Besides the shutout on Nov. 23 against the Vegas Golden Knights, this stretch of the last five games has been easily one of the most enjoyable in recent memory for Flames fans. It turns out that scoring goals outside of the third period is often a recipe for success and hopefully it’s a sign of sustainable things to come.
Feel of the game
Mike Smith showed up yesterday afternoon and he looked good, for what he had to face. There’s absolutely zero denying that the clock is ticking on his career as a starter and the writing is on the wall that eventually he’ll need to embrace it rather than fight it, but for an afternoon he looked good. What the future holds over the next couple of games is up in the air and we’ll learn more in the coming days, but this is the best outcome (besides a shutout) you could have hoped for him.
A .962 SV% on 26 5v5 shots, including seven saves of the high-danger variety, is something to build upon if the Flames are looking to give Smith more games again.
The rest of the team? Besides a few gaffes here and there, they looked in command. It felt like this was a game easily reined in by them despite the low-event first five minutes. They took it to a team that has struggled recently in producing offense at 5v5 and victimized their power play, repeatedly.
The good news
Oliver Kylington’s recall in lieu of the Juuso Valimaki injury was something many in the Flames fanbase and community have been waiting for, for quite some time now. And you know what? He wasn’t too bad despite some shaky play early on; it was about what you expected in his NHL debut this season. The pleasant surprise of legitimate depth and roster construction gave the Flames coaching staff opportunity to shelter him as he got up to pace at the NHL level.
The 37.93% CF? Not as pretty, but it’s something to build off of. The team was, after all, playing with a lead for the majority of the game. If Valimaki is unable to go on Wednesday, another opportunity for the third pairing to just play and see what happens is fantastic. This season with the Stockton Heat has been rewarding, both in terms of usage and production; rewarding him with a few games is the perfect way to continue his development.
This may have been the best representation of what the Flames’ penalty kill can do this year, even if it was against a lesser opponent: three shorthanded goals, keeping the Coyotes to zero shots for at 5v4, and really giving them little room to work effectively. Through the last 10 games played, the Flames’ PK has had at least a shot on net seven times. It’s an element of the Flames’ PK that can’t be stressed enough: if they have an ability to skate the puck out and move up ice, they’re going to make the best of the situation more often than not.
— Mike Pfeil (@mikeFAIL) November 25, 2018
There are just minor things to tighten up overall, specifically in preventing goals, but you’ll be hard pressed to be disappointed overall. Outside of the penalty ridden game on Nov. 21 versus Winnipeg (eight shots against), the Flames have quietly kept shots against to a bare minimum, averaging 2.5 shots against at 4v5 over the last 10 games.
Even if they surrender a controlled zone entry against, like in the first SHG play, it’s a matter of suppressing play by playing into the aggressiveness of the Czech Press and having players in the right spot to move up ice and nullify the man advantage.
The bad news
Honestly there is only one “bad thing” we can discuss from the win over the Coyotes and that’s Bill Peters getting hit by an errant clearing by Coyotes forward Brad Richardson. Thankfully it’s nothing serious (at this point) beyond stitches, but it’s one of the more unsavory moments this season.
— FOX Sports Arizona (@FOXSPORTSAZ) November 25, 2018
I’m assuming that at some point in Peters’ future retirement, he’ll have a good story lined up for any grandchildren he has that ask about the gnarly scar he has on his chin.
Numbers of note
- 500 career points for James Neal, whose lacking offense is still, well, very non-existent. You have to hope – I think at this point most fans are building prayer circles – that this is a catalyst to build off of. With a very underwhelming Dallas Stars roster in front of him come Wednesday and a Los Angeles Kings roster so deeply depleted of actual talent, maybe there’s an opportunity later on this week to see his offense reawaken… we hope. Seriously, James, just score a hat trick please.
- 24 seconds between TJ Brodie and Mark Jankowski’s shorthanded goals – the Flames scoring three shorthanded goals in a game has only occurred twice before: Oct. 17, 1997 versus the Colorado Avalanche and March 9, 1991 versus the St. Louis Blues.
- 399 points for the captain, Mark Giordano – it was supposed to be 400, but they made a correction on the scoresheet. Regardless, when it’s all said and done it’s an easy conclusion to include Giordano in the upper echelon of incredible NHL talent who went undrafted. The entirety of his career, including his brief year in the KHL, likely brings up some questions about “what could have been” if he was given more a chance early on. Regardless, his continued ability to stave off age-based regression is remarkable and for the time being he is utterly irreplaceable.
- 13:49 – Oliver Kylington’s ice time in his 2018-19 debut, his first game since his brief debut in Game 82 of the 2015-16 season.
- 44.05% CF at 5v5 – Again, the team leading for the near entirety of the game ran into score effects as the Coyotes did attempt to break the shutout bid (and they did), albeit far too late. Adjusting for score effects and venue, the Flames marginally outshout the Coyotes (51.98% to 48.02%). It’s one side effect of the game that you wish wouldn’t occur as much as it does (letting off the pace of play with a lead), but generally the Flames have been fantastic outside of the rematch versus Vegas and their victory over Winnipeg.
- 57.14% CF at 4v5 – The Flames’ penalty kill outshot, out-chanced, and outproduced the Coyotes’ meandering power play. What an embarrassment of riches to capitalize on while shorthanded.
Mikael Backlund is due, like others on this team, to score some goals. In terms of measuring actual goals scored versus expected goals, in Manny Perry’s xG model on Corsica, Backlund is sitting at 4.25 ixGF (individual expected goals for) at 5v5. Looking at the Evolving-Hockey xG model, Backlund is sitting at 4.01 ixGF. Derek Ryan, with a lone 5v5 goal on the season, is also under-performing versus xG models too: 1.7 (Manny’s xG model), 1.89 (Evolving-Hockey’s xG model).
The point I’m getting at is: goals should come, soon hopefully. It’s been suspected that Backlund was fighting off a hand- or arm-related injury at some point this season, which may have been contributed to the maligned results so far. If Backlund were to hit some luck over the next two games, scoring two goals would would put him on pace for 16 this year. Three over the same period of time would put him on pace for 19.
So maybe it’ll come, hopefully, but he’s contributing in other ways either on the scoresheet or off it. I complained about first period and second period scoring last time; and look how that turned out.