Once again, the Flames did everything they needed to in order to pull off a win. They’ve been doing that all 2018.
Held on strong
Back-to-backs generally have an element of trickiness to them. Five-game win streak or no – i.e., concerns about how long they can keep this going, when they’ll have the inevitable let down game – a second game in two days can pose problems. While the Lightning are a better team than the Panthers, it was entirely possible the Panthers would take this one.
And while the Lightning were probably better overall against the Flames, towards the end, the Panthers put up more of a fight. For the second time in two days, the Flames entered the third period up 3-1. Against the Lightning, Mark Jankowski scored a gorgeous goal that certainly must have played a part in demoralizing them, if Matthew Tkachuk’s goal a few minutes later didn’t finish the job.
The Panthers, however, didn’t let the Flames increase their lead, and even got the game back within one. They had seven minutes to try to tie it up, and though the Flames have faced their fair share of one-goal games lately, they didn’t let them.
Giving up a spare point to a Florida team really means nothing. But Tkachuk’s effort to get that empty netter in and put this one to bed – that was something incredibly special. He isn’t just a talented pest; he’s strong as hell with a determination to match. It’s wild to think that this is only his second season. It feels like he’s been in the NHL so much longer.
Between Smith and Rittich, they got this
Mike Smith had a tough task standing before him in the Lightning. David Rittich had to have just as good of a game against the Panthers, and he did.
It certainly feels like the Flames have a reliable backup now (maybe one so reliable that he can get more starts than the second of back-to-backs? February is the jam packed month so we’ll see then). He was credited with 41 saves on 43 shots and never once looked overwhelmed or lost. That’s par for the course for him, as we’re all becoming increasingly familiar: he’s just so composed, no matter how many shots he has to face. Five starts, four wins, one shootout loss.
A .953 save percentage is his best in the NHL yet. He’s credited with a .932 overall, and that’s including a wonky showing in the midst of a blowout relief effort; .932 is actually a worse save percentage than each of his past four games.
Rittich is just getting things done.
Top six came to score
Micheal Ferland sadly saw his point streak snapped, but Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan were able to extend theirs to six games each, while Dougie Hamilton brought his up to four with a smooth assist. (He played 22:46, second most out of all defencemen, behind just Mark Giordano. Sure feels like he’s getting more ice time as of late.)
Mikael Backlund played a big part in the night’s offence as well, in on three of the four goals. But it really may have been Tkachuk who had the most impressive offensive night: not just for scoring but for, as mentioned above, his astounding effort on making that empty netter happen. There’s earning it and then there’s earning it.
So you’ve got Gaudreau now up to 52 points, tied for the second most league-wide. Monahan has 42 points – 21 goals and 21 assists – and is tied for eighth across the NHL in goals. Tkachuk reclaimed third in Flames scoring with 29 points, while Backlund has tied Ferland for fourth with 28. Giordano is up to 21 points on the season, while Hamilton sits at 20. There are the Flames’ top seven scorers, five of whom are under the age of 25. Neat.
Also worth noting: Gaudreau has 256 points in 276 games (.93 points per game). That’s the fifth most points out of everyone in the 2011 draft class. Ahead of him in scoring are Gabriel Landeskog (189 more games played, .67 points per game), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (164 more games played, .67 points per game), Nikita Kucherov (53 more games played, .89 points per game), and Mark Scheifele (68 more games played, .77 points per game). Scheifele just has nine more points than Gaudreau, so he’ll probably move into the top four pretty soon. It’s all really rather phenomenal.
Another powerplay goal!
So the Flames gave up a powerplay goal. It was bound to happen again eventually. They’re down to a 79.9% penalty kill, a drop of all of .1% as they still killed off three penalties in the game, 19th overall in the NHL.
Back-to-back powerplay goals, though? Now that’s something special here; the last time that happened was right before and after the Christmas break (though in fairness, they did score two in one game against the Blackhawks, which was just as baffling). One powerplay goal in three tries is perfectly respectable, and actually turned out to be key in winning the game: a rarity this season. The powerplay is at 18.0%, 20th in the NHL.
For as much as the special teams may be getting better results, they’re still at about the bottom third in the league. If those really get going throughout the second half of the season and the Flames’ stellar 5v5 play maintains itself, well, very good things could be on the horizon – but they’ve got to get there first.
Another multi-goal win for the Flames, and their goal differential improves a tad. It’s still the smallest positive goal differential amongst Western Conference teams, but we truly are in baby steps mode here.
Switch the conversation over to points percentage, and things are slowly getting better. They’re at .591, fourth in the Pacific, which is .009 back of the Sharks. They’re still eighth in the West as well, .002 back of the Stars.
They’ve ridden a six-game win streak to get there. Now, the question is how they’ll respond before what could be a trap game: a matinee taking place right before everyone gets five days off. If the Flames are thinking vacation, then their next opponent, the Hurricanes, may be as well, as Sunday will be their final game before their own bye week.
But how great would it be to go on vacation riding a seven-game win streak? And then watch from afar as other teams catch up in games played – and see just how much that affects the standings.