The Flames have entered a stretch of games in which they absolutely have to win, no excuses. If they can’t beat the bottom feeders, then there’s no point gearing up for any of the other games, really. Starting with the Sabres, they’ve got four games of this nature before they face a more threatening foe in the Sharks.
They did what they had to do, and they did it well.
From top to bottom
Five different players scored for the Flames: from the expected Sean Monahan, who now has the second 30-goal season of his career, to the third line duo of Sam Bennett and Mark Jankowski, who tend to be a bit more sporadic with their offence. Mark Giordano tied his 2016-17 output with his 12th goal of the season, while Dougie Hamilton picked up 15 for the first time in his career, tying P.K. Subban for the most goals by a defenceman league-wide.
(Probably worth noting: Hamilton also tied Micheal Ferland for third on the team with his sixth powerplay goal of the season. He is now fifth in powerplay ice time, with 2:05 more played on the man advantage than T.J. Brodie. He leads the team with 51 shots on the powerplay, and 217 overall, the only Flame with over 200 shots.)
Five players had multi-point nights: Bennett, Jankowski, Giordano, and two assists for Brodie and Johnny Gaudreau. Gaudreau, now with 76 points in 68 games, is two away from tying his career high 78 points in 79 games, set back in the 2015-16 season. He is eighth in league scoring.
Curtis Lazar was the only Flames skater to not get a shot on net. Matthew Tkachuk led the way with six; Jankowski, Monahan, and Mikael Backlund all had four each; and Bennett, Giordano, Hamilton, and Garnet Hathaway had three shots apiece.
Only three Flames were below 50% in 5v5 corsi: Lazar, Matt Stajan, and Troy Brouwer. Monahan led the way with 89.47%, a little over 12-14% over his linemates as he was removed in the later stages of the game as precaution against injury.
Shutout will hopefully wait for another day
On the other end of the ice, David Rittich didn’t have nearly as busy a night as Chad Johnson (and, later, Robin Lehner). The Sabres only mustered 26 shots compared to the Flames’ 41, and while Johnson made life harder for himself than he had to, Rittich was back to his calm, cool, collected self, though playing behind a team that jumped out to an early multi-goal lead and never looked back must have helped.
Rittich’s .962 save percentage was his best outing since the Flames’ overtime loss to Boston on Feb. 19, in which he stopped 30 of 32 shots. This wasn’t as challenging a game, but it was entirely necessary for a goalie who had been floundering for a bit there. Following up an intense Feb. 15 win over Nashville with an early hook against Florida, a supposedly brutal night against Vegas that I never watched because women’s gold medal hockey, and a total collapse against Colorado, this was a good bounce back for Rittich.
With weaker opponents on the horizon and Mike Smith around, hopefully the stage is set for the Flames to get Rittich back on track. As he’s up on regular recall, it’s almost certain that, when Smith returns, Jon Gillies will be returned to the Stockton Heat.
It would have felt kind of cheap to see Rittich get his first career shutout in a 5-0 domination, but then again, the Sabres’ lone goal with just 18 seconds to go points to how difficult it is to get a shutout at all.
The Flames now have a goal differential of -7. Every team in the West currently holding a playoff spot has a positive one.
Hit the net
For so much of this season, the Flames have dominated the underlying game, only to come up short when it comes to actually scoring goals. They’ve had legitimately great games thwarted by incredible goaltending – Ben Bishop and Henrik Lundqvist come to mind for recent dominated outings – but also a lot of the time their shooting percentage has just refused to cooperate. It’s a total inverse of the 2014-15 season that saw them unexpectedly make the playoffs.
For teams still sniffing at the playoffs, only Columbus, Carolina, and St. Louis have had worse shooting percentages this season; Columbus and Carolina are below 8%, while San Jose joins Calgary and St. Louis in being under 9%.
However, the Flames have only scored three fewer goals than the Sharks this season (albeit in two more games played); they’ve also shot the puck 88 more times (32.81 shots per 60 compared to San Jose’s 32.52). The Sharks have had the better defensive game, allowing roughly one fewer shot per 60 minutes than the Flames. That and a slightly higher shooting percentage for San Jose is the difference.
But back to the Flames getting the puck on net: they had 59 corsi events for throughout the game. Forty-one were shots. Sixteen were high danger corsi events. Johnson had a bad night, but it was a great showing for the Flames; the score matched their level of play.
Calm, good special teams
Probably worth mentioning: the Flames’ powerplay is still at a dismal 24th in the NHL, with an 18.1% success rate. Still, definitely not as bad as it once was; they’re almost a full four points over the last place team (Edmonton, 14.4%). Columbus and St. Louis are the only teams near the playoffs with a worse conversion rate, while Anaheim is just a smidge better, at 18.4%.
The Flames’ penalty kill, however, has jumped up to 15th in the NHL with a success rate of 80.9%. Of course, the Sharks (84.7%), Kings (83.4%), and Ducks (83.2%) are first, second, and fourth in the NHL, because why wouldn’t they be?
Both goalies deserve this, honestly
It has been a real rough go of things for Rittich and Jon Gillies as of late. It’s not entirely their fault, either; who, at the start of the year, would have predicted the Flames needing their AHL tandem to help them in the stretch drive to the playoffs?
That said, Tkachuk rules.
— Mike Pfeil (@mikeFAIL) March 8, 2018