It’s a results-based business. And with the standings still so obscenely close – and it feels like they’re going to stay that way right until the end – results matter, a lot. But it would be nice to see a stronger performance overall.
Not in the third
The Flames entered the third period up 3-1. Having a multi-goal lead going into the final 20 minutes is cause for confidence, and truly, the way the Flames were playing through the first 40, it was earned.
What made things uncomfortable from there was that they only had three Corsi events total in the third. They were out-corsied 23-3, outshot 12-1, out-scoring chanced 13-2, and out-high danger corsi evented 5-0. Those last two stats weren’t even stated in a proper grammatical fashion but it’s just all… bad.
With that, they saw their lead reduced to just one goal, making for a much more tense finish than necessary. Pavel Zacha did great work on the powerplay, but honestly, it’s a miracle that was all the Devils got out of the third.
The Flames may have a good defence for their third period performance, as they were not only playing in the first of a back-to-back, but it’s a set of back-to-backs two hours earlier than they’re used to. Conserving energy is important. … But it doesn’t feel like it should be too much to ask for a little more trust in the team to maintain a multi-goal lead. The last time they won by more than one goal is still Jan. 14, at the end of their seven-game win streak. It’d be great to have a little more confidence in them throughout a game.
A big reason the Flames won: their backup goalie, David Rittich. While Eddie Lack is quoted as having said the Flames never really gave him a chance – and he does have a point there – Rittich has taken everything in stride. His play is unremarkable, but in a good way. He’s unflappable, he tracks well, he’s just always so calm, and coming out of the Czech Republic undrafted, a great story.
Rittich stopped 30 of 32 shots for a .938 save percentage: a tie for his fourth best performance to date. The Flames pick up at least a point in every game he’s started so far; he’s now 5-0-2 (relief appearances not counted). He has, very quickly, turned into someone the Flames can count on.
So, when does he get his next start? This was the first time he’s started the first of a back-to-back, and the Flames are in the midst of a six-game, 10-day road trip: a lot all at once, especially considering how much Smith has played already this season. Smith will get the game against the Rangers, but the next three games will see the Flames take on the Islanders, Bruins, and Predators; of the three, the Islanders are the only ones actually below the Flames in the standings. So… he should probably start against them. But maybe it could also be time to let him take on some tougher opponents? He got the Devils over the Rangers, after all.
Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau both had two-point nights: two goals for the former, a goal and an assist for the latter. Both are now on four-game point streaks, both with six points over that time.
Points-wise, Gaudreau now has 64 in 54 games (he got awarded the Flames’ second goal against the Blackhawks in their previous game! Finally), which is third in the NHL for scoring, and just four points back of the league lead. He’s on pace for 97 points total, 19 over his career high of 78. He has 267 career points over 286 games, 19 back of being a career point per game player. Of players from the 2011 draft class, only Gabriel Landeskog, Nikita Kucherov, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have scored more than he has.
Remember that Gaudreau is signed for another four seasons after this one at a $6.75 million cap hit.
Monahan, meanwhile, is tied for eighth in the NHL with 27 goals, on pace for 41, 10 above his career high. The past two seasons, Monahan scored 27 goals – first in 81 games, then in 82. It took him 53 games this season to hit that mark.
Gaudreau is just so far and away above his teammates offensively. Monahan is on a second tier. After them are Matthew Tkachuk, Micheal Ferland, and Mikael Backlund, with 36, 34, and 34 points, respectively. After those five are the top three defence – Dougie Hamilton with 28 points, T.J. Brodie with 26, and Mark Giordano with 25 – and then Sam Bennett (18) and Michael Frolik (17, but also was out for 12 games; pro-rated, he’d have 22). The Flames’ top players are outstanding, and deserve all the credit – because they’re keeping the team afloat, and they really could use a little more scoring depth.
Ryan Lomberg, the new apparent perennial health scratch, got in his second NHL game. He’s explicitly an energy guy, and fair enough, because he was extremely feisty to start the game. Not just that, though, but he even had a pretty decent scoring chance in the first, and was credited with two shots total. In his first game he had just one; he also played 6:30 in that game. This time around, he got 8:54 – still the least on the team – over 11 shifts.
How much does Lomberg bring to the table? Well, what we see is probably all we’re going to get, which isn’t so bad every once in a while, but shouldn’t become a regular occurrence. The Flames have certainly deployed worse, though. And besides – when things are going well, he can be really fun to watch.
Ice time oddity
Forward ice time seems to be making sense for the most part as of late. On defence, though? Travis Hamonic played 26:06 (24:46 at even strength); Hamilton played 20:48. Part of Hamilton’s reduced ice time is that he isn’t used on the penalty kill – which continues to be odd, considering how he’s trusted to be on the top pairing and is one of the Flames’ better possession players – as Brodie played 23:03 at even strength, and Giordano, 20:57.
The third pairing, meanwhile, was more in the 12 minute range: 13:11 for Michael Stone (11:55 at even strength), 12:48 for Brett Kulak. The second pairing got the bulk of the minutes and was pitted out against the Devils’ top line; it’ll be interesting to see how the defence shakes out in the second game of the back-to-back.