The Avalanche aren’t the remarkably league-worst team they were last season. They are actually fighting for a playoff spot. But they aren’t among the league’s best, either – far from it.
Whatever the quality of opponent, though, the Flames need more games like this one.
How to hold a lead
Perhaps, most notably, the Flames didn’t give the Avs a chance to get back in it.
With a fluke goal bringing them back within one, it would have been easy for the Flames to crumble. Instead, that fluke goal was the only one they allowed; even taking a two-goal lead into the third period, they continued to attack. The Avalanche seemed to be completely nullified by the time Troy Brouwer scored just a couple of minutes into the third; that they outshot the Avs 11-4 in the frame was just something else entirely.
Give no quarter; the game never really felt as though it was in danger of being tied. The Flames had a 45.65% 5v5 CF in the first period, 60% in the second, and 70% in the third. They got the goals to start and never stopped trying to get them, and it made for an easy finish, one in which all the Avs could really do was try to start drama, because they had no answers otherwise.
It helps that special teams were nearly perfect, as well: the Flames killed off the only penalty they took and scored on two of their three powerplays. It was nearly a perfectly played game.
Win and you’re in?
Part of the reason things turned out so well was Jon Gillies, who picked up his third win in the third start of his career. Gillies was busier earlier in the game than later, including a highlight reel save early on in which the benefits of a really tall goalie with a quick reaction time became apparent.
Colorado is a bit of a tougher opponent than Arizona, though Gillies faced fewer shots overall, and he put up a higher save percentage.
It was somewhat interesting to see Gillies get the call for the second game in a row, given the Flames’ propensity to go with their starter above all else. David Rittich is no Mike Smith, however, and he’s had a couple of bad outings since Smith went down (along with some superhuman efforts, to be fair). Gillies has yet to face any competition on the level Rittich has, but assuming Smith is still out, Calgary’s next set of games are back-to-backs – the Stars and the Avs again – so you have to wonder who gets which game.
Neither is a proven NHL starter. If things go well, the Flames won’t have to count on either of them much longer. But both still have potential, and while it was Rittich getting the chance to show off earlier in the year, now Gillies appears ready to take the mantle.
Though of course, things always look great in a win, and it can only take one game for it to come crashing down – just ask Rittich about that. But maybe that’s for the best, that neither prospect can get comfortable.
Ten goals, two games
One thing that helps a fair amount? Scoring, a lot.
The Coyotes had the first goal, but the Flames tied it up quickly; since then, the Flames haven’t had much problem. Michael Frolik’s goal 18 seconds in probably shouldn’t have happened, but what matters is it kicked off an opportunistic Flames team that saw their shots go in throughout the game, not quite scoring in bunches but at an even pace.
And, interestingly enough, in a five-goal game, Johnny Gaudreau failed to pick up a single point. He’s still fourth in league-wide scoring with 73 points, but was one of six Flames forwards to be held off the scoreboard. Sean Monahan was the only top line player to score – a powerplay redirection – but it helps he led the way with five shots on net.
Though it isn’t quite all rosy, as the fourth line got absolutely crushed possession-wise; Brouwer had a nice shot and picked up a second point as a fill-in powerplay guy.
3M in particular
The 3M line, meanwhile, and an undeniably fantastic game.
Frolik had the one goal, Matthew Tkachuk had two assists, and Mikael Backlund had a three-point game, all while the trio led the way in corsi (with Mark Jankowski sneaking his way in, and Andrew Mangiapane not too far behind). Backlund’s effort launched him into a tie with Dougie Hamilton for fourth on the team in points, on pace for 49; Tkachuk, meanwhile, is one point away from matching his rookie season, in 15 fewer games. He’s on pace for 62 points, and five away from the 100th of his career.
This was all while having to face off against Nathan MacKinnon, third in the NHL in points per game (and would likely be closer to the top in raw points totals were it not for an injury earlier in the season). Against the 3M line – who he played over 10 5v5 minutes with – he had a 0% CF.
Shut down, and plenty of scoring. It was a banner game for Backlund’s line.
This and that
The top line wasn’t as much of a factor this time, but Sam Bennett once again looked in place alongside Gaudreau and Monahan; though they couldn’t get on the scoreboard, they had their chances and didn’t exactly give any up. Bennett continues to earn a further look up there, as Mangiapane continues with the Stockton Heat’s top line – and still in search of his first point, in spite of his efforts.
The Flames got lucky on the out of town scoreboard, with both the Ducks and Kings suffering regulation losses; they’re tied with the Ducks for third in points percentage in the Pacific Division, but own the tiebreaker with 30 regulation or overtime wins. That could be a big number to watch: Vegas leads the Pacific with 39, while Los Angeles is second with 31 (with a game in hand). The Flames have 30, the Sharks 29 (with a game in hand), and the Ducks 27.
The Flames’ powerplay has climbed up to 19.1%, tied for 20th in the league – a noted improvement from the bottom of the standings where they were like two weeks ago.