I think, after performances like that, it’s worth it to overhype some players, at least a little. Travis Hamonic had his best game as a Flame, and without David Rittich there wouldn’t have been a win. Full credit where credit is due, because those two were amazing – and they’re responsible for another two points.
Feel of the game
The start was a little bumpy for both teams, but it was as though Hamonic was feeling it right from the beginning. In a night that featured plenty of pretty Flames passing with no results (I’m looking primarily at you, top line), not even two and a half minutes in, Hamonic was frantically banging his stick on the ice. Austin Czarnik slid it over to him, Hamonic didn’t miss far side, and that was it.
Though it shouldn’t have been, really. The Flames took over as the game went on. They had their slip-ups, but for the most part, they prevented the Kings from being threatening. When they did threaten, Hamonic and Rittich were there to shut them down. And all the while they created chance after chance after chance – the first and third lines in particular – though none of them were able to come to fruition.
The Flames probably should have had a multi-goal lead going into the third, but instead, things were kept stressful. There’s just something to having that extra cushion a multi-goal lead provides (remember the 2-1 win over Toronto? At least they had some leeway thanks to quick back-to-back goals), and the Flames were completely unable to find that. Being subjected to two penalty kills towards the end built on that, but again: Hamonic and Rittich were there, Hamonic and Rittich dominated, Hamonic and Rittich made sure it stayed a 1-0 game.
And they won it. It could have been a lot less tense, but you’ll always take the result, especially when you get to see performances like that.
The good news
Just a little more raving over Hamonic and Rittich here, because it was earned. Hamonic played maybe one of his best games to date: he scored the only goal and he was a pivotal part of the defence, neutralizing Noah Hanifin’s errors, blocking shots, rushing back into the play to prevent scoring chances. For the ones he couldn’t, Big Save Dave lived up to the nickname. And how incredibly special is it to pick up your first NHL shutout in a 1-0 win? Though the Flames ultimately did a good job of limiting the Kings’ chances, shutouts are never a gimme (he looked like he was going to get it against the Rangers, only to give up a single goal). This was in one of the tensest circumstances possible, and Rittich pulled it off. (And how about the confidence to go charging out of his net to completely deny a breakaway chance, too! He was feeling it.)
The Flames have had to play from behind a lot lately, and third period comebacks are already becoming a meme with this team. That wasn’t the case at all against the Kings: 2:26 into the game, the Flames got the lead, and they never looked back. Though they failed to ever really add on to it, they were really trying most of the game. It both was a change of pace and kind of wasn’t.
The penalty kill held firm during some tense moments. The Flames had to kill off three penalties: one in the first period, and two towards the end of the game. They had more scoring chances shorthanded than the Kings did up a man in the first kill. They got through the second and third kills just fine, though they did allow three scoring chances, according to NaturalStatTrick, in the third period. But again: Rittich.
Bottom six shoutouts: Sam Bennett and Michael Frolik were gunning for it, Derek Ryan provided strong support, Mark Jankowski seems to have stepped his game back up, and Austin Czarnik should be a lineup regular. Yeah, the team only scored one goal, but again: forward depth. We’re so far past the days of Brian McGrattan and Kevin Westgarth playing on the same line.
It’s wild to think Rasmus Andersson and Juuso Valimaki only have 42 games of NHL experience between them. They’re still getting limited minutes, but this bodes so well for the future.
Matthew Tkachuk! Hugging! Rittich!!!
— Mike Pfeil (@mikeFAIL) November 11, 2018
The bad news
It’s good that the Flames had so many scoring chances; it’s bad they couldn’t score on any of them. I’ll forgive the third line some, because their effort and crashing and banging and willingness to take the shot was all great, but the first line did that overpassing thing they have a tendency to do once again. The game had a good result, but we’re seeing less-than-ideal habits still sticking around, and they’d have been kicking themselves if the Kings had gotten even a single goal. And the game definitely shouldn’t have been that close in the third when suddenly the whistles came out; the Flames created a prime chance to burn themselves.
Hanifin didn’t have the best of nights. It’s great that Hamonic was playing out of his mind so it never really turned into an issue, but what about the games in which he can’t do that? It’s easy to forget how young Hanifin still is – he’s three months younger than Andersson – but considering the Flames gave up a top pairing defenceman in Dougie Hamilton in the trade, I think it’s fair to wish he’ll have better games in the future.
Mikael Backlund’s line didn’t have the best night, and they weren’t even matched up against the Kings’ best players (unless Trevor Lewis is a top player now? The Kings are having a bad season, I don’t know). We know they’re better than that; hopefully they’ll prove it next game.
Numbers of note
53.54% – The Flames’ 5v5 corsi on the night. They were well above 50% in the final two periods. Remember that they were never chasing. They earned that win, even if it was only by one goal.
#Flames limited Kings to just 6 high-danger scoring chances, continuing a seven game stretch where they've kept opponents to fewer than 10 high-danger chances. They're 5-1-1 in that stretch.
— Ryan Pike (@RyanNPike) November 11, 2018
5 – Hamonic and Frolik led the way with five shots each. Frolik can’t stop scoring goals for some reason, so that’s not entirely unexpected; Hamonic as a team shot leader is definitely surprising, though. Along with Johnny Gaudreau, the trio combined for 14 shots on net; take those three away, and the Flames still would have outshot the Kings 22-21, instead of the 36-21 they took over with.
5 – Hamonic’s career high in goals. He’s got two in nine games for the Flames so far this year. No guarantees that he sets a new career high, of course – this game was probably more the exception than the norm – but this is a pretty good start for him, now that he’s back from injury.
3:18 – Hamonic was a leader in penalty killing time, too; just six fewer seconds than Mark Giordano. And the kill ended up being crucial. Nobody else eclipsed three minutes.
.935% – Rittich’s save percentage in six starts (and two relief efforts, including that mess of a Penguins game). He’s currently a top 10 goalie by save percentage, and top five out of those with at least eight games played. His even strength save percentage is .951% – out of goalies with at least eight games played, only Pekka Rinne has a higher percentage.
It’s not fair to label Rittich a starter just yet, if only because of how it went down the last time that happened, circa February’s unravelling. And it does make sense to go back to Mike Smith for the next game, but pretty much just because of the back-to-back scenario.
But nobody involved is unaware, I would think. Everyone can see that Rittich is playing well. That he has far better stats is irrefutable. I’d be surprised if the involved parties couldn’t sense what was happening: and if the changing of the guard happens at a manageable pace, well… let’s just try to get there first, but it’s nice to know that at present time the Flames can win a game thanks to their goaltending.