A little over six weeks ago, the Montreal Canadiens annihilated the Calgary Flames, defeating them 5-0 as Carey Price–
No wait, wait, that wasn’t how it went. Sam Bennett scored a meaningless goal with two seconds to go, a sad little silver lining on top of what had been one of the most miserable nights of the season.
Last night, though, the Flames showed the Canadiens how to close out and get that 5-0 shutout victory.
Congrats, Brian Elliott
There have been several games this season in which Brian Elliott deserved to pick up that elusive first shutout. You can date this as far back as Oct. 25, when he returned to St. Louis for the first time and had his shutout bid spoiled by an iffy powerplay early in the third period. Elliott still trails Chad Johnson by two, though he has effectively taken the starter’s reins and appears to be in no rush to give them up.
It wasn’t a goalie win – the Flames outshot the Habs 38-24 – but shutouts are shutouts, and shutouts are awesome, and the Flames have four on the season and Elliott finally has one to his name.
Since this win streak started, he has posted save percentages of: .821 (that bizarre Nashville game in which he made several game-saving stops as well, because why not), .920 (Tampa), .971 (Carolina), .966 (Los Angeles), .946 (Detroit), .943 (the Islanders), and now, 1.000. Is it any wonder the Flames are rolling? That’s a combined .938 save percentage. Toss in Johnson’s .947 against Florida and you have an extremely good starting goalie – you know, what Elliott was in St. Louis – and an extremely capable backup.
Elliott’s save percentage for the season is now .907. Remember when he was basically the worst in the NHL? Not so much anymore. He’s barely behind Marc-Andre Fleury (.908) and Ben Bishop (.910), goalies the Flames supposedly should have been trading for; this guy cost nothing at the deadline.
His even strength save percentage – which is a more accurate base to judge on – is .918. Bishop’s is .919. Fleury’s is .916. Elliott dug himself up out of that hole.
A first of the season
Of course, Elliott is only part of the story. Something else that helps? The Flames are scoring goals now, too.
They only needed one last night, but scoring five provided an extra nice bonus: they now have a +2 goal differential.
It’s the first time the Flames have had a positive goal differential all season. Towards the beginning, they were trending towards the worst in the NHL. Even as they seemed to be getting better, they still kept falling victim to blowouts.
Before the last Montreal game, the Flames were slowly trending in that positive direction. They’d beaten the Florida Panthers 5-2, and had a goal differential of just -5.
… Then they gave up four to the Predators, and that was that. Then they somehow scored three? Then they gave up seven to the Oilers. Then four to the Leafs. Then five to the Canadiens. And they were buried in a negative goal differential hole once again. They even got a 5-0 loss to the Coyotes in for good measure.
It may have taken an eight-game winning streak, but no matter: they’re finally in the green.
Why does this matter so much? It both does and doesn’t. When I’m looking at something of a flop team – one that may not make the playoffs – I’m at least hoping they have a positive goal differential, if for nothing else than as a point of pride. But teams with positive goal differentials also tend to actually make the playoffs. Seven teams in the West have it; all seven of those teams are in playoff position. Nine teams in the East have it; two are just outside of the playoffs, while the Islanders, occupying the last wild card spot, are at -1.
If you score more goals than you give up, chances are you’re a pretty decent team with a shot. That’s a statistical hurdle the Flames have finally cleared.
Speaking of scoring goals and getting points
All the love in the world to Mikael Backlund, but Johnny Gaudreau has finally taken his rightful place at the top of the Flames’ scoreboard once again. And all it took was a four-point night! He now has 48 points in 57 games and is on pace for 61, despite missing 10 games this season (otherwise, he’d be on pace for 69). Remind me how his contract got to be too much for him and he’s actually worthless and needs to be traded away ASAP?
Sean Monahan, Michael Frolik, and Micheal Stone were also big points winners last night with two each. Monahan jumped up to 45 on the season – on pace for 55, which is still a down year to be sure, but not a panic-inducing one – and is now third in team scoring. Frolik hopped up to 39, one away from being the sixth Flame to join the 40-point club, and he’s on pace for 48, which would be a career season for him. Stone doubled his Flames output in reduced minutes.
Mark Giordano also became the 11th guy to score at least 10 goals for the Flames – Alex Chiasson is up next, he’s still sitting at eight – and he finally cracked the 30-point barrier. T.J. Brodie, with a handful of glorious chances, should have cracked the 30-point barrier, too; alas, he remains at just 29.
Also, who the hell is Micheal Ferland? This sky-high shooting percentage isn’t going to last, but he’s the best linemate Gaudreau and Monahan have had since Jiri Hudler, seriously. Even if he isn’t scoring goals he’s not hurting that line at all. Though it is funny he’s just not picking up assists at all – that’s now 14 goals, seven assists for 21 points this season (tied with Brouwer, so hopefully he’s not gonna go ahead and demand $4.5 million to be re-signed). Does he become a 20-goal scorer this season? It’s… certainly possible, at this rate.
Pray for the defence
From the sounds of things, there’s a little more hope for Dougie Hamilton than Stone, though nothing’s official yet. But as unideal as it is to lose any player, especially at this time of year, Hamilton is one of the ones the Flames can least afford to be without.
He’s their highest scoring defenceman, and one of their best corsi guys, too. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: he’s the Flames’ number one defender in everything but ice time. So if he can just, like, not miss any time whatsoever, that would be ideal.
If anyone is out for any period of time, though, then what happens? Fortunately it’s not like the Flames have any back-to-backs, so they’ve got plenty of time to call guys up, so it’s not like we need to have Dennis Wideman happen again. Brett Kulak is familiar with this team; he’d have to be an automatic. I don’t know if you get any other kids really in there though – say, a couple of Swedes – if only because this is still a playoff race (hell, it’s a race for position now) and that’s stressful and what rookie or teenager needs to be thrown into that high-pressure situation right now?
Hopefully there’s no real time missed, especially for Hamilton. Hopefully if someone does have to step out it’s Kulak who gets meaningful minutes.
In the meantime, salutes to Giordano and Brodie, who both played over 25 minutes.
Is Matthew Tkachuk even real
He’s 19. He’s a rookie and he’s 19 years old and we didn’t know if he’d even make the team this year and he never even bothers to wear his mouthguard properly and what the hell are we even watching here.
Monahan and Bennett had modest rookie seasons. Gaudreau’s was electrifying but came with three college seasons’ worth of buildup.
Tkachuk isn’t technically out of nowhere because he’s been putting up points for a while. Though there was always that little asterisk with them – is it him, or is it his linemates? Or, uh, is it actually just him?
He may not be able to challenge for the rookie scoring title like Gaudreau did but he’s freakishly complete. He won’t score as much as Gaudreau in his rookie season but he’s just as electrifying. Each game passes and it’s like… he’s gonna finish third in Calder voting, isn’t he? He went sixth overall? Sure, why not.