Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Flames 3, Maple Leafs 1 post-game embers: Do it again

Though it took them until the third period to finally score, the Flames played nearly as perfect a game as a team probably could. They’ll have to keep it up to prove it wasn’t a one-off, though.

Feel of the game

What do you get when you watch two relatively talented teams do their best to score, all the while missing passes, overpassing, and somehow simultaneously doing their very best not to score? You get this game.

At least, until the third period, when finally, the seal was broken – and on a Flames powerplay, no less. On a night in which players with clean breakaways were unable to get shots off, just over five minutes into the third, Sean Monahan potted home an easy goal on the man advantage; 55 seconds later, Elias Lindholm finished off some pretty top line passing to make it 2-0. Considering how the night had gone, two goals felt like it would be enough, and as long as the Flames kept playing the way they had been all night – largely controlling the pace of play – it’d be an easy finish.

And it was headed in that direction, until Matthew Tkachuk took a holding penalty and while on the kill Mark Giordano was called for interference for some reason. The Flames had just barely killed the five-on-three when Nazem Kadri scored, and it was a good thing play returned to even strength, because suddenly that one-goal lead with just under four minutes to go seemed very precarious. The Leafs finally had the manufactured inspiration they needed, and that weird beside-the-net non-goal really did seem like a backbreaker for a moment.

It wasn’t, though, and Michael Frolik’s empty netter was the cherry on top of a near-perfect game.

The good news

Everyone came to play. Everyone. The Flames controlled the pace of play most of the game, and while their time in the offensive zone was a little messy (you don’t always have to look for the perfect pass!), their defensive zone play was pretty solid. If you’ve got to criticize the defence when Mike Smith has bad nights – and sometimes, you very much do – you’ve got to give them props when they work to make sure Smith doesn’t have much to do, and that’s exactly how this one played out.

Though they didn’t score until the third period, the Flames had a fantastic start and stuck with it. There was no demoralization. The first and third lines – Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennett in particular – really stood out for trying to create scoring chances early on.

He’s been called out a lot, and rightfully so, but TJ Brodie had some good plays on defence (as did most everyone else, really). I wanted to give some extra props here, though: on the Leafs net-side non-goal, you could see the other Flames nearby – Marks Giordano and Jankowski in particular – skate slowly and aimlessly in defeat when the horn went off (understandable; horns usually mean goals). Brodie was the only person in the building who immediately knew that wasn’t a goal and his first reaction was to get the puck out of the netting and start a breakout (he’s even kind of jumping by Leafs on their way to celebrate with one another). The officials ended up blowing the play dead (which normally I could understand, but considering just how quickly Brodie made play resume, on reflection I actually don’t like), but if they hadn’t, Brodie’s heads up awareness would have created another goal for his team. Only one guy was playing until the whistle.

The bad news

I love Gaudreau with all my heart, and that moment in which he danced around all the Leafs but just couldn’t get a shot on goal was still pretty awesome, but man, he singlehandedly killed at least a play or two by trying to do too much when he could have just shot it. Maybe something would have been created from an ensuing rebound. I’m fishing here but his misfortune in not scoring in the first was more his own creation, unlike Bennett, who apparently got cursed by a witch or something.

Man, the Flames were lucky the Leafs scored just over a second too late at the end of the second period. They were suffering a serious zone breakdown; I remember thinking “just get the clock to run out!!” and thankfully it did. I don’t think the third period would have been too different if they’d started it down 1-0, but that was a precarious moment. Same deal for after the Leafs’ first goal: they’re a good team, so you have to give them credit, and other than those two instances the Flames largely were in control of the game.

I hate this, but Smith still scares me. I have no idea what he was falling over at on the Leafs’ goal (I don’t think it was momentum? But I could be wrong?), and every moment after the Leafs did score was worrying. He very much did what he needed to do, stopping most of the handful of shots the Flames allowed, so you can’t complain too much, but I’m still worried for future outings, if that makes sense.

Numbers of note

50.55% – The Flames’ 5v5 corsi on the night. They had a 69.57% in the first period, and were really unlucky to not score then, because they came out really, really strong.

4 – The number of Flames players who are a point per game or above (Gaudreau, Tkachuk, Lindholm, Monahan).

200 – Lindholm’s goal was the 200th point of his career. His leading the team in goals with eight is nuts, and while I love him and have no doubt he’s the real deal offensively, beware his 26.7 shooting percentage. Excluding this season, his career average is 8.9%. It’s probably gonna drop – though major props for his six shots on the night; he deserved that goal. More good news: he’s currently on pace for more shots than he’s ever taken in a full season, too.

5 – Lindholm led the way with six shots, but two Flames had five shots of their own as well: Giordano and James Neal. Giordano has 10 points; Neal, three. He’s clearly trying out there, though. It feels like it’s going to come sooner or later (more on that a little later today).

10, 20 minutes – There was a clear cutoff between top six and bottom six forwards in ice time. The top six guys all came close to or exceeded 20 minutes (except for Frolik, who played 15:22); the bottom six all hovered around 9-11 minutes instead.

12:29 and 14:43 – Rasmus Andersson and Juuso Valimaki’s ice times. The rookie pairing wasn’t trusted with too much to do on the road. Noah Hanifin’s minutes fell back a bit, too: he only played 18:36 while the other three defencemen exceeded 20 minutes in ice time, though he got the least special teams time out of them.

Final thought

That was a great all around team game, but the Flames are going to have to do it again. And again. And again. We’ve seen flashes of them playing well before, and that includes last season; it’s putting together this kind of performance consistently that’s going to make the difference, and we aren’t there quite yet.

  • FlamesFanOtherCity

    I would have to think that Ras and Valimaki were being given a light load to allow one pair to be fresh tonight in Buffalo. Considering the matchups they faced against the Cup winner Saturday, it seems more likely than not being trusted. Or perhaps the coach was listening to the play-by-play that suggested the two rookies were being sheltered for good reason. Only 30 odd NHL games between them….bla, bla, bla…Strange that the rookie pair looked better than every Leaf defender, exceot maybe the scoring machine Reilly.

    • Burnward

      Mannnn…those kids are good.

      One thing that continues to amaze me is Valimaki’s body control under pressure. He is able to just dodge a hit, slight box out…and it’s gone. He’s not afraid of trying to do more in that position already and shows natural ability to do it. When he “man’s out” he’s going to run the show with his IQ.

  • Chucky

    What is is going to take for the Flames to realize that a shot and a rebound is better than a risky pass that is intercepted?
    There had to be 10 times last night when the Flames has a clear shot and someone in position to to play a rebound but decided to pass with no shot resulting.
    Talk about frustration, yelling shoot at the TV does not work.

  • Skylardog

    I have been noticing the “scorpion” from Smith all season. I don’t think I have ever seen a goalie play on his stomach as much as he has, and apparently, Ari has picked it up as well.

    She is also seeing that JG is trying to hard to do it all on his own, something I commented on last night as well. Thinks happen when you play as a team. Passes and rebounds on shots resulted in goals last night, not guys going through everyone on their own.

    As far as HDCA/60, guess who was the worst last night.
    Lindholm – again. And yet TV guys and writers alike are raving about his defensive play.

    Is it just me, or are we starting to become the one line show that took us no where last night. Concerned that the bottom 6 are not getting goals or minutes.

    • Chucky

      It is hard to get goals when you are getting 10 minutes a night but I am not sure that Peters should be criticized for overplaying top players at this point. It was odd to see the Monahan line out against the extra attacker but on the other hand why wouldn’t the best players be on the ice at critical times?

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      I am concerned about the one line as well. It’s great to have Lindy up there finishing, but we could sure use him to get Neal and Bennett going. Janko looked good last night, but I wonder if he’s the right fit for the 3rd line. Frankly, the 2nd line had little offense last night too. Not really sure how to construct better lines without losing some of the chemistry we currently have. Neal to top line and Lindholm to RW with Janko and Bennett? Tkachuk swap spots with Bennett and play with Janko and Lindholm? Czarnik to swap in over Hathaway?

      Oh, and as good as Smith looked when he was on his feet tracking the puck, he was like a depressed polar bear when he was swimming around on the crease. Clean it up Smitty.

    • cjc

      You’re not wrong, but the bottom six situation is intriguing, I think because nobody is really standing out. Between Neal, Bennett, Dube, Jankowski, Ryan, Czarnik and Hathaway they have 8 goals on 104 shots, a little under 8% shooting, so not that unlucky overall. But if you dig into it, Neal, Dube and Czarnik have been quite unlucky not to score more, Bennett has had some 10 bell chances, and even Backlund is better than a 3.8% shooter. On the flip side, Lindholm and Frolik aren’t going to keep scoring at their current rates either.

      The other issue for the scoring is on defence. Outside Giordano, there hasn’t been much offence from the back end.

    • Raffydog

      Totally agree. Where’s the depth that was talked about so much at the start of the year? Shut down the top line and you shut down the Flames. Good thing the top line is good enough that they can still score while playing against the other teams best defensive lines. But when they have a bad game who else can step up?

    • Jessemadnote

      That’s unfair to call Lindholm out on his defence based on that number. He was 50% on the night high danger corsi and 60% on the night for scoring chances for. He also did a great job in 2 minutes of penalty kill time and scored a goal and an assist.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      BP is forcing the team into being a 1 or 2 line team. He has the 3rd and 4 th line players constantly looking over their shoulders. Janko, Frolik, and Czarnik are afraid to make a mistake. The D rookies are given a longer leash and that has helped. Dube and Janko are feeling the heat of not scoring a goal this season so it is up to the coaches to put them in a position to succeed… maybe some more ice time or PP time would help. This happened with Mangi last year and with him not scoring clearly became a distraction.

      I like BP but he is playing with players young players’ confidence. Hathaway seems to have won over a BP yet players with a much higher ceiling like Janko and Czarnik are healthy scratches. We are going to need these players if the team is going to compete for a playoff spot.

      As good as the second line has been defensively there is very little finish on that line. I would throw Janko or Bennett on this line and make it a true shutdown line while freeing up Tkachuk’s creativity.

  • Puck Head

    The 4th line had some great shifts. Probably Ryan’s best game thus far. Sometimes I mistake Dube for Gudreau. The dude can cut some tight turns with the puck.

    Janko falls down a lot.

    The Leaf’s are not a physical team either. Good news for us. Unless both teams toughen up the playoffs could be a slog for these types of teams.

    The Leafs were never really in this games. The refs did their best to get them back in. In the end the best team won.

    • Flamesfansince04

      Yes, the refs did but it’s a shame they have to … Like they were throwing Babcock a bone by giving Gio that (insert your own words here) penalty.

  • Skylardog

    Matty pretty much assured himself of being the Flames worst PK guy last night. He ended up with a 3600 GA/60. Guess that’s what happens when you take a poor penalty and come out of the box on a 4v5 only to have the puck in your net 1 second later.

    It can’t get any worse than that number. Literally.

    However, with his 6 seconds on the PK now for the season, he is only at 600 GA/60.

    I would suggest he improve that side of the game or perhaps we shouldn’t use him any more to kill penalties. 😉

    • BlueMoonNigel

      Kid will never be an offensive threat. Backlund as the team’s second centre is because of necessity, not prowess. It is what I lamented before the season started that the team only had 5/6th of two legitimate scoring lines. One hoped that Backlund would rise to the opportunity or that Janko would show he was prime time ready, but neither has come through so far.

      Remember when Stone was acquired by the Flames and many here licked their chops as Tre had acquired a “2nd pairing defenceman?” Stone may have been 2nd-pairing on a very bad Coyotes’ club but on any club that was serious about getting into the playoffs, Stone was a solid 5th or 6th. It’s the same with Backlund. Playing him as a 2nd-liner and hoping he will actually score is painful to watch. It must be murder for him to try to be something he isn’t. The absence of a 2nd-line scoring centre may well prove to be a long-standing problem that Tre can’t fix. Certainly overpaying Backlund hasn’t helped matters.

    • Sea of Redd

      Backlund got a few chances last game. Just can’t seem to be able to bury them. I’m not too worried about him, he’s been playing pretty good overall. He’ll put a few in the back of the net.

  • LannyMac

    Can someone explain to me the difference btwn Ryan and Stajan other than a few bills. I know he is a better skater and a little younger but on could argue Stajan was more effective. Another good signing by Tre. On a positive note for a change nice all around effort last night. A performance like that with better team support gives the appearance they give a sh!t about each other. If they can be consistent with that hard work I will start posting with a better tone.

    • MWflames

      Well, what’s wrong with younger and faster? Is that not an improvement?

      I’ll add that he’s a very good face-off man as well which you can’t say for stajan.

      The fourth line tonight was quite effective, spend a lot of quite working the cycle and even had a couple scoring chances. How many times did you see that happen last year?

      I won’t argue that you want to pay your 4th line centre $3M/yr, but an injury up the middle and he slides up the lineup a whole lot better than most 4 line centres out there

      • KootenayFlamesFan

        I think the jury’s out on Stajan’s face off prowess . . . I don’t remember him ever actually taking one. Pretty sure he got tossed every time.

  • Off the wall

    Great game against the Leafs!

    Wonder what the line blender looks like in Buffalo?
    Are we ever going to see a consistent lineup?

    Perhaps we should leave the lines together for longer than half/ or ONE game?

    I realize we need secondary scoring, but it’s pretty difficult to get a rhythm going with so many changes.

    We have 3 players who can put the puck in the net. Separate Gaudreau and Monahan except for PP usage. Move Tkachuk away from the 3M line.Use him as top 6. Same with Bennett.

    Use Backlund as a 3rd line shutdown line, but get Tkachuk away from defensive players.

    I know it sounds weird, however we’re not creating secondary scoring.

    You can only stir a drink for so long, before it becomes undrinkable…

    • Squishin

      Our complaint last year was that the lines never changed. I would much rather have this than the former. I like that Peters identifies what isn’t working in a game and tries to fix it.

      • 左翼二

        I agree with you both. If it is broke, fix it. But give a guy a chance to learn to play with new linemates too! 1 game probably isn’t enough to get comfortable.

        How about this for a blender output?
        Off1: Johnny – Lindholm – Byng
        Off2: Dube – Monny – Neal
        Def1: Benny – Backs – Fro
        Def2: Hath – Janko – Ryan – Czar (mix n match)

  • BlueMoonNigel

    Last night’s big win will be gum unless they collect at least a point against the Buffs tonight. Flames are further ahead in their rebuild than the Sabres, so leaving Buffalo with at least a point should be expected, not hoped for. Too often under Gully the team squandered points in games like they have tonight. Yes, the Sabres appear to be finally on the right track, but the Flames are the superior club so that a committed effort should net them a point or two.

    Considering Lindholm’s goal last night, it’s a wonder he has never scored more than 17 NHL goals. That was some shot he parked behind Fredrich. His coaches and teammates had better be on his case to shoot as often as he can because he can. Impressive!

    • KootenayFlamesFan

      It was a replay of a goal almost identical to that one while he was with Carolina that got me so excited about him. He’s a heck of a player!!

      Like it’s been mentioned already, I think swapping sides with him and Johnny would pay huge dividends on the pp.

    • 左翼二

      Lindy has been a pleasant surprise. I’d imagine Johnny and Monny are the best linemate tandem he’s ever played with, so I think we can bank on more than 17 this year!
      Also, his SH% is super high, but playing on the top line should see him have a better number than ever. Double digits for the year, no problem!

  • Ramskull

    I hate how it’s either leafs homers or canucks homers as the flames national broadcast crew. Listening to Simpson act like last nights game was an even affair or that the flow of the game had nothing to do with the terrible T.O. ice drives me batty.

      • Ramskull

        My favorite was Johnny dangling around 4 guys for a shot on net and it gets one replay and then Marner does a button hook behind the net and Simpson talks for 3 minutes how “Marner and Johnny are identical players” and the button hook gets 4 replays. This team will never get any respect from the sportsnet crew.