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Flames 5, Sabres 1 post-game embers: Necessary domination

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.

  • CalgaryBornandRaised

    More of this please, I know it was the second worst team in the league, but Flames tend to phone it in for games like this……if only we did this earlier this season

  • Jimmyhaggis

    Where was this team all year? I know it was Buffalo, but that team could have beaten any team with their play last night. I hope they bottle some of this play and use some of it against the Sens. And why did it take so long to insert Hamilton on the first PP unit?
    It’s not over quite yet, but they can’t let up an inch.

  • Cfan in Van

    Man, Johnny was feeding some amazing passes all night long. His shifty timing on those feeds is really fun to watch.

    “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”. While that’s not literally incorrect, I’m pretty sure .962 is a lot better than .938…

  • Heeeeeere's Johnny!

    Stepping on the throat lesson learned and appropriately applied. Next lesson … pressing down hard on the pillow … class is on Friday evening at the Canadian Tire Centre.

  • ThisBigMouthIsRight

    Great work boys. Keep it going. Play like this and you can do some good damage and hopefully claw back into the playoff conversation.
    Look we all know the writers here don’t like Lazar(oh my god a second round pick), that is your prerogative, But c’mon if it was Brouwer who stepped up and Defended their Captain with some feisty fists it would get mentioned and not just the negative side note that he didn’t get a shot on net. With such a positive for all the Flames involved in this game it would have been nice to see some Kudos thrown Lazar’s way too. After a complete team effort like that it would be nice to share the praise where it is earned and deserved, even for Lazar. Its not that hard.

  • Derzie

    This was an entertaining game. I don’t know systems but to me this felt like a game where they played hockey rather than GG systems. First game in along time where I actually cheered or clapped for some plays. Entertainment, you have been sorely missed. Please stick around.

  • Flamesfansince04

    This team reminds me alot of the leafs, and I’m not being sarcastic. Inconsistent performance, overworked #1 goaltender, yet full of talent. All we need is a coach!

    PS. – I know it’s a bit far fetched to say the flames have as much talent as the leafs, but honestly, when the boys play well, we dominate. If you ask me, pens we’re lucky to get that win.

    • canadian1967

      Our Defense is much better and the forwards are about the same if you ask me.
      I’d take Smith over Andersen as well.
      I guess that means the difference is in something besides the players.
      Hmmm… I wonder what that could be

      • GetOn'Em

        Forwards the same? Who does Calgary have to compare to Matthews, Marner and Nylander? Monahan, Gaudreau and Bennett? Matthews is already a superior center to Monahan. Marner is more talented offensively than Bennett thus far. Gaudreau is more than Nylander. Kadri and Backlund are a was. VAN Ruemsdyk is less than Tkchuck. But after that Marleau, Bozak, Komarov, Martin, and plekanec are a lot deeper than Stajan, Brouwer, Hathaway, Frolik and Ferland.

        • cberg

          HaHaHaHaHA…. Look, Gaudreau is the best of them all. Mathews next…. the players are different so comparisons not straight forward, but to make it simple the F & G are ~ the same, but the Flames’ D is miles ahead of the Lafs… No comparison really. Toronto’s F are faster, Flames more diverse/more physical/and better defensively…

    • GetOn'Em

      Easy..they just beat the worst team in the league who was playing their back up goalie and missing their superstar center plus holes from the trade deadline. I agree this was an exciting game to watch but be realistic. The Flames do not have the talent the Leafs have up front. The Leafs do not have the talent the Flames have on the back end. No comparison there.

  • buts

    Best flame game all year. The reason they won was they didn’t skate the day before therefore the team wasn’t polluted with GG’s planning. Putting the bottom pair D out in the last minute to preserve a rookies shutout rather than the top pairing is just another example of how GG doesn’t know how to use players.

  • redwhiteblack

    Love the emotion Tkachuk shows! So glad we have him to build some identity with.

    Great effort. Still see flaws in GGs usage which make me cringe. But efforts like that from most everyone gel a team. Hope they can keep it going. Every shift a playoff shift. Desperation while making smart decisions with and without the puck all over the ice.

  • Off the wall

    Look what happens when you play a complete game. This is the team we expected. I don’t care if it was against Buffalo or not, this is the team we’ve been waiting for.

    Johnny makes that extra dive to keep the play in the offensive zone, Bennett goes hard to the net, Tkachuk takes a karate chop to the head, Lazar throws the mitts.

    These are some of the examples of a team that did all the right things against Buffalo.

    We have 14 games left. Two 7 game series, if you will. Play like this and I’m a happy camper.
    Did Smith’s appearance in Buffalo have something to do with it? No doubt, having your #1 goalie back taking shots is going to boost the teams morale.

    You can tell by Smith’s interviews he’s eager to play. I have a feeling we see Smith by the time we play Edmonton.

    Please for the sake of all good things, keep up this intensity.

    The final 14 chapters of this season have yet to be written.
    Make it a happy ending..

    • buts

      OTW, 2-7 game series left in the season? We have to win at least 5 out of 7 in each series where in a true best of seven its 4 wins….I don’t get your comparison to a 7 game series. Either way we are in a BIG hole.

  • Ktop

    Want to hear something crazy? I’d try Lazar on 1st Line RW. He could use his speed to back check and drive the net. Before people thumb down this. Think of some of the other player’s that have been there. Can’t hurt and might even work.

    • CalgaryBornandRaised

      I would agree with you, but the problem for him is he has some sort of gypsy curse on him, guy can’t really hit the broad side of a barn, so that lovely goal that Monahan scored on a ridiculous pass from Johnny would have ended up in the netting of Lazar was on it

    • JMK

      I really like Lazar’s play lately and don’t want to see him scratched for rest of season but his main issue is finish (final pass/sot), not the best option for first line RW in my opinion.

    • KeepitReal

      I like Lazar and hope the best for him. But I think his potential is limited by ‘small picture vision’ and lack of playmaking ability. But top marks for enthusiasm and tangent speed. Would gladly eat crow on this assessment BTW.

    • Off the wall

      I always want to hear something crazy.
      I like Lazar, I watched him closely against Buffalo and I must admit his defensive play is great. He’s always covering for other players.
      However, what do you see that could warrant him being used on the first line? I love his defensive play, but his hands don’t cooperate with his head.
      Someone should help him learn to keep his head up when he is in a scoring position. I think that’s why he misses so much?

      Where do you slot Ferland?
      Using Ferland on the 4th line seems like a bad idea, given the fact he has a wicked shot and 20 goals. No?

      If anything I’d like Lazar on the Backlund line and Tkachuk on Jankowski’s with Bennett.

      But you know our coach…

      • Squishin

        I’m not sure about this – Bennett has trouble in his own end and Jankowski is still getting used to the NHL defensive game. Having them against the opposition’s top lines is a bad idea. Also I don’t think Lazar has the hands or elite skill required for a top-line player. One thing we can agree on is that this setup will never happen under the current coach.

    • Cfan in Van

      I’d also add, that Lazar would need a lot of time on that line to pick up on Johnny’s tendencies, and vice-versa. JG makes passes that would be very low percentage for most players, and his shifty timing… It would take a while to get used to.
      I don’t think they have any spare time for adapting the first line at the moment.

    • deantheraven

      I said that months ago. They all laughed. However, as much as I’d like to try the idea, I still think it’s better to have Lazr in the bottom 6 against lesser comp. Let him dominate for a few games, get chances, maybe score a few. get his mojo rollin’.
      Next year it’ll be a clean slate for everyone with GG & co. gone, and a few more spots open on the roster,too.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    Nothing to see here, folks. The Flames beat Buffalo. Big whoop. Had they lost to Buffalo, then you would have had a story.

    About this complete game crap, they played a Sabres club without Eichel that is running out the string and have already started planning for their long offseason.

    Wake me up after the Edmonton game next Tuesday and then we will have a serious talk

    • Squishin

      Why would you trash him? He’s right. Whopping the Sabres is not anything to get excited about. It’s amazing how the moods on this blog shift from game to game. Big picture is that the playoff chances are still slim. Let’s put together a win streak and get back in the playoff picture before we start praising anybody.
      On a positive note, I’m glad the top players got their mojo back last night. Need to keep the confidence ball rolling now.

      • Cfan in Van

        The tone of the comments probably wouldn’t shift so drastically if the team’s performances didn’t turn on a dime, from impressive to absolutely pathetic, in a blink of an eye.

      • Avalain

        The moods shift from game to game because some people come here to cheer after a win and other people come to whine after a loss. Neither is “wrong” as this is basically what the blog is here for. But that’s what causes the discrepancy.