Oh. So that’s where all the goals were hiding.
Not even close
The Canucks were never really in this one, and it wasn’t even their fault. The Flames came out exactly the same way as they did against the Predators – a game that either team could have had – but the Canucks are just a worse team suffering a lot of injuries (two of which Mark Giordano is inadvertently responsible for, so uh, sorry about that). Even when up 5-0, the Flames didn’t let off the gas for the third period, and it saw them carry through to an easy victory.
David Rittich didn’t have to be on his best game. He only saw 17 shots, some of which were his own undoing (that Nic Dowd chance after Rittich decided to shoot the puck was a bit much, but if there was ever a game for experimenting, it was this one). The Flames played fantastic for him, though, and every start he gets is just a little more much-needed experience, especially as it continues to look like Mike Smith may be getting a little worn out.
It was especially nice to see a flurry of goals work in the Flames’ favour. How many times has the team given up a goal and then broken down, putting the game completely out of reach due to a bad couple of minutes? At the end of the second period, the Flames were on the giving end of it, just completely overwhelming the Canucks into a quiet finish.
Shots were 38-17 for the Flames. Five-on-five corsi was 57.14%. This was a game the Flames absolutely had to have, and they followed through.
The dam broke
Who didn’t get a point last night? Uh, Mikael Backlund, Sean Monahan, Michael Frolik, Jaromir Jagr, T.J. Brodie, Michael Stone, and Brett Kulak. Seven players. Everyone else was directly in on the offence. And it wasn’t for lack of trying, for some of these guys – Jagr was still trying to set up Troy Brouwer and Matt Stajan; Backlund and Monahan had four shots each.
And they were still hitting posts. It could have been much worse for Vancouver. The Flames went from a -10 goal differential to a much more respectable -5 in a single night.
The Flames really earned a night like that one. They have been playing well and creating chances for most of the month, and pucks just haven’t been going in for whatever reason. You don’t want to say “they were due” because good luck does not always follow bad luck, but they needed that reward for all their work. Hopefully there’s more of it to come. Effort is recognizable – like against the Predators – but it’s all the better when an actual positive result comes from it.
Sam Bennett, specifically
While most of the Flames got on the board, Sam Bennett really got on the board.
He had the second four-point night of his career. Not all goals, this time, but some of his assists were just as good as any goal, particularly his pass to Mark Jankowski for the game’s opening tally. Bennett had to fight for a couple of his points there, but his efforts paid off, big time.
Bennett – the 21-year-old who is a bust, if you recall – is now up to 15 points in 34 games, not at all a bad stat line before you remember he spent the first 15 games of the season pointless. Not to cherrypick, but for context, if you remove those first 15 games it’d be 15 points in 19 games, which is pretty dang good for a third liner. He’s now tied for seventh in team scoring, having passed Michael Frolik.
Bennett is on pace for 36 points over an 82-game season, which would tie his rookie year. He’s not going to put up four points every game, but having secondary scoring capable of such nights every now and then really helps. Bennett breaking out was always going to be a big part of the Flames’ supposed coming out party this season, and it looks like they may be there now.
Bennett also had four shots on net. And I’m neglecting Jankowski here, who had a three-point night – the second of his career – and five shots of his own. For all the hand-wringing about Bennett needing a partner like Johnny Gaudreau and Monahan, or Backlund and Frolik, Bennett may have found his – which leaves Matthew Tkachuk kind of oddly without a specific hip to be attached to. (He played roughly two 5v5 minutes with Gaudreau and Monahan and, tiny sample sizes beware, but had a 75% CF with them – maybe a bit more experimentation coming up with a Tkachuk and Micheal Ferland line swap?)
The powerplay got a goal
The Canucks took so many penalties in the third, it almost felt like they were begging the Flames to get a powerplay goal. “Look, this game is already over. We both know that. We’re almost done playing you guys for the year, too, so it doesn’t matter anymore. Please, have a powerplay practice session, on us.” And after giving up a powerplay goal of their own – of course, and sorry Rittich, a shutout may have to wait for another day – the Flames finally cashed in.
Giordano took Brodie’s spot on the top unit. It didn’t pay immediate dividends, but hey, he led all defencemen with 4:39 powerplay minutes. He had five shots on net. He looked much more threatening, more active, than Brodie ever did from the blue line. And Brodie playing alongside Dougie Hamilton on the second unit makes a lot more sense: teams don’t have to respect his shot, really, but they do have to respect Hamilton’s, so at least the second unit retains a threat back there.
There’s been a lot of flitting about with powerplay personnel as of late, but this time around, Glen Gulutzan seemed to stick to his guns, for the most part. Gaudreau and Monahan are obvious choices for the top unit, but Jankowski getting 4:47 of powerplay time is new. And Ferland getting shifted from the top unit to the second makes a lot of sense when it’s Tkachuk, who has greater offensive acumen, replacing him. (Again: related to five-on-five line swap? This’ll be something to keep an eye on.)
The only remaining question seems to be, who rounds out the second unit: Bennett, or Jagr? Last night, it was Bennett.
One down, six to go
And so ends the season series against the Canucks. The Flames won it handily, 3-1 (and probably outplayed the Canucks in the game they lost). They had a goal differential of +8. They’re now up to a 6-4 record against the Pacific, with a +8 goal differential against them, as well.
That still leaves 19 divisional games to be played, and six divisional series to be decided. They trail 0-2 to the Oilers with three games remaining; they’re up 1-0 over the Ducks with three games to go; they’re up 1-0 over the Kings with three games to go; they’re up 1-0 over the Coyotes with three games to go; they trail 0-1 to the Sharks with three games remaining; and they have yet to play the Golden Knights, four contests still to be played against them.
Top three in the division is still entirely within reach, but the Flames will absolutely need to beat up on the Pacific as much as they can to get there. They had a good showing against Vancouver, and they were supposed to. Next up: back-to-backs against San Jose and Anaheim in 10 days.