For as many blowouts in their favour as the Flames have had lately, you’d have thought, the way this game played out, it would have been another one. It wasn’t – the empty netters don’t count, really – but the team had a solid bounce-back effort from a rough previous outing, and that’s exactly the kind of game you would have wanted to see from them.
Feel of the game
It was pretty much all Flames from the beginning. The way the past two weeks have gone, nobody would have blamed you for thinking Mikael Backlund’s early goal was going to be the start of a flurry of them. It wasn’t – not even close – and it probably shouldn’t have gone in to begin with, but it gave the Flames an early lead to work with, and that they controlled the game pretty much from there on out should have spelled a win for the Flames.
And it did, but for the “here we go again” moment when Mike Smith gave up a short-side goal that also shouldn’t have gone in. Suddenly, the team that had been controlling the puck for most of the game was tied with the team that couldn’t seem to get much in the way of pressure at all. It would have been fair to be at least a little worried: why weren’t the Flames scoring? And would that goal give the Kings life?
It didn’t. By continuing to press, the Flames were finally able to score another goal, and two empty-netters secured the regulation win – the fate that the Flames deserved the entire time, even if it took a little longer to make it a safe victory than one might have expected, considering how the night played out.
The good news
It oscillated throughout the game, but a lot of the Flames looked dialled in, particularly offensively. Backlund’s first goal may have been a bit of a fluke, but he was getting his fair share of chances at the game went on. James Neal looked engaged from the start. After a rare off night against the Stars, the top line was back to dominating and creating scoring chance after scoring chance. Austin Czarnik, in trying to score, drew the penalty that led to Johnny Gaudreau’s game winner. The team didn’t score much, but they were all trying, and most of them looked involved.
Special shoutout to Gaudreau in particular, who had horrid luck before he finally potted one. (Particularly the puck travelling along the goal line and then bouncing out – ouch.) He was engaged the entire night, and easily could’ve had – probably should have had – more than just the one goal.
Though it was either tied or a one-goal game most of the night, the Flames pretty much always looked in control. They had some major offensive zone time (particularly when the Kings kept icing the puck); they just couldn’t score as often as they have the past couple of weeks. The 4-1 score was probably a fair reflection of the game, even if two of the goals were empty netters.
The bad news
On the other hand: the Kings are literally the worst team in the NHL right now, so it’s kind of disappointing it took the Flames so long to put this one away. Credit to Cal Petersen, who’s had to do a lot with very little, but having this game be in doubt for as long as it was wasn’t the greatest. It goes to show that the Flames still have to work pretty hard to stay where they are in the standings.
Smith can’t let that goal in – especially when the skaters in front of him had only scored once at that time. This wasn’t a 6-0 Coyotes game where a goal against didn’t really matter; that could have cost the Flames a point and it was just bad all around. He had that great save against Dustin Brown in the third; he also had his fair share of moments in which he was flailing and didn’t look comfortable. I think starting Smith against the Kings was the right call – they’re a bad team – but he’s gotta be better. The Kings only had 14 shots all night, and that one shouldn’t have gone in.
Numbers of note
60.76% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF on the night. Their second and third periods had 5v5 CFs over 60%. It was never in doubt who was the better team.
37-14 – The Flames dominated the Kings on the shot clock. The Kings were never able to get more than five shots a period, and they were trailing most of the game. There’s playing on the second of a back-to-back, and then there’s whatever that was. Elias Lindholm had six shots, Sean Monahan had five, and Backlund and Derek Ryan had four each – those four players alone trounce an entire team in that department.
26-14 – According to Natural Stat Trick, those were the 5v5 scoring chances for the Flames. It was 16-4 in their favour in the third period alone. No matter what metric you use, it’s pretty clear who the better team was.
.929% – Smith’s save percentage, in which he let in one goal on 14 shots. He’s now up to .885% on the season. David Rittich should still be considered the starter, but there’s nothing wrong with giving Smith these games: Rittich will need to have nights off sometimes, and if these are the games that give Smith the best chance to win, well, go for it.
29 – Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk are tied for the team’s points lead. We’re over a quarter of the way into the season and Tkachuk is still hanging there with the best offensive player the Flames have had for the better part of five years. So that’s incredibly interesting.
20.9% – The Flames went one-for-three on the powerplay, and it won them the game. Their season success rate is now 20.9% – it’s much less of a disaster than, well, pretty much any time in the 2017-18 season. It’s also 14th in the NHL.
8:14 – Ryan Lomberg’s ice time, a little more than Garnet Hathaway’s 7:53 (including 22 seconds on the penalty kill). Huh. Though you gotta think Andrew Mangiapane is in next game…
There are some games you just have to have. For the Flames, this was one of them. It would have been better to see them take a commanding lead on the scoreboard before the empty nets came into play, but what really matters is they got the two points, and looked like they deserved them the entire time.