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.
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.