Flames 6, Coyotes 1 post-game embers: the goals don’t stop

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.

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.

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.

Final thought

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.

  • stuhfan

    “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.”
    Theo pointed out on twitter that he got all 3 SHG’s in the Blues game. haha.

    I like to think we’ll see more of this version of Mike Smith now that he’s (hopefully) conceded the starter role to Dave.

  • freethe flames

    I did not see the game yesterday but did listen to the third period. If the Flames can continue to get goals from the the Janko line I suspect that the team will continue to roll; as Backs is to good of an overall player to struggle. What I would like to see is a clear role for the Janko line.

    • Squishin

      Their role is easy. Use their speed to be hard on the forecheck, keep pucks in the offensive zone, and generate a shot or two. They’ve been succeeding so far.

  • Avalain

    Talking about score effects, I agree that it would be nice if Calgary continued to dominate until the end. However, there are some things to take into account. Being up by a comfortable lead means that BP doesn’t shorten his bench in the third. This alone tends to make a difference in how dominant the Flames are, but it’s a better long term strategy to avoid wearing down our top players. Also, to be completely fair, some of it has to do with the other team playing desperate.

    • Cfan in Van

      Unlike some of these huge-lead games lately, I didn’t actually feel like they were dropping their level of play, just changing the strategy. It’s natural for intensity to drop off a little bit, but I don’t think the corsi results reflect the flow of the game, even after the commanding lead.
      On a side note, it’s great to see some quality saves from Smith. It wasn’t just a win, he played well. He’s got to feel good about that one, for a change.

    • cjc

      The context is important. Every team faces score effects, the question is whether the Flames experience it more severely than other teams. If you look at adjusted CF% when leading, Calgary sits 11th in the league. Worse than their overall possession ranking, but not so bad – better than Montreal, Toronto, Nashville and Winnipeg, and as you say Peters has tended to trot out the bottom 6 in blowouts (3 of the last 4 games).

  • WildfireOne

    Not sure if anyone expects Backlund to score anymore. I certainly don’t, so it’s a nice surprise when it goes in. His role lies in preventing goals, and that’s equally valuable (said the former goalie).

    • Cfan in Van

      You’re right about his role, but even for his standard, he’s been really snake bitten. Normally, he’s basically muffin-muffin-snipe-muffin-muffin. He’s due for a few of his infrequent snipes this year.

    • Sploooosh

      I loved his defensive play on hanifan’s goal. he took the point to cover for hanafin and allowed him to skate in. I know the points haven’t been as much as we are used to, but here me out. On top of playing some of the more difficult assignments he has a +/- of 8, 3 better than any forward on the team, the next being Hathaway. I know +/- is a bias stat that can be manipulated to fit the narrative, but man he makes us a better team when he’s on the ice…. just maybe not on the powerplay.

    • Getpucksdeep

      Since 2012 Backlund has been a regular .5 pts per game. He has 12 pts in 24. He’s just where he always is. His +8 is only exceeded by Brodie and Gio and its been clear to everyone for 4 years he gets the toughest checking roles on the team. Worth every penny when you look around the league. Consider we’re pumped that Janko and Bennett are providing secondary scoring yet they have 1 more goal and 8 pts a piece compared to Backlunds 12.

  • Hockeyfan

    what a Sunday for Calgary teams. Win the Grey in esky barn and room, beat down the yotes and watch the welfare soilers continue the tank for more #1s. Alls i can do is laugh at that sad sack bunch of losers up north, BAHAHAHAHA!!!!! I HOPE SOUR MILK DUD IS ENJOYING BEET POISONING.

    • Alberta Ice

      Never have I seen 5 opposing players look so hopelessly lost as Jankowski schooled them on how to track a puck, take it to the net, and tuck it under a goalie. For Arizona, that was embarrassing. Janko made it look like an leisurely stroll through the park. Yikes.

      • Cfan in Van

        Yep. Good on Janko, but that was an ugly display by the Coyotes. There’s an article in the Athletic today, focusing mainly on that particular comedy of errors. Pretty funny read, actually.

    • Just.Visiting

      Janko has a lot of skill that has been coming out infrequently this year.

      I continue to believe that the ability to go deep is linked directly to the ability to get significant contributions from unexpected sources. Rittich, Valimaki and Ras are certainly doing their parts, Brodie appears to be forgiven for the previous two seasons, Hamonic looks like a completely different player over the last two weeks or so and Bennett is trending upward.

      To me, the biggest missing piece so far is Janko, who has seemed lost most nights, with low confidence.

      Perhaps BP sees that the upside and the better results and confidence in recent games should see him rethink how he uses Janko moving forward and that Janko sees that greater engagement and confidence are required in order to take on a more prominent role.

      On a different note, I’m still not keen on the second PP unit. I’d have either Brodie or Ras out there with Hanifin instead of Ryan. I might also experiment with Janko instead of Backlund on the PP, as I’m not seeing the offensive contribution I would expect from Backlund on the PP.

      • Just.Visiting

        Oops. Forgot to note. I agree with the comments I’ve seen before on the board about perhaps trying a much shorter stick. The longer stick keeps him on the outside of the play, when he needs to be engaged much more fully. Others would know more fully how a shorter stick might otherwise enhance his game.

  • Doc Holiday

    Best part is the Oilers got there asses handed to them by the worst team in the Pacific who were on a back to back. I really hope Chia P never gets fired.

    • The Fall

      Next two games are beatable teams coming off back-to-backs. Plus 75% of their games in december are very winnable.

      I’d put the over/under for a point total to end the year at 49.5.

  • Alberta Ice

    Really feel good about the Flames play, even in the 2-0 loss to the Knights. (The next night, the Knights beat San Jose 6-0, which implies to me that despite the loss, the Flames are a tough team to beat. Hey, look at the win over the Juggernaut Jets. Next game Laine does 5 goals on Allen in St. Louis? Rittich only allowed him 2 from his howitzer blast.) And really am excited about the depth on this team. Hanifan and Jankowski multiple points along with scoring from Brodie! Can’t wait until Neal and Backlund start pouring them in. GFG.

    • Redleader

      Dube ,Czar , Klington they all looked decent too ,Smith coming around, Have a legit chance at first in pacific,playoff spot and I’ll go as far as even getting into the second round this is a good team !!