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Flames 2, Ducks 0 post-game embers: The evil has been vanquished

It happened.

Three for three

Ever since Mike Smith was traded for, I’ve been saying – more in casual conversation than actual written word – that Mike Smith was going to win this first game in Anaheim, and be elevated to god-tier status amongst the fanbase and media for it.

Well… yes, and no. He didn’t just get the Flames’ first win in Anaheim in over a decade; he shut out the Ducks to do it, too. And in fairly dramatic fashion with 43 saves, a number of which were fairly frantic and heart-stopping (and in one point at the end, almost injury-inducing) in their own right. Smith legitimately earned his shutout.

But here’s the thing: three games into the season, and Smith has looked great three times now. This game was already the second time this season he’s had a 40+ save game (something Glen Gulutzan and his defensive players have acknowledged is not a thing that they can keep allowing to happen). He was far and away the Flames’ best player in their season opener in Edmonton; he kept the Flames in the game against the Jets before the skaters in front of him went on a goal-scoring explosion, as well.

Presently, he has a .957 SV%, which is the highest amongst all goalies who have played three games, and 10th in the NHL overall. His even strength save percentage is .967%, and those same league-wide rankings apply. It’s incredibly early – hey everyone, Smith is a top 10 goaltender not even a week into the season, hooray! – but how much were people talking about how this team absolutely needed to get off to a good start?

Smith was poor to start preseason. He turned it on at the end of it, and he’s been on ever since. So far, he’s following through on his end of the bargain.

Kill all the penalties

In previous efforts in Anaheim, there would always be something stupid to undo all the Flames’ hard work near the end of what would almost be a winning victory.

Such as, say, taking three penalties in the final period of the game? Whatever you may think of the calls themselves. #TkachukDidNothingWrong

The Flames went five-for-five on the penalty kill, including killing off a 5v3 in the first period, long before anyone had scored and the Ducks had the chance to put creeping doubt in minds. They did absolutely everything they needed to do on the kill. I’d like to give extra credit to Mark Giordano on this one, who was an absolute machine on the final and scariest penalty kill of all: the call against Mikael Backlund with just 3:31 to go, when the Ducks pulled John Gibson and turned it into a 6v4, and Giordano was thwarting them all over the ice.

Giordano led the way with 6:04 in kill time, with Travis Hamonic (4:17) and Michael Stone (4:02) following suit. Oh, and also Troy Brouwer, with 4:06 clocked in – quite a fair amount, especially considering how he took a penalty himself. That could be a sign that, when Jaromir Jagr draws into the lineup, Brouwer’s spot should be safe. I mean, if he’s going to see more kill time than every other forward…

Scrolling through Natural Stat Trick’s fancy PK data – only 4v5 available, no 3v5 – the Ducks didn’t get any HDCF (though the Flames did – probably Matt Stajan’s shorthanded effort), and gave up anywhere from 6-9 CA, depending on how much time they were spending on the kill.

Line mixing and matching

The shutdown and fourth lines have been made readily apparent, but there doesn’t appear to be a decision on the other two quite yet. The Johnny Gaudreau and Kris Versteeg lineswap was kept in place to start the game, but they had been switched back around to their original lines later on (and, I suppose in fairness, they hadn’t exactly been scoring right off the bat in this one). The ice times between lines were fairly evenly split, albeit the new ones got a little more attention.

So, considering the relatively even split, what to make of things? A number that stands out to me is that Johnny Gaudreau, with Sean Monahan, had an 83.33% CF; with Bennett he was at 30.00%. (In fairness, Gaudreau’s offensive zone starts were almost 50% higher than Bennett’s were, and Bennett faced tougher competition [but not the toughest, as Gulutzan was able to keep the 3M line out against Ryan Getzlaf and friends].)

Even without the looming addition of Jaromir Jagr, the ideal line makeup hasn’t been settled quite yet. But this isn’t a bad thing, not with the way this team has been going. Besides, it’s proving that mixing and matching, so far, shouldn’t be a problem for this roster: that’s what happens when you have enough capable players in your lineup, as the Flames now, evidently, do.

The book is kind of still out on Curtis Lazar, though. He remains a mystery commodity, and as such, is the most likely one to be bumped from this group once Jagr joins it – but it’ll be hard to justify scratching him again.

Micheal Ferland, making the most of it

In the Flames’ first game of the season, Micheal Ferland had four shots on net.

In their second game of the season, he had four shots on net.

In their third game of the season, he had… four shots on net.

He’s currently trending for a 300-shot season, because extrapolating small sample sizes is incredibly fun. But to put that into a bit of perspective, only four players last season had 300+ shots: Brent Burns, Alex Ovechkin, Patrice Bergeron, and Tyler Seguin. Ferland is great, but that’s a bit of a different class of player.

Still: last season, he had 106 shots on net total. He also averaged 11:33 in ice time; so far this season, he’s up to 15:22. He only has the one goal to show for his work so far, but the effort is very, very clearly there, and it’ll be interesting to see where it goes.

In the meantime, Sean Monahan has the second most shots for the Flames so far this season with 11. Keep Gaudreau or Kris Versteeg with those two: someone who will dish the puck. Because so far, it’s working. And in the long run, it’ll probably pay off a lot more.

And lo, Travis Hamonic was good

Show me a stats nerd and I’ll show you someone who rolls their eyes and scoffs about the presence of fighting in hockey. Fact of the matter is, fighting just doesn’t have any real impact on the outcome of a game. It seems dubious as a “protection” measure, too, as often times a fight will break out after a player has already been hit. In which case you’re avenging your teammate, not exactly defending them.

But that’s not to say fighting is all bad. For example, I quite enjoyed Travis Hamonic’s assault on Corey Perry as he defended Giordano’s honour. It didn’t really do anything to affect the game – the Ducks lost one of their better players for five minutes, but the Flames were down a top four defenceman, too – but seeing the team’s captain smacked around as he was and having nobody respond in some way would have been… off.

Chemistry is still a thing, too. And not just the WOWY-version, but like, personality-wise. If the players don’t like each other, it’s going to be a miserable work environment. It’s not conducive to success. Not that everyone being best friends guarantees success – there is a lot more that goes into a championship-caliber team – but it certainly helps when they actually like what they’re doing and want to stick up for and see their co-workers succeed.

Also: agitating Perry got the Flames a powerplay. Matthew Tkachuk pissing off Getzlaf got the Flames a powerplay. Some incidents have to have someone answer for them, but otherwise? Use it to your advantage. The Flames did that last night.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    First and foremost, pro sports is entertainment and the athletes are entertainers. Fans love seeing fighting in hockey. It makes fans stand, holler and cheer. Every Canadian hockey fan likes a good scrap even though political correctness and polite society tell you that you abhor it.

  • I'm Ron Burgundy?

    What a morning it has been. I jumped out of bed before the alarm went off, my breakfast tasted better than usual, and traffic seemed lighter than normal.

    Seriously thought, there is a lot to like about what we’re seeing from this team. Smith looks like a gamer, 3M is ridiculously good (nothing new here), the top 4 D look as good as we thought, Stone and _______ seem to be a serviceable 5/6, Bennett is flying, Johnny is dangling, and Brouwer and the rest of the 4th line even look good.

    I guess some extra depth to force internal competition was all it took to make Brouwer skate a little bit. Still…please no more special teams minutes….I can’t take it.

    Is it just me or are three of the top five douchiest players in the NHL on this Ducks team?? Bieksa really showed his true colours after the game when he refused to give up the game puck to Smith.

    Stay Classy FN

    • Al Rain

      Perry is the biggest douche this side of Kessler.

      I do find it interesting that we hate Perry but love Tkachuk’s game, even enough for some to call him “our Corey Perry”. Personally, I enjoy watching Tkachuk and hope he continues to play physical, draw penalties, and generally “get under skin” (and score), but really hope he doesn’t follow the Perry template into douchiness.

      • imthedude63

        Totally agree but perspective and rationalizing are needed in our lives. I would have loved to seen Perry in a Flames jersey in his prime. Now that his skills are starting to diminish he cant back up being a pain in the but. Kachuck has only upside. When friends of mine who are fans of other teams whine about Kachuck I just ask them if they would like to have him on their team. Great victory last night!

  • Eggs Bennett

    A few thoughts:
    – Smith and Hamonic are making BT looking like a genius right now. You can really tell Brodie is that much more confident in wheeling with a solid D partner behind him.
    – Love Smith’s activeness in playing the puck and talking to his D
    – officiating was awful last night; really bad call on Tkachuk, followed by non-calls on the trip on Glass and Perry’s unsportsmanlike conduct
    – I am reminded of how much I hate the Ducks when Perry kept pushing boundaries and when Bieksa tried to keep the game puck from Tkachuk after it was finished

  • Kzak99

    Each day that passes is less we can get in trade for Bennett. He can’t get a pass through, can’t take a pass without fumbling it, and looked like a Pee Wee on a 2-on-none breakaway. He has zero points and one measly shot in three games. But it’s not too late, he still has value. Come on Tre, send Bennett and Kylington for Duchene.

    • I'm Ron Burgundy?

      Surprising that we can see such different things while watching the same game. To me, Bennett has been noticeable in the right ways. Maybe not showing up on the score sheet, but he’s creating chances with his speed and consistently looks dangerous (the fact that he is always plays like he’s pissed off is an added bonus). Duchene is a good player, but is a Center (too many on the depth chart already), and will be an unrestricted free agent after next year. Giving up Kylington may be a good move, but for me it should only be considered if we can address a need (RW skill).

      • Kzak99

        I’m certainly not questioning his effort or his attitude, it’s just nearly every pass he attempts ends up either off a defender’s leg or stick, and that pass to Lazar on the 2-on-none was atrocious. Also, I agree about the score sheet but 1 shot in 3 games is not just bad luck or lack of effort. I would be willing to risk Duchene, at this point. I remember how stoked I was that Edmonton passed on Bennett for Draisaitl, but now it’s pretty clear that we got the short end of that stick.

        • Jessemadnote

          Give him a bit of time dude. And do you think that trade is possible as is? Colorado turned down Hamonic and a 1st, let alone the fact that it would work with our cap, we are losing years of team control. He was a major factor in 2 of the goals against the Jets. He has been playing great in his own end, I agree he botched that breakaway but goddamn were you calling for Brodie to be traded after one game too?

    • The Doctor

      That two-on-one that Bennett was on with Lazar: I’d like to have another look at the tape, but my take on it was that Bennett was being too nice and generous to Lazar and really should have used Lazar as a decoy and shot the puck himself. Lazar looked like he was in good position but really wasn’t — the Dman had the lane to Lazar pretty well blocked.

    • Skylardog

      Bennett had been playing very well but not producing. That was not the case last night, he was awful. Last night it also became very clear that Steeg is too slow to play with Bennett. There were several rushes where Lazar and Bennett were off to the races and Steeg was no where to be seen. It will not work for Bennett if they put him with Steeg, but now I am also very concerned over Jagr being on his line as well.

      Bennett’s passing and decision making were not good last night. Before the 2 on- almost 0 pass mentioned above was a play where Lazar was wide open on a beeline for the Ducks goal with no one in front. Easy flip to the middle and it is a breakaway, instead, Bennett tried to pass through the lone defender. Not a skill play by any stretch of the imagination.

    • imthedude63

      Patience. Just look at Backlund’s development. It didn’t happen overnight. What I see in Bennett is a player who is becoming a man playing in the NHL not a kid.

  • Cheeky

    Phew, what a relief last night was. Bad enough refs were trying to help Ducks out, but in the end we succeeded. Hoping this gives us the confidence that we are just that good…

  • Alberta Ice

    This wasn’t just evil vanquished. This was a gorilla getting the boot. We’ve been talking about getting a good start to the season this year. Smithy was the brightest star against the Oilers in the first game; shone in the second by extinguishing the Jets for periods 2 and 3; and kept the shutout streak alive for 3 more periods in Anaheim. Haven’t we been saying all along the goal tending question for Calgary was the greatest need since the days of Kiprusoff? 3 games in and I am totally impressed with this ‘old’ guy in net. Next drama? Bringing in the ‘older’ guy than Smithy to play. Awesome. (And I’m glad Jags is making the call for when he knows he is ready because, like any winner, he sets a very high bar for himself.)

  • flames2015

    Good start to the season so far, 3 games in last season and we had already given up 13 GA. Really liking Smith and the competitiveness he brings. That puck handling skill is a thing of beauty as well.

  • Jessemadnote

    There’s definitely a mental aspect to fighting. I wouldn’t call it a deterrent but it really does help to draw a line. Also sometimes all your team needs is just a little tiny win to build momentum. What I hated was the goon vs. Goon staged fights that used to come up, one per game, no emotion and then those poor players end up barely able to function between concussions and depression.

  • Scary Gary

    What a win! It’s encouraging to see some growth, chemistry and positive play, even if it is a small sample size.

    My concern is when does Lack draw in and can he regain his form? Backups are going to need to play 25 games or so to keep Smith healthy.

    • Danomitee

      The Lack experiment is really important to this team. If he’s going to suck, we have to find it out quick so that we can call up Gilles/Rittich. It’s tough to bench a goalie who just got a shutout in Flame hell, but I’d be in favour of playing Lack in LA tomorrow.

      • flames2015

        Smith’s been real good so I see him playing the next two games. With Lack playing in the 2nd of the back to backs against Vancouver. We really do need to get those shots against down.

  • Alberta Ice

    Great to see some offense the last two games. GG needs to remain flexible with his lines. Tanner Glass has been my biggest surprise on the team this year. I like his much needed additional toughness. (I hope Brouwer starts paying attention to his kind of play.) And I really like Chucky and his improving play. (Thanks again to the Blue Jackets, Oilers, and Canucks for passing him by in the draft two years ago. I was elated when the Flames got him.)

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      Tkachuk has had zero puck luck. A couple of easy tap-ins missed in the last few games. Saying that, he is doing as well as one would hope for a 2nd year pro (19 year old Matt Tkachuk?). While Glass has provided a spark and a decent forecheck, his line is still being a liability. Blame that on Stajan or Brouwer, or just being out there at the same time as Bart-man.

      Simple fix. Insert Jagr. Bump Lazar down to LW on the 4th line and have Janko center that line.

  • Southboy

    I am jacked that we have broke the curse, and i think we have started better than last year for sure. But i am concerned about the 40sh against we are allowing every game. That is not a good recipe. We cannot rely just on Smith. If we dont button things up, i fear Smith will be tired by game 20.

  • The Doctor

    Lotsa good things going out out there. The high opposition shot totals are obviously a concern, though — one related thing I hope we’ll see in the next few games is more sustained possession time and more sustained time in the other team’s end of the rink. I think the Flames have been a little bit too impatient in the opposition end at times, too quick to want to make a play rather than just hanging on to the puck for a bit longer. Gaudreau in particular has been trying to force the play a bit too much at times IMO, going for low-percentage passes and turning the puck over.

  • Skylardog

    Lazar was superb defensively last night again. He looked great early, but was let down on several occasions by Bennett’s play. That line really suffered when Steeg was put with them. Went from playing in the offensive end, to being on their heels. Monahan’s line also looked bad with Steeg, and great with Gaudreau. Is it JG being good, or Steeg being unable to keep pace? Suspect a little of both.

    Did seem to me the Bennett line was out a lot against Getzlaff, but I don’t have the numbers. Early they got Rakell’s line and dominated at times.

  • Zesty14

    As u said from game one in Edmonton if gerneric last name kept a .955 save % as he did from the start we would be sitting pretty. Now look what happened. I’m not a g@y man but I could kiss him right now.

      • Zesty14

        Glad you crawled out of your hole. From your loses to Vancouver and Winnipeg. Missed you only posting on ON and not trolling on FN. Got tired of the McDavid circle jerk? Wanted to see what a team ahead of you in points looks like. Or is your .333 win % chapping your @ss right now? Be a good oiler fan and go fu€k yourself.

  • Jimmyhaggis

    Sure have not been impressed with Bennett’S play. Taking dumb penalties, crashes and bangs around, 4th liners do that. Doesn’t set up nice passes, ie. Lasar in front of the net alone, pass in his skates. The only different this year is the beard.

    • Zesty14

      It’s a nice beard. Plus have you read Las Vegas banning facial hair! What kind of no team is this? Are they using the fraction of wind resistance to win?