There is a lot to get to on this one. Like, a ton. Mostly because of all of those goals scored. And just who it was that scored them.
Yeah, it was a good night.
Goals are fun. Who knew?
The Flames have been due for an offensive explosion.
Of course, being due doesn’t mean it’ll actually come to fruition. But it seemed rather hard to believe the Flames would stay at such a paltry shooting percentage that rendered them the third worst team in the NHL – and sure enough, they now sit at an 8.20%, ninth worst. Their goals per game has crept up to 2.63, from second worst to seventh. They’re still in the bottom third of the league, but it’s not quite as dire as it was before.
Funny what the puck finally going your way can do, right?
It’s probably noteworthy as to just who it is scoring the goals. Sean Monahan leads the team with eight, while Johnny Gaudreau and Micheal Ferland are tied for second with sixth, aaaaand oh hey that’s 48% of the team’s goals from one line that might be a small problem.
A problem that is, in fairness, slowly but surely getting worked on. After all, the third line scored two of last night’s goals, both really special in their own rights. It isn’t all going to get rectified in one game – but it’s nice to see a step in the right direction.
Look at the forward lineup. Not everybody is going to have their best game every single night, but those are still 12 players night in and night out you can have some reasonable expectation to score. It’s been a long time coming.
Johnny Gaudreau is on his own level
Gaudreau is third league-wide in points. He has 22. The only players above him are Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, and they at least have each other to feed off of.
(Not that Gaudreau doesn’t have good linemates of his own – but they aren’t on the same level as the top two guys right now.)
I’m pretty sure I’m bringing this up in every embers post now, but Gaudreau is honestly something else entirely. It’s just difficult to properly fathom where he’s at in his game right now. He’s radiating confidence on every play. He can’t be stopped on zone entries, and now he just drives straight in. He freezes other players as he comes down on them. He’s beyond that whole “too small to play” narrative; now, he’s the one dictating the play. He’s capable of taking over an entire shift on a dime and using it to turn the entire game on its head.
He’s just a phenomenal player, and one who’s getting more well-rounded, at that.
Think back to when the Flames drafted him: someone that small had to be an offensive talent to have a pick used on him, right? And then, as a freshman in the NCAA, he was a point-per-game player. Then a point and a half per game. Then two points per. He hadn’t even hit the NHL, but it was probably the closest Calgary has followed a prospect. That he signed at all was met with a great deal of fanfare. His first goal in his first game was great, but there was question of if he’d have to start his rookie season in the NHL, and he wasn’t scoring right away–
Last year, Gaudreau missed training camp, plus 10 games thanks to some unnecessary slashes. He had 61 points in 72 games. The year before, he had 78 in 79, just on the cusp of being a point-per-game guy at the highest level.
And now he’s at 22 in 16. On pace for 113 points. He probably doesn’t score that many, but it seems awfully likely he’s at least a point-per-game player… and it doesn’t seem that farfetched that he could, one year, hit triple digits.
Gaudreau is feeling the game on a whole other level right now. He’s astonishing to watch. Remember all that initial excitement through his collegiate career? It’s being realized, right before our eyes. Don’t forget these moments.
The kids. All of the kids
Because when Mark Jankowski was drafted five years ago, it was totally obvious that Jaromir Jagr was going to assist on his first NHL goal.
Jankowski was recalled because Jagr was injured. Jankowski forced his way on the team. Jagr came back. They became linemates. Two games in, a goal to show for it already.
Not to mention Sam Bennett finally getting on the board. Just as the Flames should have been scoring more than they actually were, Bennett was really not feeling it, and not deservedly so. He could be better – everyone can always be better – but going 15 games without a point was just plain ridiculous, especially considering some of the efforts Bennett has had.
It wasn’t the best game of Bennett’s season, but it did break the goose egg, while his other linemates started playing a bit better. Just as the Flames aren’t guaranteed to score more just because they were due, neither is Bennett – but again, there’s hope there. And shuffling that line around won’t do anyone any good – so hopefully Bennett’s the next to break out.
Meanwhile, on the defensive side of things, Brett Kulak and Rasmus Andersson didn’t hit the 20-minute mark like the rest of the defencemen did, but they may have been the best pairing on the night. Kulak picked up two assists: another tipped-in goal, plus a fantastic play to set up Gaudreau and Jagr’s two-on-one. It feels pretty safe to say that he’s here to stay, that he’s cemented his spot as a lineup regular, and his potential is only just now being realized.
Andersson, meanwhile, had never played a meaningful NHL game until last night. He got his feet wet in San Jose, but it was a meaningless game in every sense of the word: neither team was even jockeying for playoff position at that point. This game, though, had two points on the line, and every point at this stage matters.
And he looked great. There wasn’t much in the way of offensive flair, but he played a simple, smart game, and was very calm out there. He looked, you know, ready. We’ll have to see what happens with the Flames’ defensive group as the season progresses – Andersson will be back down as soon as Travis Hamonic is healthy – but a little AHL ripening probably never hurt anybody. Just ask Kulak.
Not without its warts
That was a very fun game, with a lot of things you love to see. Lots of goals, some big saves, a bunch of firsts.
But it was far from a perfect game. The Flames had a fantastic first period, but by the third, they had completely fallen off. The goal they gave up right at the end of the second to make it a two-goal game once again had the potential to be devastating – conjuring memories of the Canucks’ shorthanded goal, even – and they were on their heels for much of the third, with sloppy play showcasing itself big time.
It’s a good thing the puck was going in the net for the Flames last night, because while some of the Red Wings’ push likely came about due to score effects, that still doesn’t excuse just how poorly the Flames were playing at times. You have to hope they’ll improve as the season goes on, because while it was a very exciting game, it was a little more exciting than it had any right to be.
Then, there’s the matter of Mike Smith. He’s had a poor couple of games in a row, and while this one wasn’t as bad as very recent ones have been, he hasn’t looked quite up to the standard he was at the start of the season. Some of that is probably natural regression; then, there’s the fact that literally no other goalie this season has faced as many shots as he has. (In fairness, he’s only seen five more than Frederick Andersen, and he’s .25 percentage points above him in save percentage, so things could definitely be worse.)
The Flames have had a bit of an odd schedule to start the year in that quite a fair number of their games have been spread out, though I do wonder if giving Smith a night off anyway would help rejuvenate him.
The living legend
While we were spending seemingly the whole summer writing blog posts pleading with the Flames to sign Jagr, it was mostly about how he was the best right winger available on the market for a team that desperately needed a good right winger. And hey, the good news right now is we’re starting to see that come to fruition.
But there was always another element creeping in. The main focus was always strictly on-ice, but you can’t talk about how a team should sign Jagr without acknowledging the fact that he’s, well, pardon me here, but, Jaromir Fucking Jagr.
It’s been evident since he signed. The fanfare, from his arriving in Calgary while the rest of the team was in Edmonton to his being announced at the home opener as a healthy scratch. All Jagr has to do is stand there and he generates some of the loudest cheers in the building.
Which is why I was really, really, really hoping he would score his first goal at home. And you really couldn’t have asked for a better one.
You could hear the building gathering air as it dawned on people just who, exactly, was on that two-on-one. Two-on-ones generate excitement no matter who’s on them – cheers for Troy Brouwer and Tanner Glass? Absolutely! – but Gaudreau is instantly recognizable thanks to his smaller frame.
It was like watching it in slow motion. You look to see who’s skating up along with Gaudreau. He’s big. He’s got longer hair flowing out behind him. There’s a 68 on his back. Only Jonathan Ericsson is anywhere near, and that’s when probably everybody realizes that this is going to be Jagr’s first goal as a Flame. There is no chance Gaudreau doesn’t pass. There is no chance Gaudreau misses it. There is no chance Jagr misses the net, not this time. There is no chance he is stopped.
If you weren’t in the building for the goal, then you have to know: the audio that came through across television did not do it justice. The building was deafening. It was such a beautiful, surefire goal, assisted by one of the purest offensive talents in the game today, but that it was him, of all people, who scored it…
Since signing here, Jagr has talked about playing for a Canadian team. He gets a lot more attention here than he did in Florida. He also gets a building full of fans who all recognize the significance of him being a Flame. And as that building watched Jagr’s goal developing, it was just… something else entirely.
If I had to compare it to another goal I’ve experienced in person, it would be Martin Gelinas’ series winner over the Red Wings in 2004. That’s how special it was. The two goals don’t come even close in terms of importance, but in terms of raw fan emotion?
Damn, I mean, I hope the Flames do something every year – but with Jagr on this team, I’m holding out even more hope that they do something big this year. Because if we’re going to get that excited over a regular season goal…