I think we’d all be okay with stick-throwing jokes throughout the entire season if the Flames keep getting these kinds of results. Was it perfect? Absolutely not. But was it a clean two points? What a good show.
Mike Smith was basically perfect
I mean, not actually. Mike Smith did surrender a goal. It wasn’t really on him – a perfect shot after a less than ideal turnover – but it did put the game into doubt for a while there.
The Flames were lucky to be up a goal after the first period. It wasn’t so much that they played poorly as much as how good Tampa was. We’re talking about the top team in the NHL currently; it isn’t surprising that they completely took it to the Flames, outnumbering them in corsi events, shots, high danger chances, everything but the one stat that actually counts. Smith was an absolute force in the first period, and the second, during most of which the game was tied.
Smith stopping Cedric Paquette on a penalty shot was huge, and it also wasn’t. It was because Tampa, at that point, probably deserved to have the lead, and a penalty shot goal could have opened the floodgates for them. It wasn’t, because Smith really didn’t have to do much: he watched Paquette fool himself and then just had to block it. But it also was, because a lesser goalie might have bitten on that attempted showmanship. Remember Smith, in an earlier shootout, basically telling another player who did that to get out of there with that noise? He is so, so confident in himself – and rightfully so.
It didn’t feel like the Flames had really taken control of the game until their fourth goal early in the third. From that point on, it was smooth sailing. But it was Smith who got them to that point, and in doing so, upped himself to a .922 save percentage (.927 at even strength). If this keeps up, this will be the second best season of his career – though you still have to hope that David Rittich can take a little more load off of his shoulders through the second half of the season.
Top line keeps doing top line things (i.e. scoring)
Micheal Ferland opened the game’s scoring, as he seems wont to do in 2018. Johnny Gaudreau continued to cement himself as one of the best offensive players in the league, as he’s seemed wont to do since he first entered it.
It truly is amazing. At what point do they come down?
Ferland is just breezing past his previous career highs. He’s already at 19 goals, 28 points, on pace for 37 goals, 54 points. He did score in juniors: 96 points in 68 games in his final full junior year. The thing then was, though, he was second on his team in scoring then; linemate Mark Stone soared above him, with 123 points in 66 games. (But then, Ferland was still 15 points ahead of the next closest guy.) And now he’s playing complementary guy to some of the top scorers at the highest level. It’s taken a few years to get there, but every step along the way has been worth it.
With the caveat that he is shooting at 19.8% – though, with 96 shots so far, he’s seventh on the team in shooting.
As for Gaudreau, this was already his 16th multi-point game of the season, matching his total from 2016-17. With 51 points, he’s tied for sixth in league-wide scoring. One more point puts him in a tie for second. Two more gets him standing there all alone. Even with his earlier drought, he’s still in this great pack of top scorers, currently headed by Nikita Kucherov’s 60 (!).
And also, everybody else
Sure, Ferland and Gaudreau’s goals alone would have won the Flames the game. But the Flames got some insurance as the game went on, and finally, rather than concede, they added on to it.
Andrei Vasilevskiy is a pretty good goalie, but he was, without a doubt, the worst one on the ice last night. The Flames got the floodgates to open with Sam Bennett scoring a powerplay goal (!!) as the second period neared its end, and Mark Jankowski pulling off a hell of a move right at the start of the fourth, and then Matthew Tkachuk just taking the salt shaker and dumping the rest of its contents into the wound.
Five goals from three lines. Lately, the Flames have only been getting offence from their top line and top defence pairing and that’s it; last night, everyone else was able to join in on the fun, against one of the top teams in the NHL, and put all of Tampa’s potential thoughts of a comeback on ice.
Six Flames are now at 20-point seasons, with T.J. Brodie and Dougie Hamilton almost there (both at 19 each, and shoutout to Brodie for hitting 200 career points). Bennett is three points away, and Jankowski five (and Michael Frolik, RIP). The start to the season was not great for many. It’s been coming around for most of the rest since December.
Dominated special teams
If the special teams are bad, the team is probably going to have a bad time. When both the powerplay and penalty kill are perfect, the team is probably going to have a good time.
The Flames haven’t given up a powerplay goal since Dec. 29 against the Ducks, when Mike Smith’s puck handling attempt went awry. Their penalty kill has been a perfect 15-for-15 before then. To start the season, the Flames were giving up multiple powerplay goals more often than not, and it all kind of culminated in four against during that blowout in Detroit (two of which probably shouldn’t have happened since, you know, Tkachuk never actually speared anybody). In the 25 games since then, they’ve given up nine powerplay goals, never more than one a game, for a success rate of 88%. Season-long, they’re at 80%, 20th in the NHL.
They also have the 20th ranked powerplay in the league at 17.7%. It looks like the penalty kill has gotten there, so there has to be hope for the powerplay, even without Kris Versteeg, right? The past three games, they had four attempts per, only to come up with nothing. They’ve now scored three powerplay goals during this five-game win streak on 15 opportunities.
Back in the black
The Flames’ goal differential on the season is now +1. This is the first time they’ve had a positive goal differential since that aforementioned Detroit brawl. That was back on Nov. 15; it took them nearly two months to get back there, and only just barely.
Playoff teams tend to have positive goal differentials. This has been the Flames’ biggest win since their 6-1 drubbing of the Canucks. They absolutely cannot take their foot off the gas.
If they do, I’m guessing another stick gets thrown. It’s still a dog fight for the playoffs. They’re still fourth in Pacific Division points percentage, eighth in the Western Conference. A five-game win streak has leapt them back into contention, now they’ve got to keep going. Plus-one is precarious enough as is.