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Flames 3, Avalanche 2 (OT) post-game embers: Two points with a moral victory

It’s still early yet, but the Flames just might be a good hockey team.

Feel of the game

The Flames played like the first three minutes of the game never happened.

They had the worst possible start anyone could have asked for: already facing goalie problems and dressing their largely unproven backup for his first start of the season, David Rittich gave up a brutal rebound just 11 seconds into the game, and already had his team down. One bouncing puck a couple of minutes later combined with what appeared to be a complete lack of confidence, and the Flames looked ready to implode. Nobody wants to play to a two-goal deficit just 2:40 into a game.

Maybe Bill Peters calling a timeout was a factor in righting the ship; maybe the Flames would have collected themselves on their own without it. Either way, though, what followed the timeout was a game in which the Flames appeared to disregard the fact they were down by two goals, and go back at it as though it was a 0-0 game.

That is to say, they played as they normally would have. They generated a lot of chances. Most didn’t score. They played aggressively. Most of the time, it yielded nothing. But they broke through just enough to even the game – it would have been poetic if Elias Lindholm’s game-tying goal had come with 2:40 to go, but it came with 1:54 left – and that momentum, combined with one of the best players in the world at 3v3 hockey, got them the win.

The Flames disregarded their early deficit, played as they know they can, and saw success for it: kind of similar to the third period in St. Louis. Let this be a mood they can carry over the next 77 games.

The good news

They never quit. It’s kind of like we’re seeing the confidence of the 2014-15 team injected into a group that’s actually rather talented.

Sam Bennett scored a goal, and a very legit one at that, crashing the net and everything. It didn’t get called off. He’s had horrendous luck throughout his NHL career, and while we can’t say he’s finally turning the corner (been burned on that assumption a ton of times!), he’s getting yet another chance to prove he can be something more – and so far, at least, he’s doing something with it.

Is Lindholm a sniper now? He’s tied Sean Monahan for the team lead in goals with four. (Although caution: it’s early, so every percentage is out of whack, but his current 30.8 shooting percentage really is a lot. Then again, this is probably the best forward group he’s ever played with. Who’s to say!!) The early returns on Lindholm is that he is, indeed, the kind of player the Flames were missing from their scoring lines.

The Flames’ forward depth is nuts. We’ve grown accustomed, in this short time, to Lindholm as Johnny Gaudreau and Monahan’s winger; but wait, no, suddenly it’s Matthew Tkachuk. Bennett is back with Mikael Backlund, whom he’s had success with in the past, but now suddenly noted sniper James Neal is also there. Lindholm got “bumped down” the lineup, but he was still playing with two energetic players with a lot to prove. And then the fourth line was out there drawing penalties. It’s only been five games, but I’m still trying to wrap my head around the sheer potential of this forward group, and that’s with Michael Frolik being a healthy scratch for some reason.

TJ Brodie looked like the Brodie of old. He was extremely active and aggressive the entire night. Yeah, he got burned on the second goal, but you could tell he was doing everything in his power to make up for it. He might’ve been the most noticeable Flames defenceman for me, but in a good way: strong penalty killing presence, three shots on net, constantly moving, always looking to create, all over the ice. He has three assists to start the season, right behind Mark Giordano’s four points.

Maybe splitting up the rookies on defence helped, but Rasmus Andersson looked much more engaged on the defensive side of things. Great bounce back game for him. (I didn’t notice Juuso Valimaki as much, which is also probably a vote of confidence.)

Once Rittich got settled in, he looked solid. He had some luck on his side – the occasional post and whatnot – but he didn’t let the bad start get to him and, like in the third period in St. Louis, gave his team a chance to win. This time, they did.

Special teams were great. The penalty kill was aggressive and refused to concede much at all, and while the powerplay didn’t score, they were constantly pressuring, and occasionally it was just a matter of bad luck that the puck wouldn’t go in. Tons of movement, tons of chances, great to watch.

The bad news

Goaltending concerns do continue: Rittich looked particularly small on the second goal he gave up. Getting caught by surprise 11 seconds into your first start is one thing, and having your defence completely fail you two minutes later sucks, but he shrunk down and gave JT Compher an easy opening at the top of the net. Rittich did a great job getting over those early mistakes, but there are going to be other games in which those early mistakes prove more costly, and the Flames are still on very uncertain goaltending ground: for both this season and beyond.

I suppose this can be considered a flashback to the 2017-18 season: the Flames were getting a ton of chances and none of them were resulting in goals. If a team is good enough, then eventually they’ll start going in (see: Saturday night); we kept waiting for that to happen in 2017-18 and it never did. You gotta hope this year is different, and these guys start getting the results they deserve (they definitely earned a win Saturday), but I wouldn’t blame anyone for being a little freaked out that they aren’t scoring as often as it looks like they should be.

Numbers of note

63.95% – The Flames’ 5v5 corsi over the night. There are two other numbers to pay attention to, though: 74.07% and 83.33%, the Flames’ 5v5 corsi in the second and third periods, respectively. Yes, that’s how score effects work, but they were also legitimately dominating the Avalanche for large stretches of play. They earned the hell out of their comeback.

41 – The number of shots the Flames had on net. Gaudreau had eight of them. His last one was the best of them all. (Garnet Hathaway was the only Flames skater without a single shot on net.)

13:50 – The amount of ice time Michael Stone got in the great rookie defencemen shuffle of 2018, including 2:01 on the penalty kill. His partner, Valimaki, had 13:14, with just 23 seconds of special teams time. Andersson, paired with Noah Hanifin, had 14:36, including 1:09 of special teams time. I’m just fascinated by the direction the Flames are taking with Stone (especially since Frolik being healthy scratched may be a slight hint that no veteran is safe), since Travis Hamonic will still be out for a few weeks yet and, well, if the two rookies progressively end up overtaking him… The beginning signs of it are there.

20+ minutes – Until Hamonic returns, the Flames appear to be mostly comfortable with being a three-defenceman team: Giordano, Brodie, and Hanifin. Special teams plays a major part in that, but they were still the only defenders the Flames trusted for 16+ minutes at just 5v5. That’s something else I want to watch for: will Valimaki or Andersson be able to break into this group, especially if one of them ends up playing with Hanifin more regularly? (Also, Gaudreau was the only forward to play over 20 minutes.)

15:20 and 80.00% – Bennett’s ice time and 5v5 corsi. That’s the most ice time Bennett’s gotten so far this season, though he did average 14:24 through 2017-18. Peters seems to have taken a liking to Bennett these past couple of games, though, and Bennett’s been justifying it. Put someone in position to succeed and they just might. Maybe for real this time? And if not, well, the Flames have plenty of forward depth to give someone else those opportunities instead.

.923% – Rittich’s save percentage. His start was terrible. It’s also the best game he’s played since back-to-back efforts in March 2017 against Buffalo and Ottawa, two bottom-feeding teams. Curious to see when he gets the net again; there are six games before the Flames’ first back-to-back matchups of the season.

99 – The number of total goals Gaudreau has in his NHL career.

Final thought

Score be damned, I could get used to watching this team on a regular basis. At the end of 2017-18, it was like they had sucked all of the joy out of hockey. It’s back now.

And Rittich celebrating Gaudreau’s overtime goal before he even so much as got a shot off is just so damn wholesome.

  • Thunder1

    Might as well find a new team to watch, Skylardog! Monny n’ Johnny ain’t going nowhere. I’m not sure what you see when you watch a hockey game, but when those two jump over the boards together tickets get sold!

  • Puck Head

    Can you imagine trying to line match against the Flames? Your head would be spinning by the end of the game.

    It’s actually borderline brilliant what BP is doing. It keeps the boys on their toes and also allows him to see which player combos are best suited to particular scenarios that unfold in a game.

  • Off the wall

    Good morning FN. Yes it’s still the morning I’m my world.

    I’m enjoying the passionate responses from our Nation.
    If there’s one thing that stands out to me, it has to be Peters’ read on our players. He gets it.
    He owns it, for better or worse.

    He put Tkachuk up with Gaudreau and Monahan. Not sure if that’ll be a thing yet, but at least he’s willing to have different looks.
    Bennett- Backlund- Neal- that definitely worked out well. Could this be our next new line? Possibly.

    I know many of you scoff at Skylars suggestion of splitting up Gaudreau and Monahan.
    I’m all for changes, if it makes our team better overall. One thing I appreciate about Skylar, is he does his homework.

    We might not like what he’s suggesting, however I believe Peters’ is just the type of coach who will look at every option available. Don’t get hung up on linemates. Think BIG picture.

    How many of us would have thought a line of Bennett- Backlund- Neal was going to be effective? I sure didn’t.

    If we are capable of sending out 3 capable lines of offence, I honestly don’t give a crap what the player configurations are.

    It seems to me like we have a coach who’s going to create accountability. I love that.
    If he notices the Monahan- Gaudreau pairing not being effective enough- he WILL change it up. Then what we we do? Balk, stomp, say he’s lost his mind? Not this fan.

    Shuffling lines is the least of our concerns. Winning should be.

    • Chucky

      But then we have nothing to debate if the only concern is winning. We need to win elegantly, by each of our definition of elegance. Lets keep it interesting with the outlandish suggestions that we defend to the hilt:)

  • BendingCorners

    Enjoying reading the comments over breakfast. Sunny and mild in Vancouver today.
    Sky is right – mixing up the lines does imply that Johnny and Monny will spend time apart this year and it -might- be a good thing. Monahan was backchecking effectively though last night so any split should be temporary.
    Rittich should start against Boston; we need to see how good he is and Smith is off to a bad start.

  • Garry T

    Skylerdog- Wonderful stat production. Where the problem is, is not the offensive pairing of Monaghan and Gaudreau. The issue is that Johnny
    Is poor in terms of back checking and he seldom picks up his man in our zone. Thus the mismatch created results in goals against us. Peters needs to take Johnny aside quietly and show him what his responsibilities are. Then , if after hat, he does not address the back checking issue, I would press box him for 2 straight games. It was mentioned in one of the responses here that Johnny is a coke head. I hope that is no the case because he probably has two playing years left and he will be done. If he does have an issue, then he should go or a real friend on the team should go to management and get the matter dealt with. He sniffles a lot in interviews. He may be susceptible to colds. Regardless, fix Johnny’s 200 foot game and no one will be talking about the splits. Not being disrespectful Skylerdog. Have been watching this game for 67 years and after that amount of time you pick things up.

  • freethe flames

    For a late post game article this one took on an interest set of responses; clearly indicating a lot of hope for this team. Yesterdays 2nd and 3rd periods have given us a lot to be hopeful for let’s hope it continues.

  • Alberta Ice

    Rittich played really well. Both goals scored against him were high quality chances with the second being lifted on the fly from the ice. That would have beaten most goalies in the NHL. So how sweet it was that Lindholm scored just as soon as Rittich went off the ice. (Did anyone else see the great pat he gave Lindholm when Lindholm got back to the bench?) And notch it one more uppance for Rittich when JG had the break away in OT! A well deserved win for a team that didn’t fold like it would have last year.

    • Cfan in Van

      I fully agree with this. I’m surprised that Ari faulted Smith with only 2 Blues goals in that write up, but puts both of the Avs goals on Rittich. I wouldn’t be shocked to see any goalie in the league let those in, they were difficult scenarios. The timing sucked, but that actually works against Rittich even more. Not his fault on those.

  • oddclod

    I’d just like to say I find the comment section to be the pulse of flames fans. I drop in to read often. I appreciate all your opinions.

    Even if there’s some shade tossed at Backlund repeatedly by the one I won’t name. He was all world selke last night. If he can take some shooting pointers from Neal he’d be elite. Bennett shade is understood. But he’s rode shotgun with dogs breakfast since Tkachuk took his spot.

  • oddclod

    Regarding the articles they are hit and miss. Some maybe never played hockey.

    For example, if u didn’t watch the game and you only read this article to get the run down, you’d be mildly misled on how the game began, at least from the standpoint of who was responsible for the first goal. Rittich made a sprawling kick save. The defencemans job is to box out and clear incase the tender is laid out. Brodie was snoozing big time. Go take a closer look. Rebound control is expected but under the circumstances any coach will tell you it’s the keepers job to make the first save, it’s the defender’s job to clear pucks. So both goals on Brodie. But I love that dude and his resurgence. He rebounded well. Rittich was solid and deserved the win. Great effort from the squad. Full points. That’s what you want as a fan. Gaudreau is an absolute killer.

    gfg

  • oilcanboyd

    SO Elias Petterson of the Nucks got corked as he made Michael Matheson look foolish as he dippsy-doodled by him…and then Matheson run him into the boards and slammed him down to the ice WWE style. Out with a concussion. Petterson will not be doing that again any time soon…NHL Hearing for Matheson Monday.

    • Atomic Clown

      And I absolutely despise that. Petterson didn’t gloat after his move, or antagonize Matheson, but because Matheson’s pride was hurt, he decided to slam Petterson into the boards, and then shove him into the ice. Absolute bullcrap. That’s not playing the man or the puck, that’s dangerous play. Goonery shouldn’t have a place in hockey

      • The GREAT WW

        Yes. A very dirty play indeed.
        No need for that.

        I don’t remember the Canucks being too upset when their goon took a run at Dube in his first game though……..

        WW

        • Atomic Clown

          That’s exactly it. Rough up the rookie. Make him realize the value of keeping his head up and play smart, but don’t go with the intent to injure. Open ice hits are beautiful, and the only one to blame in that case usually is the dude skating with his head down. Boarding calls are dangerous. I hate the Canucks, but if I don’t want Dube to be injured like that, I wouldn’t want Petterson to be injured like that.

        • theartfuldodger

          The Canuck player apologized after the game. He said he didnt mean to do that to Dube. When I watched that play it didnt look viscous or on purpose to me. Definitely not a run a Dube

  • Petesmyboy

    After watching the first 5 games I have to say Bill Peters is a good coach. I really do have confidence in our coaching staff. He has no problem changing the lines when it’s not working. So excited for the next game.

    • WidemansAnger

      And he changes it quickly, he doesn’t wait for it be out of control before he intervenes. He acts very quickly if the results faulted even a bit. Seems he also has no problem icing/sitting the best players any given night…

  • Luter 1

    I must have watched a different game than the writer, I saw Brody clearly cause the first two goals, finally got his butt in gear and did a little skating but didn’t accomplish anything really, while Rittich rebounded from being left out to dry to make some huge saves. Frolik benched a surprise, shouldn’t be he has been virtually invisible and if you want to keep Ryan, one of the vets needs to sit, not a young guy like Jankowski. Thank goodness Bennett is getting a chance to play, is one of the few hitters on our team and his aggressive play ignited the team. Jankowski needs to follow suit. Mistake made brining in two more small players in Ryan (overpaid) and Czarnik (yet to prove himself) while Jankowski, Mang, and Foo are available. Also Phat Raz not impressing me so far, Kulak was still very young too, improved every year and very defensively sound.