As the season goes on, a separation will typically occur amongst teams. Some pull away and appear to cement themselves a playoff spot early on; others do the exact opposite. The Coyotes fall in the latter category – and if the Flames still want to hold any playoff hopes at all, they absolutely had to win this game, no excuses.
Top guns jump out
Johnny Gaudreau had his seventh three-point game of the season (including a four-point game) to help him reclaim second in NHL scoring. Nikita Kucherov, with 80 points in 61 games, apparently can’t stop, won’t stop scoring; Gaudreau, with 73 in 62, needs to keep it up to stay in range.
Ignoring the rest of the NHL, however, and turning to Gaudreau vs. himself, he’s winning. His career high is 78 points, set in 79 games two seasons ago; he’s five points off from tying it, and will, in all likelihood, get there before his 70th game of the season. He has also now put up the third 20-goal season in his career (out of four seasons), rebounding from his 18-goal season in 2016-17. Gaudreau is on pace for 26 goals – not a career high – and 97 points, a number that would blow his previous best out of the water.
He wasn’t the only one to feast on a weaker team; Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett, Mark Giordano, and Dougie Hamilton also had multi-point games. Monahan is three points off from his third 60-point season (and one point back of his grand total from last year, in 21 fewer games played), while Hamilton has pulled himself up to fourth in team scoring alone, nine points in his past five games helping him a lot.
Best players in best spots
The powerplay is a whole new beast as of late, and it perfectly coincides with Hamilton and Matthew Tkachuk’s presences on the top unit.
Hamilton’s flurry of points these past five games includes five on the powerplay. He is feasting on the man advantage, something that could be interpreted as a cautionary tale of racking up points but, in this case, is more a relief than anything else: finally, someone capable is doing something. Hamilton is fourth on the team in powerplay points with 11. He is almost, but not quite, caught up to T.J. Brodie and Giordano in powerplay minutes, and now leads the Flames in shots on the man advantage (not to mention shots in general).
Gaudreau and Monahan are the obvious two when it comes to scoring, but Hamilton needs to be considered in the tier just below them (and only just below because he’s a defenceman and shouldn’t be scoring at their level). Someone who is joining that level? Tkachuk, elite tip-man with great instincts; though he didn’t score on the powerplay in this game, he still added to his totals with another goal, pulling himself up to 24 (four back of Monahan for the team lead) and 45 points (three back of his rookie season in 16 fewer games played). Tkachuk is third on the team with 16 powerplay points, and over 50 fewer minutes than Gaudreau and Monahan on the man advantage.
The point being: where would the Flames be if they had started showing this faith in Tkachuk and Hamilton earlier on? It’s not exactly a surprise that both can score, and neither did anything to suggest they should be getting fewer minutes.
Bennett vs. Ferland
Micheal Ferland, 20-goal scorer, is, apparently, hurt. His shooting percentage has dropped to 17.2%, still as high as Monahan’s, only with eight fewer goals and 47 fewer shots. So Bennett, who has not been having the season becoming of a fourth overall pick, got his turn up on the big line and, aside from high-sticking Gaudreau in the face off the opening faceoff, worked pretty well up there.
Bennett had a 65.22% 5v5 CF, behind only Monahan in this outing. He had the aforementioned two points: a game-tying goal, courtesy of an unreal feed from Gaudreau (not the first time this has happened), and initiated the breakout that led to Gaudreau’s goal. He’s hit 23 points, on pace for 30, which would at least beat last year’s outing.
Should Ferland’s injury keep him out, or at least force him into a reduced role, this could be (yet another) big chance for Bennett to fulfil the projections that had him so highly rated coming out of the OHL. (If he can do that, that helps solve some of the Flames’ right wing problems as well, left shot aside.) That’s a big ask, though, and for a player who has, multiple times over, shown flashes of great play only to not be able to keep it up.
It’ll be interesting, at least.
Jon Gillies could not have asked for a worse possible start, giving up a soft goal just 57 seconds into the game. Garbage time second goal against aside, though, he ultimately fared well against a bottom feeding team, doing just enough to secure a win while the skaters in front of him showed up and scored often enough to take the pressure off of him.
In Gillies’ first NHL start – a meaningless game against the Kings in 2016-17 – he stopped 27 of 28 shots for a win. This time, in his second, he stopped 35 of 37.
The Flames have a back-to-back right after the trade deadline, so depending on how desperate they are to have Mike Smith back (and, well, how healthy he actually is), a game against either the Stars or the Avalanche could be on the horizon next week. Gillies has yet to start a meaningful game against a quality opponent; both are fighting for playoff spots.
This and that
Troy Brouwer was the only Flames forward to not have a shot on net. Yes, that includes Ferland and his 6:10 of ice time; Brouwer played 15:27, albeit 4:53 of that was on the penalty kill. Giordano and Travis Hamonic didn’t get any pucks on net, either.
Definitely eyebrow-raising that Zac Rinaldo, who absolutely has a reputation, is still allowed to play in the NHL, though not surprising in the slightest. What actually was surprising is that Matt Stajan responded with five shots on net.
Mark Jankowski is the third Flame to score a shorthanded goal this season; Mikael Frolik has two, and Giordano one. Jankowski is tied with Brouwer and Stajan for fifth on the Flames with three shorthanded shots. Brouwer has played just over twice as many shorthanded minutes (57 vs. 116); Stajan, 24 more minutes. Mikael Backlund, Girodano, Frolik, and Brodie have more shorthanded shots.
With a multi-goal win, the Flames are back to only a -7 goal differential. Hooray! Points are points and the standings don’t care where they come from, but this was kind of the bare minimum for them.