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 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.
Perfect execution of the kneecap bear hug. pic.twitter.com/tEvCEFKxtz
— NHL (@NHL) December 3, 2016
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.
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.
(Percentage stats are even strength. Game score is overall.)
THIS AND THAT
— Roger Millions (@RogMillions) December 3, 2016
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.
“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.
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.