For the first 20 minutes, the Flames looked like they were rolling. They were untouchable – at least until the second, when the pressure was laid on and on until Mike Smith finally gave up a goal. And the third, when they fell behind.
But they came back. And they won. There’s something to be said for picking up points while learning.
No team is going to be on 100% of the time
It’s easy to get into a game when your team of choice is clearly besting the other team, both on the scoreboard and in the underlying numbers. It’s easy to point at them and declare them good, here to stay, one of the best in the NHL, what have you. It’s easy to get excited when your team is playing well because when they’re doing that, they’re winning.
It’s also just as easy to get down on them when their stellar play fades, and the other team comes back into the game, and maybe even takes over.
Mistakes are always going to happen. No team is ever going to go 82-0, probably. There will be plenty of moments of failure. And maybe they’re made even more frustrating when so sharply and immediately contrasted with the success they had just been experiencing. It’s so much more out of place, so bizarre to see the switch flipped on them instead of the other way around. How is it that they’re suddenly bad?
The important takeaway from this instance, though, is that they came back. It’s important in the immediate – those two points will help with the playoff push, no matter how they came about – and important in the longer term, as mayhaps the Flames will think twice before sitting back on a lead.
Maybe they should be there by now. But they’re not, not yet. Maybe that’s due to still being a relatively young team, maybe it’s because it’s still rather early in the season, maybe it’s because they just might be inconsistent overall.
But it still is early in the year. They lost their first game. Their goalie stole some points on the road. And they dominated at home. It’s a mixed bag – but they’ll probably get there.
40+ saves, again
In three out of four games so far this season, Smith has seen the puck over 40 times. He has also stopped the puck over 40 times.
What do these games have in common? They’re all on the road. In the Flames’ lone home game thus far, they were the ones who had over 40 shots.
This will probably correct itself. Right now, the Flames have the highest CA/60 in the NHL at 68.68. Last season, they had the sixth lowest at 52.64. And it’s not like their defence is suddenly worse; it should actually be better now, for the most part. That’s taking a bit of time to come through, but it probably will. The coach is aware of his team’s defensive shortcomings thus far, and he’s not happy about it; the personnel is in place to improve, too.
In the meantime, it’s a good thing Smith is so accustomed to handling so many shots. He’s been lights out for stretches early this season; even if he has given up eight goals so far, he’s one of the last players to blame for it. And he’s still rocking a .950 SV% (.952% at even strength).
For now, though, the samples are small, and we know they’re capable of finding the solution because that’s exactly what they did last season. No need to stress.
The new third line
Kris Versteeg and Sam Bennett were the only Flames to finish the night with a CF over 50%. Considering the onslaught the Kings poured on in their comeback, that’s not too surprising; they also started 71.43% of their shifts in the offensive zone and didn’t face top competition, allowing them to work the puck as well as they did.
A couple more pucks went against Jaromir Jagr, so he finished below them at 43.48%, but for the most part was one of their better players through the first two.
We also got out first glimpse of the trio as a line. Jagr is still a bit behind – missing all of training camp and playing in the best league in the world at 45 will do that – but the beginnings of a solid line are there. We saw a couple of instances of cycling down low; while not much came of that in the form of scoring chances, offensive zone time is still valuable (it’s time the other team can’t use to score, after all). Like with shots against, Jagr fully getting his legs under him will come with a bit of time.
Oftentimes, though, we’ve seen just Versteeg and Bennett working together while trying to create chances, and ignore their third linemate (typically Troy Brouwer). Jagr was as much a part of their play as ever, even if a step or two behind.
And remember that this is the third line. They faced weaker competition because the Kings were more preoccupied with Sean Monahan and Mikael Backlund. That’s another thing that depth brings: the opportunity to simply overwhelm opposing teams and, eventually, have them get caught. The Flames were on the other end of this with the fourth line and third defence pairing; things will, in all likelihood, start swaying in their favour – granted they keep working at it.
Good thing Matthew Tkachuk is a Flame
Last night, Matthew Tkachuk scored two goals. He opened the scoring early, tied the game up after things had started looking hopeless, had eight shots on net, and was an all around nuisance, drawing the Kings’ ire every chance he got. He couldn’t get the hat trick – though he came close a couple of times – but he was the all-around winner of the game.
It’s one thing to piss off the other team and goad them into taking penalties (something Tkachuk has a little bit of a streak of doing through this road trip, now). It’s another thing to do that and come on top of the scoreboard, too. We’re looking at the Flames’ own Corey Perry or Brad Marchand: a very talented player who aggravates fans of every other team in the league not just because he’s good at being annoying, but because he’s just plain good, too.
We already know Tkachuk is a good player from his rookie season. We also knew from then that he has it in him to be a pest. It looks like, to start this season, both facets of his game are improving. He’ll be 20 in December. There’s a fair bit yet of this to come.
Also: Sam Bennett may not be as aggravating as Tkachuk, but he’s much more of a scrapper, it would seem. And that beard just makes him look more menacing. It’s awesome.
Is overtime just an automatic win or
Three-on-three overtime should be stressful. And to some degree, it is. But the Flames also have one of the best winning percentages when it comes to three-on-three, so… it’s not? Not really.
Take the starting unit of Backlund, Michael Frolik, and Mark Giordano: three very reliable two-way players. Then switch over to the sheer mastery Johnny Gaudreau has when he’s given that much space, how good Monahan is at scoring winners, and that T.J. Brodie has his groove back and, well… from there, you have a goal (and that’s not even getting into what Dougie Hamilton, and likely Bennett or Versteeg or Tkachuk can do).
One rush up the ice. Brodie far up himself, because there was never going to be any need for him to have to come back.
Something that burned the Flames a bit last season was their lack of loser points… but they didn’t get many of those because when a game went to overtime, they had a tendency to just win it. Their 2016-17 OT/SO record was 13-4. It’s no surprise that they won their first one of this season.