The Calgary Flames are in a very favourable section of their schedule. After facing a lot of good clubs on lengthy road trips, the Flames are spending a lot of time at home and playing games against teams below them in the standings. But, as the saying goes, you still have to win those games.
The Flames weren’t amazing tonight, but they polished off the 2016 section of their schedule with a 4-2 victory over the lowly Arizona Coyotes. They were good in the first period and then good enough for the remaining 40 minutes.
The Flames were opportunistic in the first period. That’s not to say they weren’t good, but they had about as many good chances as the Coyotes did. Brian Elliott was better than Louie Domingue in the opening 20 minutes, and that statement was generally true for the entire game.
Calgary struck first on an early power play. Matthew Tkachuk put the puck on net and Michael Frolik – making a rare power play appearance with the PP units shuffled up since Troy Brouwer’s injury – buried the rebound to make it 1-0.
The lead was doubled a little while later off a Dennis Wideman point shot. Domingue didn’t see much as Connor Murphy was entangled with Alex Chiasson in the shooting lane. A few minutes after that, Lance Bouma made it 3-0 off a nice individual play (and a favourable bounce) as Garnet Hathaway was wrangling with a defender in the slot and Bouma’s attempted pass to his linemate bonked in off that defender’s skate.
Finally, the Flames made it 4-0 off a Mikael Backlund tip-in off a Mark Giordano point shot on a power play.
Shots were 9-9.
There were still 40 minutes left to play, but you wouldn’t know it given how sloppy the Flames were in the second period. They weren’t really doing the little things: chipping pucks out effectively, connecting on passes, or even forechecking with much aggression. As a result, there was a LOT of Arizona zone time. Brandon Perlini broke the shutout late in the second. All the Flames skaters swarmed Shane Doan on a zone entry and completely forgot about Perlini, who got an easy one all alone in front of Elliott. Shots were 16-6 Arizona.
The Flames were much better in the third period, presumably having been yelled at by their head coach. They had a few nice chances, but generally just were better at puck management and not giving the Coyotes too much. The visitors made it 4-2 midway through the third off a weird sequence. A shot was blocked and bounced high in the air, then was gloved ahead out of mid-air by Dougie Hamilton. That batted puck was intercepted by Jordan Martinook and shot off of Martin Hanzal and past Elliott. Everyone was a bit befuddled. But that was all that Arizona got on the board. Shots were 9-4 Flames in the third.
WHY THE FLAMES WON
After being frustrated by Anaheim’s net-front presence in their last outing, the Flames created utter chaos in front of Domingue in the first period. Between tips, bounces and traffic in lanes, they made a lot of good things happen early and then seemed content to take the rest of the evening off. Arizona wasn’t quite good enough to make them pay for it.
Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the first power play unit (featuring Gaudreau and Monahan) had zero goals and few good chances while the second unit (featuring Frolik and Backlund) had two goals tonight. I’d think that was odd, if it hadn’t been the pattern for the entire season at even strength.
THE TURNING POINT
The Bouma goal was the eventual game-winner, but it was a weird one that signified the Coyotes’ utter lack of luck on this occasion. The Coyotes were firmly dug into their hole at that point and no amount of digging up could get them out of it.
We’ve gotta go with Elliott. Especially with a team that looked really disinterested in the middle period, Elliott made the most of the run support he was given and seemed determined to make it stand up. He was at his scrambly, battling best tonight.
Stick-taps to the fourth line (Bouma, Hathaway and Stajan), as they were consistently making the Coyotes miserable by creating chances all evening long.
(Percentage stats are even strength. Game score is overall. Data via Natural Stat Trick.)
THIS AND THAT
Backlund extended his points streak to four games. He also finished 2016 with a team-leading 28 goals in the calendar year.
Tkachuk was briefly benched at the end of the second period, presumably for taking an undisciplined penalty.
The Flames (20-17-2) are off tomorrow to celebrate the beginning of 2017. They practice Monday and Tuesday and then are back in game action on Wednesday night when they welcome back Jarome Iginla and the lowly Colorado Avalanche.