The same problems that plagued the Flames through the 2017-18 season – and the 2018-19 season opener – appeared to be hurting them again in their home opener. Bad special teams, an inability to score despite a ton of shots; the usual. But come the third period, the switch completely flipped, and once the Flames had tied the game, there was no looking back.
One hallmark of 2017-18 that didn’t show up: falling into despair whenever a goal against was scored. Instead, it was a hallmark of 2014-15 that came into focus: just keep trying to score and eventually, you will. The Flames, now with a much more talented forward group, did exactly that.
Feel of the game
This one was a roller coaster of emotions, right from start to finish. There really isn’t any better way to endear yourself to your new home crowd than by scoring just seconds into the game, as Elias Lindholm did; however, for all their further effort, the Flames just could not score again. One horrible, seemingly neverending shift trapped in their own zone later, and the Canucks had tied the game via 19-year-old Elias Pettersson; mere minutes after that, they had taken the lead – with a shorthanded goal, no less, the powerplay immediately coming to doom Calgary.
Early on, it was yet another case of everything going wrong for the Flames, everything going right for the opposing team. This is a group, dating back to the previous season, that in theory would deserve a better fate, but has just been unable to grasp it. Two Canucks powerplay goals were just the mockery on top of it all: every other team can do this, but you can’t. Sure, the Flames had a powerplay goal of their own in between – after having one taken away on a coach’s challenge, at that – but what’s one when you get as many chances as this team has already had?
When Sean Monahan scored on the powerplay about halfway through the third period, though, something started to shift. It felt like, okay, maybe at least get this to overtime – until the Flames got another man advantage, and not even a minute into it, Lindholm had his second of the night, and eventual game winner. Follow that up with a nerve-wracking several minutes, featuring a particularly stellar Mike Smith save and some overall shakiness, before the empty netters put it away with a convincing win.
It’s been a long time since the Flames have played in a meaningful game and come out of it the victors. It’s a good feeling.
The good news
It only took 12 seconds for the Flames to score, and it was Lindholm’s first goal as a Flame, to boot. Not to mention the game-winner he scored, making him one of just 30 players to have multiple goals early in this season. (Monahan’s in that group, as well.) Lindholm is looking like an extremely welcome addition so far.
Seriously, three powerplay goals. THREE. All scored by the top line trifecta, and all assisted by Matthew Tkachuk.
Yes, it’s still hilariously early, but Tkachuk is one of the league’s leaders in total points with five – shoutout to his four-assist night. One of them was the 100th point of his career; through 146 career games, he has 102 points. He’s the third member of his draft class to reach the milestone.
Three Flames had three-point nights: Johnny Gaudreau, Lindholm, and Giordano. Gaudreau is also a league leader, tied for sixth in overall scoring with four points. Giordano’s three has him tied for fourth among defencemen. Scoring seven goals does wonders for stats-padding.
Monahan and TJ Brodie also had multi-point nights, with two each.
Austin Czarnik scored his first goal as a Flame, and while empty netters aren’t particularly dramatic, it did help put the game away. He’s also looking like a fit on a line with Tkachuk and Mikael Backlund. No offence to Michael Frolik intended, but it feels like that line has an extra jump to it with Czarnik there now. Here’s to hoping that keeps going.
One year ago, Sam Bennett and Mark Jankowski were third liners, and Frolik was on the second line. Today, they’re fourth liners. That speaks wonders to the complete overhaul the Flames’ forward group has experienced. It’s so much better now.
That moment in the second period, when Dillon Dube and Juuso Valimaki nearly combined to score for what would’ve been their first NHL points? That was magical, and a nice glimpse of the future.
The Flames are back to an even goal differential. Teams with positive goal differentials tend to make the playoffs. Let’s hope they get back in the green next time and stay there.
The bad news
The Flames got a ton of odd-man rushes and didn’t score on a single one of them, too busy either taking their time or overpassing or shooting directly at the goalie. Chances are exciting. Goals are much more so. At some point, they have to do something with them, because those breaks aren’t going to come so easily, and they can’t be running into a hot goalie every time.
Even with three powerplay goals, special teams remain a major concern. A little bobble on the powerplay led to a shorthanded chance against and a goal. That can’t happen. Giving up two powerplay goals in one game isn’t great, either. The Flames are now three-for-13 on the powerplay this season; the Canucks are two-for-seven. It’s still early, so you have to hope that’ll balance out, but this group really needs to get their special teams under control sooner rather than later. Otherwise, it’ll just keep drawing comparisons to 2017-18, and maybe even bring the same results.
Travis Hamonic is a major loss to this team’s defence. Giordano looks great as ever. Brodie is looking good alongside him. Noah Hanifin is fun to watch, and Valimaki is looking like he’s getting there, as well. But I’m honestly not sure if Michael Stone is a replacement-level player or what, and the fear of Dalton Prout did absolutely nothing to dissuade the Canucks but make it easier for them to score. Prout only played 2:59 in the final frame – the period in which the Flames had to claw their way back into the game and hold the lead. Rasmus Andersson can’t be any worse, and with Hamonic out, the Flames need to upgrade their defence. Valimaki’s getting a chance and maybe showing something. Time to do the same for Andersson. The worst thing that could happen is the Flames end up with a bad group – which they already may have.
Smith is off to a horrible start to the season, giving up four goals for the second game in a row. In a game in which the Flames limited shots, he still let the other team in it. Some of that is on the skaters in front of him – endlessly long shift in the first period, allowing a lengthy five-on-three – but he had a .800 save percentage. There needs to be more saves.
Numbers of note
58.02% – The Flames’ 5v5 corsi on the night. In all situations – with all of those powerplays and penalty kills – they were 61.86%. That’s so much better. Czarnik led the way with his linemates; only five Flames (the third line, Hanifin, and Frolik) were under 50%, and they were the guys who saw the most of Pettersson.
3 for 6 – The Flames’ powerplay that came through and won them the game. They aren’t going to score three powerplay goals every time, or hit a 50% success rate every time, but as long as they’re able to do something with the man advantage, they’ll probably be alright.
6+ minutes – Monahan (6:21), Giordano (6:21), and Gaudreau’s (6:15) ice time on the powerplay. Tkachuk (5:54) came close to cracking that mark as well, while Lindholm (5:16) rounded things out. Say hello to your first unit powerplay.
6 – The number of shots Backlund had, leading the way. Three Flames also had five shots of their own: Gaudreau, Lindholm, and James Neal.
20+ minutes – The amount of total ice time Giordano (27:05), Lindholm (21:38), Monahan (21:22), Brodie (21:01), Gaudreau (20:59), and Hanifin (20:50) got. Pay attention to the defence in particular: they’re a three-man unit right now.
7 minutes – Roughly the amount of ice time the fourth line (Bennett, Jankowski, Frolik) got. A decent chunk of that comes from the penalty kill; Backlund was the only forward to play more than all of them there, while Lindholm played more than Bennett as well.
13:06 and 12:51 – Valimaki and Dube’s ice times, respectively. That’s up from 10:19 (Valimaki) and 9:07 (Dube), and includes penalty kill time for the both of them. They’re certainly getting their chances to make their cases to stay. So far, so good.
.810% – Smith’s save percentage through two games so far this season. He has to be better.
When the forward group comes alive, it’s an absolute treat to watch. The defence and goaltending are worrying so far, though (and even the forwards play into that – remember the entire unit getting trapped in their own zone before the Canucks’ first goal).
They won’t be able to score their way out of every game, so hopefully Hamonic comes back soon, Valimaki and Andersson prove to be superior options to the alternatives, and Smith finds the magic he lost before his injury back in February – because it’s still looking like a precarious season.