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:
#Flames are the first team to score 5 first-period goals in back-to-back games since the Blues on Nov 21 & 23, 1989
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) November 22, 2018
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.)
Big Save Dave -> BIG RAGE DAVE pic.twitter.com/yO1BzeVZNZ
— FlamesNation (@FlamesNation) November 22, 2018
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.
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.