The Flames have blown out their fair share of teams over the past week and a half. Against Vegas and Arizona, they didn’t need all of those goals, though they were nice to get. Against Winnipeg, they did. And against another Central Division team, well, they could’ve used them – but it took a little too long to get going.
Feel of the game
The tone was set early for the Flames when the Stars scored not even a minute in, capitalizing on what looked to be something of a discombobulated five-man unit. Things didn’t really get better after that: they let the Stars dictate the play at even strength, they couldn’t get their powerplay going (and didn’t do much to draw those penalties, either), and were lucky to exit the period tied with an absolutely brutal squeaker getting them on the board.
Slowly but surely, though, they looked like they started to figure things out. Not to the extent that they were actually scoring goals, but to the point that they looked like they were active participants in the game. Considering the way they started, being down by one wasn’t the worst for going into the third.
The brief flurry of goals was nice, but the Stars were playing to win, too. Though the Flames were much stronger to close out the game, they weren’t playing an opponent they could walk all over; they were facing a team pretty similar to their level. The game going to overtime was probably the right outcome, but for a team that’s so strong at three-on-three, they had an incredibly disappointing result, and never really gave themselves a chance: almost like their first period came back full circle on them.
The good news
Oliver Kylington played in his second meaningful NHL game. He’s clearly being eased in, but he looked like he belonged. Sometimes it’s easy to tell when a young player is in over his head, but that absolutely hasn’t been Kylington thus far: his pinches were appropriate, he had the small handful of solid defensive moments, he occasionally had the chance to try to get something going, and he just looked like there’s a real chance for him to belong. Rasmus Andersson had a similar game himself, albeit a little stronger because, well, he’s been at this longer. But the point is: the prospective defencemen are all looking really good so far. It’s still early yet for all of them, but the Flames may have been handling their development perfectly. There’s a lot to like there.
The fourth line had a pretty strong game themselves. It was the depth that was most interesting to watch: though Garnet Hathaway’s goal probably never should have gone in, the effort preceding it made it a possibility to begin with. For their limited ice time, players like Mark Jankowski and Dillon Dube also looked like they were trying to get their team back in it. It didn’t quite work out, but that’s a far better use of an energy line than a couple of guys who can barely skate.
The Calgary Stampeders are still Grey Cup champions. It’s been a few years since we’ve gotten to see them all pile out on the ice at the start like that. It’s awesome.
The bad news
There’s kind of an adjustment when it comes to watching certain goals against. Mike Smith had a stretch so atrocious (that hopefully he’s coming out of now) that there has to be that conscious shift from “the goalie singlehandedly cost them the game” to “maybe the goalie could have been a little better, maybe he could have used a little more help, sometimes pucks just go in, it wasn’t the best but it wasn’t the worst either”. David Rittich got a gross .857 save percentage out of this one, but he had plenty of strong moments as well. So basically: he had a very human game. There’s a chance he might not be one of the best goalies in the NHL, as his previous stats had been indicating. Time to cast off the extremes.
Although the overtime ending was brutal. I am not a goalie warning, but: I didn’t like seeing Rittich come out of his net to play the puck; not with Jamie Benn bearing down on it with Mark Giordano and Sean Monahan right there as well. That didn’t directly lead to the game winner, but it did kick off a set of seconds in which Rittich never really got totally set again, including Benn clipping him. And let’s be honest: even if Rittich was completely set, that’s Seguin alone in the slot, there’s a very good chance that puck was going in no matter what. Maybe it’s being used to watching Smith play the puck, but my heart sank when Rittich came out to play it. Maybe a little premature, but not by much.
Should we be getting worried about the Flames’ tendencies to take seemingly entire periods off? I get it, it’s a long season and no team will ever be able to give it its all 246 periods a year, but it’s one thing to lay off when up by five goals. This was not one of those times.
Numbers of note
61.36% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF throughout the night. You can thank the second and third periods for that, and it kind of is a gauge of what this team can do when it’s properly trying – their hearts just didn’t seem totally in it this one.
20.4% – The Flames’ overall powerplay percentage this season, currently 14th in the NHL. Their first powerplay went great though they didn’t score; their fifth one went even better because, well, they scored. But everything in between – especially powerplays two and three – was lacking.
2 minutes – Or roughly that, at least. The Flames’ top powerplay unit got about two more minutes in ice time than the second unit did. That should maybe be expected, but the first unit also looks leaps and bounds better than the second unit, and has outscored them to a comical extent (15-3).
24 – Giordano had a two-point night, which sees him at 24 points total on the year. He’s now tied for fourth in team scoring with Elias Lindholm, and he’s fifth in league-wide defencemen scoring. He’s 35.
6, 5 – Speaking of Lindholm, he was a shooting machine, and it showed with six shots on net. This is actually a good thing, though he didn’t score: Lindholm has been riding a high shooting percentage all season (he’s at 16.9% now), so seeing him still get these high-shot games in is encouraging that he isn’t going to coast any time soon, at least not on that front. Former fellow Hurricane Noah Hanifin had five of his own; that’s one of his best shooting efforts, and just a game after scoring his first goals as a Flame.
11:32 – Kylington’s ice time, less than the 13:49 he got to play in a blowout. Andersson got 14:26; all of the other defencemen had over 20 minutes. It sure looks like he’s being brought along properly, though.
Is this a good gauge of where the Flames stand against the rest of the West? The Pacific Division is, well, bad. Just because the Flames are a top team in it – still the top team after Wednesday’s final results – doesn’t mean they’re on par with other divisional leaders. The Stars have a record very similar to the Flames’, but the Central is much tougher to play in, so they’re in a wild card spot.
If anything, maybe this game can serve as a reminder that while the Flames are a good team, and they’re a decent bet to make the playoffs approaching a third of the way through the season, they shouldn’t take their divisional status as an indication they can take anything for granted. They’ll likely end up disappointed if they do.