No matter how it happens, any time you can come away with four points in two days, you had a good time. Only the Flames’ play was actually really rather good for most of it, as well.
Feel of the game
In the first game of the back-to-back, against the Leafs, the Flames dominated from the beginning. They controlled the pace of play and generated scoring chance after scoring chance. That was not at all the case to start the second of the back-to-back, as it was the Sabres who took control of the first period, and the Flames forcing David Rittich to keep them in the game.
He could only do that for so long as the Flames kept surrendering scoring opportunities to the Sabres, and towards the end of the first, a bad bounce finally broke in Buffalo’s favour, allowing them to get set up in their offensive zone with little opposition and giving Jack Eichel the chance to snap one past Rittich to take the lead.
But that was about it. From the second period onwards, the Flames found their legs. Right from the start of the second, as a matter of fact, as Johnny Gaudreau scored early only for the goal to never count due to a premature whistle (and a lengthy string of lipreading profanity from Gaudreau that I’m sure many could identify with). But the Flames kept at trying to score, and finally, they did: another Matthew Tkachuk tip created with help from Rasmus Andersson with just 56 seconds to go in the game.
Tkachuk giveth, and Tkachuk taketh away, however, by taking a penalty right as regulation ended. You just had to figure as long as the Flames could get it to three-on-three they’d be fine, though (with maybe too many flashbacks of Eichel scoring on the Flames on an overtime powerplay one season ago). Rittich held strong, Mark Giordano forced the turnover and hauled ass to catch up with Gaudreau, and everyone was left feeling vindicated as Gaudreau finally righted the wrong from hours before.
The good news
Rittich had another strong game (and he’s yet to have a weak one thus far, relief appearance in a disaster aside). He swallowed up point blank chances and kicked away rebounds to where his teammates were. He followed the puck and his body language just seems so consistently calm that you never have much to worry about. He is just absolutely crushing it in his present role. Impossible not to love.
Andersson! That’s two games now Bill Peters has thrown Andersson out there with the net empty and in desperate need of a goal, and two games now Andersson has come through. It’s wild he still only has one NHL point to his name, but without him, Tkachuk doesn’t tie up the game. He kept the puck in the offensive zone (though not the same move, my first thought was, “Oh, Ryan Ellis in the World Juniors”), so the Flames never had to waste time regrouping, and could just quickly shoot and score. It’s still so wild he was supposed to start his year in Stockton. Travis Hamonic didn’t just take a fist to the jaw for Dillon Dube; he took one for Andersson, too.
It would have been so easy for this team to rest on their laurels following their win over the Leafs, and they kind of did start that way. But they quickly corrected course over the last two periods and stuck with it, even as a goal was taken away from them. Right until the dying minute. These are the exact moments the Flames couldn’t get last year. Maybe some of that is creating one’s own luck, too: the way they were playing, it was bound to go in sooner or later. In the meantime, it was fun watching them try.
Giordano is 35 years old, which could have fooled all of us. The sheer contrast between watching him force a turnover and then skate up the ice so Gaudreau had someone to work with in the offensive zone, and Eichel half-heartedly waving his stick while one of (if not the) most dangerous three-on-three players in the world was right there, was wild. Giordano’s deal runs through his 38-year-old season. … He might still be really good then??
The bad news
Rittich was amazing to start the game, but he wouldn’t have had to have been if his teammates hadn’t bailed on him. Granted not every period will be perfect, and that’s what the goalie is there for – to cover his team’s tracks when they aren’t perfect – but it was a pretty disappointing start to the game.
Zero-for-five on the powerplay… come on. And some of those man advantages genuinely looked great and generated a lot of chances. And they aren’t going to score a powerplay goal every game; special teams will fail them plenty of times, as they fail every team in the NHL. But zero-for-five is just silly, especially when they were chasing most of the game.
Overpassing is, evidently, still part of the Flames’ offensive repertoire.
What is it with these early whistles screwing the Flames out of goals? First the net-side non-goal against the Leafs, then an overly quick whistle that bailed Carter Hutton out of a goal that was very much a goal, early whistle having zero impact on the puck’s direction at the time. Thank goodness the Flames were able to tie the game up eventually; losing 1-0 when you actually weren’t even shut out would have been brutal. A moral victory, sure, but the two points are even better. Can this please stop happening now?
Numbers of note
55.29% – The Flames’ 5v5 corsi on the night, all the positives coming in the second (56.41%) and third (62.5%) periods when they were chasing. Getting scored on woke them back up, and they never really let go of that until they tied the game.
5 – The number of players who made up the Flames’ offence against the Sabres: Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm, Sean Monahan, Gaudreau, and Giordano. Also the five players who are far and away the top offensive contributors, with Gaudreau, Monahan, and Tkachuk over a point-per-game, Lindholm a point-per-game, and Giordano just two points back of being the same. The sixth highest scorer: Mikael Backlund, six points. Man I can’t wait for Sam Bennett and James Neal to stop being cursed.
25:00 – Giordano led the way in ice time (including 6:57 on the powerplay, in which they refused to score) – though on the second of a back-to-back, all of the defencemen were relatively close together. Noah Hanifin (20:20) was the only other guy to exceed 20 minutes. Third was Hamonic (18:47), then fourth Andersson (17:29!!). Brodie came in a close fifth at 17:18, and Juuso Valimaki rounded it out with 15:43. What a fun defensive group this is.
6:27 – Gaudreau, Monahan, and Lindholm’s ice time on the powerplay. Then it was Tkachuk (5:34 and hell yeah net-front tips) and Neal (4:26). Rounding out the forwards on the man advantage were some guys with about three and a half minutes each: Backlund (3:33 and understandable, he’s generally good for half a point-per-game through the season, if not more), Bennett (3:33 and understandable, even if he isn’t scoring he is getting a lot of good chances), and Derek Ryan (3:27 and ??? He had 38 points last year but I’m getting the feeling early on we aren’t going to see that this season). Forwards without powerplay time: Dube (young, potential), Michael Frolik (has had a couple of big showings this year, although also empty netters), Mark Jankowski (relatively young, potential), and Garnet Hathaway (understandable, do not do this). Though it is kind of odd Austin Czarnik will be scratched for five games and yet, when he’s in, he averages 2:09 on the powerplay: more than Backlund and Ryan.
15.1% – The Flames’ powerplay percentage so far this season. That’s 23rd in the NHL.
.939% – Rittich’s save percentage through four starts and six games this season. He’s doing alright.
Against the Leafs:
Against the Sabres:
— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) October 31, 2018
I love them.