, a team-leading six shots and his line created havoc for the Wild all night.

Honourable mentions to Giordano, (D) Hamilton, Frolik and Tkachuk.

THE NUMBERS

(Percentage stats are even strength. Game score is overall.)

Player Corsi
For%
O-Zone
Start%
Game
Score
Frolik 76.9 83.3 1.600
Backlund 71.8 80.0 2.330
D.Hamilton 71.4 80.0 1.525
Tkachuk 66.7 87.5 1.975
Giordano 64.3 80.0 1.950
Wideman 54.6 76.9 0.625
Brodie 52.9 73.3 0.225
F.Hamilton 50.0 75.0 -0.020
Hathaway 50.0 75.0 0.075
Ferland 50.0 66.7 0.040
Chiasson 46.7 22.2 -0.200
Jokipakka 44.8 25.0 0.625
Engelland 39.4 14.3 -0.450
Versteeg 38.5 88.9 1.050
Stajan 38.5 12.5 -0.410
Bennett 33.3 20.0 -0.085
Monahan 32.0 80.0 0.430
Brouwer 29.2 77.8 -0.240
Johnson 1.550

THIS AND THAT

There have been 17 (in 84 regular season meetings). Another three games ended in thrilling 1-1 ties. And another three games were 1-0 shutouts for either side. And another game featured zero goals in regulation, ending in a shootout. So out of 84 Flames/Wild games, roughly a quarter of them have featured three goals or less.

QUOTEABLE

“You could see our penalty kill has come to life here a little bit. We understand concepts completely and it’s always a work in progress, but to get two kills like that at the end of the game – and I’m sure they’re saying the same thing over there because they had some good kills – that gives us confidence.” – Flames head coach Glen Gulutzan assessing his team’s crucial special teams performance late in the game.

“I think I was holding my stick too tight at the start of the season, honestly. I think sometimes you feel it, I don’t know, it’s a weird league. But I mean right now when I get the puck I’m trying to make a play. Earlier on in the season I wasn’t doing that. It comes down to confidence and I think you’ve got to let the game to come to you, and you can’t sit back and watch it.” – Flames center Sean Monahan on his improved play with the puck in the offensive zone recently.

“I think it’s just experience. Early on, we had a new group, new systems, and I said from day one we’re going to have some struggles for the first month. I did it last year with Buffalo: new coaches, new players, it’s a challenge. I think now, guys are more comfortable and we’re not hesitating, we’re reacting and playing hockey.” – Flames goalie Chad Johnson on the team’s improved play over the last 10 games.

UP NEXT

The Flames (12-13-2) practice tomorrow – and also host their Super Skills event for the first time since 2012 – and then are back in action on Sunday night when they host the Anaheim Ducks.

  • Lucky 13

    The Flames stick to game script and it’s a win. Gio was great at not retaliating with the dying seconds remaining in the third period. Tkachuk has got a mean edge to him and I hope there’s no further discipline on his heat butt, but was fun to watch.

    Thank you Monny for getting being noticeable again and for the SO winner.

  • OKG

    A lot of positives but some negatives too (Jokipakka-Engelland brings back memories of Smid-Engelland, and Bennett’s game is just getting worse and worse as we try to force our second-best centre to be our fourth-best winger.)

  • kid presentable

    bennett being played on stajan’s wing is pretty insane.

    and so is playing hamilton less than both wideman AND engelland. that’s playing our best defender this season less than a barely nhl caliber defenseman and a 6/7.

    wtf gulutzan?

  • RKD

    While Johnson has been nothing short of sensational, the players seem to be playing Gulutzan’s system. They have been better defensively and the penalty killing has been superb. They killed 19/20 before tonight’s game against the Wild and killed another 4 tonight so that’s 23/24. We are back in a playoff spot and one win away from .500.

    • OKG

      A .500 points percentage is meaningless, as 80% of the league has a .500 points percentage. .500 in sports lingo usually refers to being a middle-of-pack team by winning-percentage. The Panthers are an example of an actual .500 team – 12-10-2 or 12W 12L and sitting in 17th place in the league. Don’t act an Oilers fan who is happy with a .500 points percentage, loser points are for losers like the Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets, Ottawa Senators, and Vancouver Canucks. Winning is the only thing that counts and the Flames are 12-13-2 or 12W-15L or 3-games-under-.500 still!

      • Lucky 13

        While I agree with you the advanced metrics weren’t good for Monahan, the eye metrics are showing he’s played better in the last two games compared to the last 25. Hoping this is an uphill climb at least!

      • McRib

        Monahan led the team with the best Corsi the game prior and was in the top 5 for Flames skaters the game before as well. Corsi on a game per game basis doesn’t tell the whole story most times and looking at a larger sample is a much better thing to do (although I still having the sample every game from Ryan). Monahan is trending in the right direction of late, regardless of last nights Corsi.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    How can you not be happy being a .500 team when we were a .333 team less than 2 weeks ago. Playing close to .500 won’t get us in the playoffs but getting 5 of the possible 6 points….just might. I agree that Sam is being wasted on the third line. Move Bennett with Mony and Versteeg and drop Brouwer to the third line.

    • OKG

      I can only be happy with a good, playoff-worthy team, not a 22nd place team. 22nd place and 26th place and 30th place are all the same to me (except 30th place has a better shot at improving quickly)

  • MacInnis & Gunn

    I don’t normally post but had to as a testament to our fans. Left the game tonight and got to our after hours hangout, they asked me for a donation to a kids fund and when I reached for my wallet there was nothing there. This was immediately after the game so my bud and I ran back to the dome to search. Walked back in and my wallet was at guest services with zero cash gone. I don’t know who brought it but did they ever make my night easier. I went from a huge high on that shootout win to a massive low, then an even bigger high. All this is, is a thank-you to the rest of the fans, we’ve got a great bunch here in cowtown.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    Anybody else catch that shot of Gaudreau after Monahan’s goal and amidst all the celebrating and cheering in the box he was in, Johnny was shrugging his shoulders and shaking his head in utter disbelief and shouting, “WTF, who’s got my back around here?”

    Yeah, I didn’t see it either, but then again I’m not the Sultan of Stupidity.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    Out of Curiosity, how many of the Backlund detractors from years past have changed their minds?

    Prop if you’ve been converted.

    Trash if your not convinced that Backlund is great 3C.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    I would much prefer the Flames standing up for each other in the heat of the battle than having to exact revenge for a previous game’s dirty play. They seem to be moving in that direction. I must admit that I was a little surprised that Ferland was not finishing his checks last night to send a message. He had no interest in engaging after the whistle but it wa a close game so I guess there was no opportunities.