Good goaltending, solid defence, goals from up and down the lineup. What’s not to love?
What a start for David Rittich
So, that wasn’t the first game of David Rittich’s NHL career. That actually came last season, in a meaningless Game 82 against the Sharks, in which the Flames let him have the final period to play because, well, the game was meaningless. He gave up one goal on 10 shots while getting his feet wet.
I honestly don’t remember how he actually looked in that game, but in this one, he looked pretty much perfect. He wasn’t, obviously, but it’s pretty tough to blame him on the two goals against. Could he have had them? Sure. Was he screened on both of them? Yup. If anything’s going to get by you, at least they were pucks that a more experienced goalie probably would have had a tough time with, as well.
It also helps that the Flames played much better for him. This wasn’t like the previous two games in which Mike Smith had to deal with back-to-back 40+ shots; no, this time his defence only gave up 26. (I do think it’s worth noting this isn’t anything new for them: when Eddie Lack came in to replace Smith against the Blues at home, the Flames only surrendered three shots in his first period.) And it certainly helps that Rittich was able to stare down a couple of extremely dangerous scoring chances, flashing the glove or the pad or the poke check, never scrambling, and looking perfectly poised the entire game.
What a start. Here’s to hoping he can do it again. The Flames have another set of back-to-backs in just under two weeks.
Mikael Backlund also had a night
Scoring 100 goals in the NHL is a big deal. At long last, after 484 games, Mikael Backlund has reached said milestone.
He’s had to contend with playing on the fourth line, centring guys like Brian McGrattan and Kevin Westgarth, being healthy scratched for Joe Colborne, and giving the Lance Boumas of the world their payday all the while being shat upon for not having enough heart or some other such nonsense, even though he is very clearly an emotional player who has given everything he has ever possibly had to give for the Flames.
The Flames signed Michael Frolik, who is pretty much Backlund’s hockey soulmate. The way they play, they are perfect for each other out on the ice. Backlund had a 20-goal season. Matthew Tkachuk joined their line a year later, and he had another 20-goal season, plus the extra couple of points needed to hit 50+. All the while performing in an exemplary shutdown role, meaning he probably isn’t counted on quite so much to score so many goals – only now that he has real linemates and is finally being given a consistent chance, he’s kicking the ass he was always capable of kicking.
Backlund has six goals and 16 points this season, tied for third in Flames scoring with Tkachuk. He’s on pace for 21 goals and 57 points. So it’s great to see him finally get this one.
The Prime Line
Okay, so the line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Micheal Ferland is looking pretty legit. Legit enough to at least warrant them finally getting their own name, akin to 3M. I mean, seriously, when they’re scoring as much as they are…
So I submit, on Twitter user @dsradu’s behalf, the Prime Line. Because they’re the prime scoring line. And because their numbers – 13, 23, 79 – are all prime numbers. It’s perfect. Let’s please have this catch on.
They only scored one goal last night – my god, is Ferland’s shot lethal – but two pings off the post took away another two goals they could have had, not to mention a comically close attempt at an empty netter at the end of the game that defied all logic in going in. (Or at least as much logic as not awarding the Flames an auto-goal while Tyson Barrie practically jumped on Tkachuk and literally hauled him down. The hell?)
Most bizarre of all was that Gaudreau didn’t get a single point in the effort. Again, those two posts cost him two points. And he would have gotten a point on the empty netter, if they would have just been able to shoot the puck. It was bizarre to see Gaudreau all over the ice – he even created a bit of chaos on Ferland’s goal, he just never touched the puck – and not see him get the chance to become the NHL’s top scorer.
Which, again, if it weren’t for the posts and botched empty net, he would have. Because he’s three points out from it.
All three players led the Flames in 5v5 CF%, all over 60%. They’re just an absolute joy to watch.
Also: can we talk about Monahan kissing Ferland’s helmet after the goal?? It was so deliberate and one of the cutest things I have ever seen in my life ever? We are so blessed.
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— FlamesNation (@FlamesNation) November 26, 2017
With Kris Versteeg out with an injury of some sort, changes had to be made. And with Freddie Hamilton, Curtis Lazar, and Matt Stajan kind of all getting shuffled around there, well, no real arguments on the forward selection. It turned out okay in the end.
Even though F.Ham barely gets any time – he’s only played more than 10 minutes once this season. Lazar, in a fourth line role, tends to at least hit 11 on occasion. And Stajan’s only dropped below 10 minutes once this season. Weird.
A lineup change I don’t get, though, is swapping out Brett Kulak for Matt Bartkowski.
Okay, yes, the Flames were a defensive disaster against the Stars. But Kulak was at fault for, what, maybe one of the goals? Tops? And even then, it wasn’t solely on him?
And I’m just not totally sure what the Flames got out of putting Bartkowski in the lineup. They got 9:48 of ice time, a needless delay of game penalty that resulted in a goal against, and… yeah, that’s about it. If it’s about making sure everyone on your roster gets a game every now and then, I get that, but like… there has to be a better way to go about it. When Glen Gulutzan likes to talk about “self-inflicted wounds”…
So, Versteeg has turned into something of a powerplay specialist over his time with the Flames. Last season, 16 of his 37 points came on the man advantage. This season, he’s playing the fourth line but first unit powerplay time. It’s cool! He obviously has the hands for it and his cap hit isn’t anything to get worked up about.
But his absence meant the Flames changed up their powerplay last night. First, they tried Mark Giordano on the top unit alongside T.J. Brodie; then they decided to give that up I guess and keep the second unit intact, giving Michael Stone 1:55 of powerplay time alongside Brodie instead.
And fair enough, I get it, Stone’s got an amazing shot. But I did find it a little curious they didn’t go with another forward, like a Frolik or a Sam Bennett, instead opting to have two defencemen on both units.
… Dougie Hamilton also played just 3:15 on the powerplay compared to Giordano’s 5:21 and Brodie’s 4:00, so I’m just curious who he has to shiv to get the minutes he actually deserves. He scored their one powerplay goal of the night! He had seven shots! He’s the best offensive defenceman they have. Why not make use of that? I just don’t understand.