What a difference a single game can make: from near perfection to all of your flaws exposed, with very little in between.
Feel of the game
The Flames got off to a good start, with secondary scoring combining for the opening goal of the game – only the wheels fell off immediately after with the Blues tying it up 12 seconds later, not even giving anyone much of a chance to bask in the afterglow of a rookie’s first point or enjoy a skilled move from a hard-luck player. It tumbled further away after that, with the rookie defence pairing getting burned, and the Flames finding themselves down by two after 20 minutes.
But these Flames are different, right? Different forward makeup (this group is designed to score), different coach, different attitude. Only sloppy special teams struck and questionable goaltending continued, and down four goals heading into the final 20 minutes, that had to be it.
Really, all that could be asked of the Flames by that point – barring an improbable comeback – would be to win the third period, and they did that just fine, maintaining some dignity as secondary scoring worked further to put the game back within reach. Only it was too late to finally start playing that strongly, and predictably, the Flames lost, having dug themselves a hole to deep to climb out of over the first 40 minutes.
Do moral victories count for anything this early in the season? Because that’s kind of all they could muster.
The good news
Dillon Dube got the first point of his NHL career. It was unspectacular, but that doesn’t matter: what matters is that he got it. We’ve all gotta start somewhere, and this is a relatively unheralded kid (at least outside of Calgary) jumping straight to the NHL out of junior, playing centre and picking up a point. That’s awesome.
James Neal and Derek Ryan got their first goals as Flames. Hopefully there will be more coming up.
Dube and Sam Bennett might work well together, actually? Bennett’s been without a partner in crime throughout his time as a Flame, unlike Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan’s instant chemistry. After the 2017-18 season, maybe it was Mark Jankowski; then again, that line only had flashes. Maybe it’ll be Bennett and Dube? Though it’s only been one game so far in which they started clicking. I guess a positive thing here is that plenty of options remain.
It would have been extremely easy for the Flames to roll over and die, but they didn’t; they got a bit of puck luck, sure, but they did come alive in the third period. It wasn’t a loss like the ones experienced towards the end of the previous season, wherein everything and everybody was completely miserable. They faced a four-goal deficit and tried anyway. And maybe that attitude will lead to success down the line.
David Rittich looked solid in his season debut, stopping eight shots in the third period to keep giving his team a fighting chance.
The Flames keep a positive goal differential on the season: +1.
The bad news
In three of four games, Mike Smith has been a major problem. That doesn’t detract from what he did in Nashville, but he was only able to stop 19 of 24 shots for a .792 save percentage. No, the goals weren’t entirely on him – rookies playing in front of him showed their warts – but he still has to be able to keep his team in the game. In three of four games this season, that’s been a problem for him. And the eventual game-winner, the fourth goal in which he came out to play the puck, was completely avoidable. If that’s how Smith is going to get involved in the play, then maybe it’s just time for him to stop. Forever. The Flames have an extremely mobile group of defenders; let them pick it up.
Rasmus Andersson and Juuso Valimaki reminded us that they’re just a couple of kids without even 20 games of NHL experience between the two of them. It was easy to get caught up in the hype considering the stellar job they did in Nashville; this sort of performance was almost inevitable. It’ll be a learning experience, though. They’ll be fine. Just maybe not immediately.
Monahan hit the post on a penalty shot. Mark Giordano hit the post on the powerplay. There was an Austin Czarnik post in there, as well. This game was a matter of inches from being tied – though that’s something we saw in 2017-18 as well. Really, this could be good or bad news, depending on how pessimistic you’re feeling.
But speaking of Giordano on the powerplay, the Flames’ special teams cost them. They went zero-for-four on the man advantage – including a two-minute five-on-three – and only killed off four of six penalties they took (and really, that’s just an unacceptable number of penalties to begin with). They need to tighten things up. This game was a disaster, and they deserved to lose, from top to bottom.
Numbers of note
54.55% – The Flames’ 5v5 corsi throughout the game. That mostly comes from the 65.63% they posted in the third period; they were under 50% in the first two frames. Too little too late on the trying, but at least they tried?
45.45% – The 5v5 corsi Andersson and Valimaki posted together over 10:25 of ice time. Andersson also spent like a minute alongside Noah Hanifin; Valimaki almost two minutes with TJ Brodie. I’m a little surprised they weren’t split up after the first period. Doesn’t mean they’d have to be split up forever, but they were clearly hurting in the first frame.
16:58 – Valimaki’s ice time through the game, including 3:10 spent on the kill. Granted, the Flames had to kill a lot of penalties, and he was on the lower end of the penalty killing ice time (only more than Andersson, who didn’t kill any penalties at all), but that’s still a fair bit.
16:34 – Michael Stone’s ice time. As in less than Valimaki. He played 4:02 on the penalty kill, third amongst Flames defencemen, but he didn’t take any penalties this game. Valimaki did. And still got more ice time than Stone. So, that’s interesting. (Also, not for nothing, but Stone was the only Flames skater to not get any shots on net – which, considering how one of the positive aspects to his game is that he has a hard shot, is unfortunate.)
4:23 – Anthony Peluso’s ice time this game. I have no idea what Mark Jankowski could possibly have learned from watching this one.
8:48 – Michael Frolik’s ice time, which is just weird? He’s only averaged 9:17 so far this season, more than just Peluso and Jankowski. He averaged 16:55 in 2017-18. I don’t get it. Increased forward depth plays its part, yes, and Frolik had a poor season last year by his standards, but he’s still a reliable defensive presence, and just not playing him at all is weird. And he still played 3:17 on the penalty kill – the third most used penalty killing forward, behind Mikael Backlund and Ryan.
7 – Matthew Tkachuk has tied Gaudreau for the team lead in points.
.881% – Smith’s save percentage on the season now. It’s still early, so every new sample added causes wild fluctuations, but seriously, one out of four games has been good.
I have two this time, the first being that bad games will happen. Hopefully they’ll happen a lot less often than the good games, but because we’re just four games in, right now everything is so much more pronounced. They’re still in a good spot right now. Because everybody is in a good spot. Because it’s the first half of October. If the Flames win in Colorado, they’ll have had a 2-1-0 road trip, and that’s something I think we’d all be pleased with.
And second: Maybe, if we say Rittich is going to start the third or the fourth game of the season, have him start the third or fourth game of the season. The Flames know they have a 36-year-old goalie with a history of injuries as their starter. He can’t play every single game. So make your schedule and stick to it, good performance in a preceding game be damned. No one player should ever be above the team, right?
Rittich starting might not have won the Flames this game, but Smith’s play sure helped them lose it.