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Flames 6, Jets 3 post-game embers: First period magic

Friendship ended with third periods. Now first periods are the Flames’ best friend.

Feel of the game

You wouldn’t think a defensive breakdown, bad rebound, and getting scored on 15 seconds in would be the start of a good first period. And you’d be right – it was the start of a fantastic first period, made all the more stunning by the fact that the Jets look like a pretty good team. They aren’t having the kind of season the Golden Knights are – something of a fall from grace, a contemplation of how a Stanley Cup Finalist could be where they are now – they’re probably going to be a playoff team at worst in a far tougher division. And they got destroyed, pulled their goalie, and destroyed some more.

And then the Jets reminded us they are, most assuredly, not the Golden Knights. Though the Flames scored enough in the first period alone to win, the Jets got back into the game in the second and third periods. They attacked, they forced the Flames into taking penalty after penalty after penalty, they took control of the game in an attempt to make up a four-goal deficit. And it might have worked, had it not been for David Rittich, experiencing his third start in a row as the torch is in the midst of being passed.

The penalties eventually cost the Flames two goals, and a goal-that-wasn’t on a goaltending interference call came far too close to comfort to making it a one-goal game. Things actually calmed down after that, though. The Flames survived the onslaught brought on by their early lead, and still managed a convincing – if anxiety-inducing – win.

The good news

Five goals in one period is probably not going to be the norm, let alone the first period. But for a team that needed to stop relying on third period comebacks, it’s a pretty welcome change. The starts won’t always be that good, the puck isn’t always going to go in, but as long as they’re that good in spirit… And as to just how rare and impressive it is what the Flames are doing, Sportsnet dug up this stat:

It wasn’t just that the Flames scored five goals in a single period (again): it was that everybody contributed. We all expect team leading scorers Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau to score, and they didn’t disappoint. But Sam Bennett, who has had so many good chances over this season only to barely capitalize, notched his fourth goal of the season. Mark Jankowski found his second, and his first even strength goal of the year. And Dillon Dube got his first goal, period. Three lines contributed to the onslaught. The top players won’t score all the time, and neither will the depth, but that they all have the potential to do so is something teams will have to watch out for.

I want to give a special shoutout to Dube’s first NHL goal. I was hoping it would be a meaningful one. Yes, it’s hard to score in the NHL no matter what, so every goal is special, but if he had scored in, say, the third period of the drubbing Pittsburgh handed down, that wouldn’t have been the best memory. Instead, Dube’s first career goal tied the game early after the Flames had taken a deficit. It was the goal that kickstarted the entire period. That’s going to be an awesome memory to have.

Rittich kept this game from getting too out of hand. The Flames got straight up clobbered in the final 40 minutes, and without Rittich in net, I don’t know if that’s a win. (It’s like flashbacks to being on the wrong side of that 4-1 lead Colorado took a few of weeks ago.) He faced 40 shots; he stopped 37 of them. It wasn’t the best start to the game – it was a team-wide breakdown early in – but Rittich bounced back and was there when his teammates couldn’t control the pace of play. (Also, how fun was it to watch him push Noah Hanifin out of the way to try to go after Dustin Byfuglien? His energy is infectious. He’s so animated, it’s fun to watch.)

The bad news

You expect a team to lie down at least somewhat after taking a four-goal lead. The Flames went through this in the previous game; you can’t give it your all the entire season and that’s fine. But this wasn’t a couple of gimme goals to a team down by seven in the third period; this was straight up dominating for 40 minutes. Granted, the Jets are a pretty good team – you’d expect this game to have been a fair fight – but you would have liked to see a little more pushback from the Flames, for them to be a little more in control, for them to have not let things get as close to a one-goal game as it did. They took too much of the night off.

A lot of that was due to taking a ton of penalties, and unforced errors at that: two delays of game, a high sticking, and an unfortunate call for Bennett in which, when rushing to get back into the play after getting out of the box on a successful kill, he… took another call 13 seconds later. The Flames have been overall pretty good about not committing too many infractions this season; it all goes back to being outplayed. (And having a couple of jittery kids, I guess.) It turned out okay in the end, but hopefully that doesn’t happen again.

Speaking of Bennett, hopefully nothing’s broken; his luck could be turning around, especially if he gets to stick with Tkachuk and Mikael Backlund.

James Neal hasn’t scored since Nov. 1. In the games since then, the Flames have scored 28 goals. Not a point from Neal. They’ve gotten 17 goals in their past three games alone. The only other forwards who haven’t scored in the past three games are Michael Frolik and Austin Czarnik, and they’ve both at least scored once since the Colorado game (even with Czarnik being a frequent healthy scratch). What’s going on there buddy? Neal isn’t even actively bad or anything, but he should be contributing offensively and he just isn’t.

Numbers of note

45.24% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF. They had a 61.76% in the first period, a 21.74% in the second, and a 44.44% in the third. That second period was nasty, though I doubt they would’ve taken their foot off the gas as much as they did if they hadn’t built up such a big lead.

.930% – Rittich’s save percentage through 11 games played, including his .925% against the Jets. He was a bit lucky – the Jets rang a couple of shots off of posts and crossbars, or this game could have had a different outlook – but Winnipeg is a good team and Rittich held firm.

25 – The Flames have three players with 25+ points: Tkachuk (27), Gaudreau (26), and Sean Monahan (25). Only 23 players in the NHL presently have 25+ points. Calgary and Toronto are the only teams with three.

4:46 – Elias Lindholm may be slacking, without a single point against the Jets (with just a secondary assist on an empty netter) and behind the other guys at only 23, but he also led the way in shorthanded ice time for the Flames. Shoutouts to Travis Hamonic (4:37) and Mark Giordano (4:33) as well; they were crucial in making sure the Jets’ powerplay wasn’t too effective.

9:08 – Neal’s ice time. Granted, it wasn’t an anomaly compared to the other forwards – Dube and Czarnik saw limited ice as well, and no powerplays but a lot of penalty kills helped put a dent in there (while boosting linemate Derek Ryan’s ice time some) – but it’s his second lowest ice time of the season, ahead of only the Sharks game in which he was benched for the entire third. He got three shifts in the third against the Jets. Something’s gotta give here, he’s too talented for this to keep being a thing.

Final thought

Are the Flames a legitimately talented team? It looks like they can contend for first in the Pacific Division; can they really though? Can they aim higher than that? It’s been a really long time since the Flames were a consistently good team, and even then, they couldn’t really win a playoff series. I don’t know what it’s like to watch a team like that night in, night out. Are we getting there? You don’t want to raise your hopes too high, but the overall body of work this season, combined with Rittich’s emergence… It’s exciting right now, at least.

  • freethe flames

    If this team can continue to get solid goaltending and have 4 lines contribute offensively then it will be hard to handle. My concern around Neal is not only that he is not scoring but his effort; far to many shifts he is just mailing it in. At the start of the year someone said he was recovering form oral surgery and I gave him the benefit of the doubt but the reality is he needs to be more engaged form shift to shift and that’s on him; not the coaching staff or who is line mates are. If he wants more ice time 5 on 5 earn it by being more engaged.

  • oilcanboyd

    Happy American Thanksgiving Flames fans! At a key point of the season the Flames are in 1st place in the Pac Div. Most teams make the playoffs if they are in it at today’s mark.

    • Redleader

      Who’s Neal ? I don’t remember any Neal in the ice this season,does he play for the Flames ? Or just James ? We will see as all eyes are on him to atleast do something to grant a million dollar salary let alone almost 6 for how many years? Definitely as of right now he will not be protected in next expansion draft .

    • Hockeysense9393

      The guy just made it to 2 consecutive cup finals in a row. He’s scored more then 20 goals a season his whole career. He’s played with some pretty good teams and succeeded. The Flames to me looks like a pretty good team. I don’t think he’s the type of player that deserves that type of criticism. He was interviewed recently where he acknowledged this, but was still confident about his pending production. When he first arrived in Pittsburgh he was brought in to score goals, and you would think with 2 of the best forwards in the world, it shouldn’t be a problem. I think he scored like 1 goal in his first 20 games as a Pen (last 20 games of that season). The next season he scored 40 goals. Let’s maybe give him a little time to find his legs.

  • Sven

    ” At a key point of the season the Flames are in 1st place in the Pac Div. Most teams make the playoffs if they are in it at today’s mark.”

    88% chance of a playoff appearance according to hockey-reference
    (3rd highest probability in the west)

    with a 7% chance of lifting the cup

    (5th best odds in the league behind Tampa, Toronto, Nashville and Colorado)

    Who would have thought that a month ago after the Pittsburgh debacle?

    and what would we look like if -say , half of Smiths 13 starts would have been handed to Rittich?

  • buts

    Flames beat what I consider one of the best in the league. The jets are big, talented…..just a tough team to beat, awesome job. We have 4 plus more years with Neal and I know it’s early but with this small sample size would you on FN trade him if there’s a decent deal out there? I would.

    • Jourflamesfan

      It wouldn’t look good for future UFA’s if they trade him this early.
      I am concerned but Neal is a professional. He will come out of this.
      Even Hamonic didnt look great at all last season but now he has been terrific!

      • canadian1967

        He seems to be a Good Luck Charm if picked in an Expansion Draft.
        Maybe that’s been the plan for years 4 & 5 all along, or possibly the owners are counting on Compliance Buyouts again?

      • Rockmorton65

        Jour- They could potentially spin it as Neal requesting a trade (if he did, of course). Kind of like when Hamonic requested his. Nothing against the team, but for family reasons. I think a move could be done to save face, on both sides.

      • His Dudeness

        If there is a trade to be made that only gets us a ham sandwich back I would take it.

        I’m ok with giving him some more time, but if he doesn’t turn it around then trade him to one of those awful places to live like Edmonton or Buffalo.

        We should almost never be signing UFA anymore anyways. This is the new NHL, build through the draft and develop.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      Flames have beat some strong teams this year…namely Nashville, Winnipeg, Boston, and Toronto…which is impressive. As good as the first period was the second was equally bad and showed our vulnerabilities. Winnipeg came at us wave after wave and it was intimidating. We have come along way being able to beat these teams but I am not sure we can beat these teams in a best of 7 series yet.

  • KeepitReal

    Patrick Laine. Wow. He may have one of the best one timers ever. The suits comp’d him to OV and Mike Bossy. It’s a thing of beauty.

    Neal – what concerns me is that he’s not snake bit. He doesn’t seem like he’s close to getting a look. Patience, patience…..

    • The GRAND BALLSUCKER

      “Patrick Laine. Wow. He may have one of the best one timers ever. The suits comp’d him to OV and Mike Bossy. It’s a thing of beauty”…….did you really just quote Kelly Hrudey ?

    • OntarioFlame

      I don’t think I’ve seen him get a clean shot off on net yet this season, I also noticed a fair number of times he was ready for the one time feed that his teammates shot instead of passed to him. I do think they will get more comfortable with him and start seeing that option as the season goes on.

  • Day1-Cfan

    On the Neal thing, like they say takes time to adjust to a new team, players and coach so he should come around once the playoffs start (sarcasm in case)!

    • Off the wall

      I’ll let you be the judge.
      Here’s updated Faceoff %

      Lindholm- won 156 lost 121
      56.6%
      Bennett- won 26 lost 14
      65%
      Monahan- won 136 lost 134
      50.4%
      Ryan- won 81 lost 73
      52.6%
      Jankowski- won 69 lost 66
      51.1%
      Backlund- won 172 lost 177
      49.4%

      • oilcanboyd

        Backs line plays against the opponents top lines…may have something to do with that. Mcd worst on the oil and is every year. 46.1% is worse than Backs.

    • KKisTHEproblem

      I had forgotten that, went and looked and the Flames were 10 games over 500 (not counting ot/so losses as losses) and 3rd place in the Div as late as Feb 15th last season. Those last 7 weeks last year were just so painful to watch. Maybe I forgot for a reason!

  • Justthateasy

    I wouldn’t give the last 40 minutes to the Jets, Ari.
    The second period, yes. The third period was 50/50 but ‘managed’ by the Flames.
    If you are going all out offensively with a lead like that you leave yourself wide-open to counter attack.
    What was the faceoff win percentage?

    • Off the wall

      For those curious about Faceoff % it was
      Derek Ryan- 7/11 or 64%
      Backlund- 12/22 or 55%
      Monahan-3/10 or 30%
      Jankowski- 8/12 or 67%
      Lindholm- 6/13 or 46%

      We came away with 54%avg

    • Cfan in Van

      Fully agree. Penalties completely shifted the game in the second and the Jets took over. The third was well managed, with effective fore-checking toward the end of the game.

      Also the obvious credit to the Jets, for being a VERY good team. Some of that foot-off-the-gas feeling comes from the 21 guys on the other bench.

    • The Doctor

      I agree, I re-watched the game on pvr and in the third, unlike the second, we actually had some meaningful possession and zone time. Winnipeg had the edge, but we weren’t getting dominated like we were in the second.

  • Justeen Trudope

    Sam Bennett is looking like a force out there. Him and Chucky on a line looks like any teams worst nightmare. Loved when he stepped up and made that big hit that lead to Chuckys goal. Sounds like Rychel is really playing well in Stockton I have never seen him play but would he fit in the bottom 6 if Frolik is out for any extended period of time? Czarnik just seems invisible out there

    • Jessemadnote

      If we do another California trip I’d take a long look at Rychel. Rychel, Janko, Hathaway could be a really fun crash and bang line. Do you know if Rychel is an elite fighter? I see flashes for Czarnik but the defensive issues are just too pronounced. I’d try leaving him with Neal because I feel like the two of them could work through their issues together.

      • Justeen Trudope

        I don’t know but he is a big body that seems like he has some offensive skill. Czarnik has looked good against the smaller faster teams but doesn’t seem like he can handle the heavier matchups. The thing about Neal that worries me is he has always been a very good player on very good lines with players that can create space for him to slip into and fire the puck in the net. I’m not saying he deserves a spot in the top 6 at all but until he plays with some better players I don’t see him doing a lot. Where I think he could really be better though is off the rush but it’s a long season hopefully he can get out of the slump.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      Yah Czarnik is not going to win his coach over if he loses his man on the back check resulting in a goal at the 15 second mark. He is way softer than Johnny. Speaking of Johnny, BP put him out in the last 2 mins to protect the lead while Winnipeg pulled the goalie and he was able to get the puck out of the zone with Buff mugging him…he does not get enough credit for his strength on his skates.

    • Stockton's Finest

      Rychel is a mucker. He likes to crash the net. Fighter? Not really, but he will finish checks. Think Hathaway with a little more skill and a better shot. Speed is nothing to write home about, but he does position himself in good spots. Likes to clean up the garbage in front.

  • Fat Tony

    Really impressed with Bennett’s play as of late. It seems he is starting to find his role on this team. I believe the way that Tkachuk plays has opened Bennett’s eyes a little and he realizes that he doesn’t need to be putting the puck in the net to become an effective hockey player. Now that he’s not completely focused on offence he’s playing a little freer and the offence is starting to find him through sound positioning and aggressive play.
    Keep it up Bennett!

    • Off the wall

      I agree Tony. He’s not trying to do everything himself.When was the last time you saw him try to deke 3 players at once? He’s quick to pass and plays a much smarter offensive game now.

      Peters was smart to keep giving him chances- looking solid on that 2nd line.

      And points now in 3 consecutive games. That a boy Bennett!

        • IUsedToHaveAName

          After the Oilers game when Bennett was asked about Tkachuk he said repeatedly that Tkachuk plays the kind of hockey that he (Bennett) likes to play so he enjoyed it.

          I think that playing with actual good players and especially a player like Tkachuk has given him the confidence to play the kind of hockey that he likes to play. He doesn’t have to try to do everything himself because his line mates don’t suck anymore and he can play how the way he feels fits him the best and over the last 3 games it’s starting to show what kind of player Bennett is.

          And I like it.

    • Hockeysense9393

      That’s a really good look there Tony. He’s playing into his identity more now, and it shows on the ice. I think I’ve mentioned putting him on the off-wing a few times in these posts. He’s going to become an effective Swiss Army type of player, that can play anywhere. Kudos to BP for recognizing this.

    • oilcanboyd

      Bennett now has a coach that really believes in Benny unlike GG who played lip service to Benny’s game but didn’t give him quality ice time and minutes with good players. Peters says I will put you in a position to succeed. go for it.

      • Cfan in Van

        I think the difference is that Peters takes on young players as projects, as opposed to treating them like a hindrance.
        GG loved his vets, and those that have already gone out of their way to prove themselves consistently. If you weren’t in one of those two categories, best of luck pal.

      • Jumping Jack Flash

        Got to love when you are not putting up numbers and your coach says keep doing what your doing and don’t change a thing…takes the pressure off which is exactly what he needs.

    • Off the wall

      I don’t think either have left the runway.
      I get that most people want to give Neal some slack. But he’s coastin’ out there. Every one else is moving their feet, while Neal glides most of the time. Always 2-3 strides behind the players.
      He just plain -well looks terrible.
      Don’t tell me you don’t see it. We all do.
      Peters needs to shove a smelling salt up his nose before each shift. It’s hard to watch him play. It is a bit irritating to see how much the Flames paid for this !

      Trash away, but I know you question it too..

        • Off the wall

          I find it interesting that fans are saying Neal doesn’t hurt our team.
          No?
          Well he’s got the worst +/- on the team at -5, including defence men.
          Even at 5 vs 5 play, he’s got the most atrocious numbers at almost an extra goal against per 60 minutes.
          Why?
          Cuz he’s outta shape. He should be joining Prout for conditioning.

          That’s enough for today.
          I’ve gotta stay positive, otherwise I’m going to go “Big Rage Dave”

          • calgaryfan

            I had never really watched Neal play before he came to Calgary. Just heard about his scoring and a hard guy to play against. Not seen any of that yet, it looks like he can’t get to a scoring position seems lost.

  • oilcanboyd

    Speaking of former Flames with the Canes:
    Ferlands GW PP Goal last night (11 on the season, 5 PP).
    Hamilton’s impression of a totem pole as Kapinen zips by him for a goal.

    • The Doctor

      The one sobering stat, though, was when they flashed the fact that going into last night’s game we had the same won-loss record (12-8) as last year’s team. Eek. I do think this team is much better though, far deeper and without the obvious weaknesses of last year’s squad (especially fourth line, right wing and third pairing D).

  • Derzie

    Hey, I predicted none of this. I was staunchly against the trades and hires. I’m not too proud to admit that I appear to have been dead wrong. Really proud of the team. Time to delete my account, and when I get the urge to think I know anything about hockey, bite my tongue and shush.