It isn’t that the Flames are winning. It isn’t that they’re making third period comebacks. It’s that everything about them over this past week – some goaltending aside – has been consistently good. They can’t let their foot off the gas for even a moment, but they’re looking like a legitimately good team right now.
Feel of the game
It took a matter of seconds for fireworks to explode in this one when, 14 seconds into Dillon Dube’s first shift of the game, Duncan Keith boarded him, effectively ending both their nights: precautionary for Dube, while Keith was handed a game misconduct. The Flames would play down a forward, while the Blackhawks lost their top minute-eating defenceman.
The Flames opened the scoring with a goal during the ensuing five-minute major, but that was it. The rest of the first period kind of just played out after that, with the Blackhawks capitalizing first on a lengthy five-on-three to tie the game, and then a perfectly screened distance shot in the dying seconds that saw Chicago take a 2-1 lead. Maybe the Flames deserved a better fate after one, but they didn’t take advantage of their opportunities.
Their play picked up some in the second, but the Blackhawks added to their lead midway through the game to make it 3-1 on a speedy play it’s both kind of tough to blame David Rittich for while also reasonably expecting he maybe should have been able to hold a bit stronger. As the game wore on, though, it felt increasingly like the Blackhawks shouldn’t have a two-goal lead.
In the dying minutes of the second period, that kicked into high gear. The Flames dominated puck control, generating a bunch of close calls before Matthew Tkachuk finally broke through. They kept up that level of play throughout the third, and that’s when a miniature repeat of their third period against the Avalanche happened: Elias Lindholm kept getting denied golden opportunities, but in quick succession Sean Monahan got his second of the game to tie it up and Michael Frolik took the lead back just over a minute later (albeit with a weird one, but hey, they deserved it). An empty netter ended things, but once the game was tied, you felt there was no way this wasn’t going in the Flames’ favour: their play was too overwhelming, and lately, they’ve been rewarded for it.
The good news
Top. Line. Magic. Monahan scored twice, with both goals assisted by a perfectly-passing Johnny Gaudreau, and Lindholm getting the secondaries. The chemistry those three have really shone throughout the night, but particularly when the Flames were pressing. They’re all over a point per game: Gaudreau with 19 points, Monahan with 18, Lindholm with 17. Wouldn’t it be something if that kept up? What a hit Lindholm has been.
Once again, the Flames refused to succumb to their deficit. Seeing the spirit they’re exhibiting so far this season is a complete turnaround from the way the previous year ended. That they have the talent to will their way to victory really drives it all home. You can’t win without talent. You can’t win without giving it your all. This team has both factors working in their favour. They’ll need both to keep going throughout the entire season, but this is some pretty great positive reenforcement.
There are a couple of players who are, at worst, starting to look like there’s no need to worry about them. Frolik had an unlucky season in 2017-18, and seven goals and no assists is bizarre, but he’s proving he can still be an effective player. TJ Brodie isn’t as good as Dougie Hamilton, but maybe the sky isn’t falling there after all. And James Neal is a crucial part of this team’s forward depth, and you can see it really starting to come to life. Throw in someone like Sam Bennett consistently giving it his all every night and while the warts on this team are apparent, they can still do damage.
Tkachuk + Rittich =
— Mike Pfeil (@mikeFAIL) November 4, 2018
The bad news
What is up with people hurting Dube? Erik Gudbranson hit. Zach Bogosian hit. Now, Keith. Dube has drawn two major penalties simply by existing. I don’t think any of these hits are malicious at all, but it’s just so unfortunate how it always seems to be Dube who ends up on the wrong end of things. He hasn’t done anything to deserve it, either. Just brutal luck.
Special teams could have been better. It’s great the Flames scored a goal while avenging Dube during the Blackhawks’ major, but more would have been nice. They had a great chance to tie the game early in the third on the powerplay and just couldn’t (granted, Brent Seabrook’s save on Lindholm was nuts). It’s one thing to credit the Blackhawks’ penalty kill for performing well; it’s another thing entirely when we consistently see the Flames’ powerplay underperforming (or, in the second unit’s case, not performing at all). The Flames have literally the most goals in the NHL right now (tied with the Avalanche) but they can’t score on the man advantage; it just isn’t adding up. (Also, I’m still not entirely sure what it is Derek Ryan actually does?)
Just purely from an eye test perspective, Rittich looks a lot steadier in net than Smith. And it would be pretty hard to blame any goalie for the first two goals the Flames surrendered: that’s a tough kill, and that was a tough screen. That third goal against could have been a backbreaker though, and like with Smith, there’s something to be said for the defence failing to do their jobs, but the last line of defence failed, as well. Granted, the end of the game felt a lot less precarious than the end of the Avalanche game. Rittich’s numbers suffered because the Blackhawks seemingly weren’t interested in having any shots on net at all, and his overall numbers for this season are still good. I guess what I’m saying here is: there’s plenty of hope for Rittich yet, and this was a weird game for Flames goaltending considering how lethargic Chicago played most of the time, but you’d like to see just a little more.
Numbers of note
61.9% – The Flames’ 5v5 corsi throughout the night. They had an iffy showing in the first, but a strong second propelled them to a 63.89% in that frame, and a 75% third period drove them home. So it wasn’t quite like the Avalanche game – they didn’t outright dominate the first period – but their numbers have been consistently strong enough throughout the season that this doesn’t seem like it’s a fluke.
52 – The number of goals the Flames have scored this season. They’ve done it in 15 games; the Avalanche have the same number in 14; no other team in the NHL has hit 50 yet. Brad Treliving overhauled the forwards in the offseason. It’s, uh, working. And they’re back up to a positive goal differential after the Pittsburgh debacle, too: +2.
4-20 – The Blackhawks had four shots in the third period, including the final five minutes in which they were trailing and had a powerplay. The Flames had 20. It was the biggest disparity of the night between one team that outshot another 41-15. Only one of these teams was interested in playing 60 minutes, it would seem.
6 – The number of shots Mark Giordano had in this one. Unfortunately, after a four-point outing – and four-game point streak – he didn’t add to his offensive totals this game. (Still a point-per-game player, though!) Also, right behind him with five shots each: Mikael Backlund, Monahan, Frolik.
5:28 – Garnet Hathaway’s ice time. Dube’s departure might have impacted that, but at the same time, there’s a perfectly good Austin Czarnik sitting in the press box who maybe deserves another spin in the lineup literally any time now.
The Flames aren’t always going to win on the back of a third period comeback, but they’re also playing well enough to score earlier in games. If they keep this level of play up, there’s no need to worry about the sustainability of their resilience or whatever 2014-15 narrative we want to play out this year: but they have to keep doing this same thing every single night, or it’s not going to happen.