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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.

  • freethe flames

    Bennett get’s rewarded for playing the way Bennett needs to play. Has BP convinced Bennett to play this way, is he the ghost whisperer Bennett needs. Now he just needs to convince Janko to be a little more physical (he does not need to run guys through the boards) just use that big body of his a bit more. Earlier in the year I wanted to see a Tkachuk/Janko/Neal line but I would be happy to see a Bennett/Janko/Neal line. I have been critical of Neal so far this season; but last night he worked hard, was engaged and played his best game of the year- well done.

    • oilcanboyd

      Not Peters – Backs is Benny’s NHL whisperer. Giving him moral support relating his not-so-great early career too, until he decided what he needed to do to stay in the NHL.

    • Korcan

      Have to agree regarding Janks. So often in games he looks like the guy who’s trying to play two-hand-touch in a tackle football game. Jankowski is a big dude. If he could take the physicality up a notch he would likely find himself a much more effective player — the bad guys would start hurrying their passes knowing he’s coming down on them and he would also notice he suddenly has a bit more time and space for himself because they are a little less willing to physically engage him. Hopefully it will start to click for him.

    • Willi P

      IMO, Rittich should be in at least 1 out of 3 starts. See what you have. Hoping Peters figured out that Smith will want every start after he plays well and every start after he does not play well. They should have kept to their plan to play Rittich against the Blues.

    • oilcanboyd

      Peeps putting a lot of faith in Rittich after just one game , after dumping the Flames backup goaltending or lack thereof. If he keeps this going, great! But…Smitty had a super game the other night, then wham… Having said that I am not one of those peeps. Support the Flames management with developing their own goaltenders. Rittich is a great team guy and fun to be around (according to Hrudy, HNIC)

    • Greg

      2 would be ideal, I fear it’ll only be 1. Peters needs to pay attention to the numbers though… Smith is not a clear number 1 anymore. He’s not even a clear number 2 right now.

      Preferably Rittich would get 3 out of those 6 starts. It’s time to start finding out if they’ve at least got a 1B in him, or need to make some drastic goaltending changes before the trade deadline.

  • 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:)

  • Burnward

    I think I’ve enjoyed more Flames hockey already this year than almost all of last combined.

    They get some reasonable, consistent tending and we all should be in for a fun season gang!

    Heart, depth, skill and leadership that cares more about doing it the best way than “their way.”

    Fantastic start to the year and I am stoked.

    GO FLAMES GO!

  • Burnward

    So, through five games:
    – Lindholm cash money. Amazing.
    – Bennett is turning into the kid we all saw and hoped he could be. This has me absolutely giddy.
    – Brodano is probably back. Huge relief.
    – Rittich can hold the fort.
    – Valimaki is a huge talent that will be a first pairing defenseman.
    – Andersson is going to be a lot of fun and brings it.
    – Dube is a terror.
    – Hanifin is silky smooth and defends off the rush very, very well.
    – Ryan is a little Swiss army knife. A little overpaid maybe, but a dependable option on any line.

    These are just the new good things. There are lots of old good things too!

    • cberg

      3 periods in Nashville, the 3rd in St Loo and 2nd plus 3rd here, that’s 66% excellent play on this road trip. The lines are still a work in progress, or maybe that’s the way it is going to be but overall things are coming together.

  • 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.

  • freethe flames

    The next guy who should watch a game or two from the press box is Dube. He was IMO completely invisible last night except for his one turn over on the PP and one shift in the second.

  • 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!

  • MontanaMan

    Frolik hasn’t played his last game for the Flames, but I don’t think his future is bright. I’ve never been a fan of his outside of the PK but I think others can take his role and wouldn’t be surprised if the Flames moved him for draft picks.

    • cberg

      The last thing the Flames need at the moment are draft picks. Keeping a stable of solid NHLers works great for injuries and rotating in and out players that need a kick in the backside. Next summer you never know, especially if 3-4 guys continue to make a push from Stockton.

    • freethe flames

      With another full year on a $4m+ contract I doubt he gets moved as a rental player. For teams to go deep into the playoffs(an I know it is to early for that discussion) teams need depth and that is one reason I don’t see either he or Stone being traded for 3rd round draft picks.

    • The Beej

      @ Montana man

      I could see the Flames doing that in the summer but they didnt build up all this depth just to trade it away.

      They do need picks though and this would be a logical move down the road. Maybe as soon as the trade deadline as that is a time you can pry value. Depending on injuries and the performance of guys like mangiapane.

      I wonder if the Jets miss him

    • Stu Gotz

      I agree with your statement but teams are no longer giving up draft picks let alone for slower older players with bad contracts. I’m afraid Flames are stuck with that contract and playing him selectively may be the only option.

  • JMK

    I know the sample size is clearly too small to take any real meaning from this stat. . . However, Brodie and Giordano are currently on pave for 65 points. Not trying to say it’ll continue at that pace but so far that combo looks like losing Hamilton might not hurt us offensively as many thought.