The Flames are a good team. I don’t think anyone is really sure quite yet if they’re a contender – probably not – but they are a good team. The Blackhawks, meanwhile, are not a good team; their glory days appear to have unceremoniously ended. And so, in a game between a good team and a bad team, the good team won.
Feel of the game
The Flames dominated play early on and never really let up. Really, if any tide ever turned, it was more the Blackhawks waking up and realizing they would prefer to be active participants, rather than simply watch the Flames do what they wanted and constantly be forced to the outside.
This one wouldn’t have even been close were it not for the Flames’ most blatant flaw of the evening: surrendering far too many breakaways. The Flames were successful in limiting the Blackhawks’ shots, particularly early on, but not their scoring chances. And so, we got to partake in an observation that’s been unfortunately uncommon this year: Mike Smith wasn’t to be blamed for either goal the Blackhawks scored, and he was a key part in ensuring the Flames won.
Corey Crawford played well in his net, combined with being the beneficiary of the Flames overpassing. Really, it was Chris Kunitz’s five-minute major for elbowing Travis Hamonic that got the Flames the win: two powerplay goals were all it turned out they needed. Just like against the Kings, though, you would have hoped the Flames would have been able to score more.
This one, surprisingly, didn’t seem to be that much of a nail-biter at the end – Smith overcame some early uncertainties and even though the Blackhawks were pressing, it looked like there was absolutely no chance in hell he was going to give up the game-tying goal. He did a lot to make sure that came to fruition.
The good news
I’m going to be honest: I don’t, in full, recall Andrew Mangiapane’s first 10 games in the NHL from the 2017-18 season. But I’m still pretty confident that this was the best game he’s played at this level. He had a couple of scoring chances, and but for an amazing Crawford save and an inconvenient post, would have had his first NHL goals. He was absolutely flying out there, noticeable in the offensive zone, and the rookie mistakes were just that: rookie mistakes. I really hope we can get an extended look at him, because if his overall play is going to be anything like Sunday night’s, we’re in for a treat with this player.
For that matter, James Neal and Derek Ryan looked even more alive with Mangiapane out with them. Of course, that could just be bias in seeing them alongside Mangiapane’s energetic play, but Ryan has become a lot more noticeable as of late, including getting on the scoreboard (he’s now on pace for 28 points, not far off from his rookie year), and one day those pucks are going to start going in for Neal. Maybe that day will be sooner rather than later if Mangiapane sticks on his line, who knows, but that trio looked consistently ready to create.
The top line, meanwhile, still has it. Even when overpassing is involved they still manage to score. Johnny Gaudreau is now one of 20 players in the NHL to put up at least 30 points so far this season. Sean Monahan (29) and Elias Lindholm (28) are right behind him. Even as the shooting percentages have started to come back down to earth, this line doesn’t look like it’s going away.
Rasmus Andersson on the penalty kill. Him and Oliver Kylington continuing to get shifts right up until there was only 5:30 left in a one-goal game. It was advertised that Bill Peters is great with young defencemen; good thing the Flames have a bunch of those for him to show off with. Relatively recent high draft picks stepping in the NHL right away have provided immediate gratification, but it’s a lot of fun to watch guys we’ve been following for a few years given the chance to show they can hack it, too.
The powerplay got revenge for Travis Hamonic. When Duncan Keith was ejected for boarding Dillon Dube in their first matchup of the season, the Flames only scored once on that major; scoring twice this time around won them the game. Hamonic didn’t have to bleed and probably break his nose in vain.
Smith had a good game, and not just a gimme like the 6-1 win over the Coyotes; he had to earn it, particularly towards the end. He did. He shone when the pressure was at its highest towards the end. Hopefully this is a sign for the team going forward, because if the Flames have two goalies playing at least league average night in, night out, then there are going to be a lot of good nights ahead.
The bad news
The Flames did a great job in limiting the Blackhawks’ shots, particularly early on. They did not do a great job at all in limiting their breakaways. Slightly better defensive play would’ve given their goalie an easier night (and at least one less goal scored – hell, maybe neither) and wouldn’t have allowed it to be as close a game as it was. Limiting shots is all well and good and should be done, but it’d be even better if the shots that did get through weren’t of the highest of dangers.
I have no idea what Neal has to do to score. He picked up a secondary assist, which, yay; he also was left alone in the slot on the powerplay and couldn’t get anything going for it. He was active and visible in the offensive zone and there was barely anything to show for it. We’re a third of the way into the season and he has shown a lot of good stuff, especially as of late; at some point it’s going to translate into tangible results, right?
I understand it was towards the end of a five-minute major and the Flames had just upped their lead to two goals, but 1:46 for Ryan Lomberg on the powerplay is just wild. His best year had him at half a point-per-game in the AHL. I totally get rewarding enthusiasm, but with the game still that close, that certainly was a choice.
What is it with Blackhawks and game misconducts against the Flames? Not that I think anyone is intentionally trying to injure Dube or Hamonic or anyone else but dang, control your elbows.
Numbers of note
52.11% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF, for which they can thank a stellar first period that unfortunately only saw them score once.
41-24 – The Flames outshooting the Blackhawks (15 of those shots alone belonged to the Flames’ entire top line). Which looks impressive, until you remember the breakaways.
28-25 – Natural Stat Trick measured the Flames just barely edging the Blackhawks in scoring chances. They were 11-10 in high danger corsi events, too. The Flames were unquestionably the better team, but this was a pretty great reminder that they need to tighten up.
.917% – Smith’s save percentage in the game. He now has seven efforts over .900% this season, out of 16 games. His season save percentage is up to .886.
21.6% – Speaking of things slowly improving, the Flames’ powerplay is starting to look respectable. The second unit even has four goals now. Four! Two are from Ryan. The top unit has the other 17. They’re 13th in the NHL now.
8:53 – Genuinely surprised Mangiapane only played that much, because he was playing so well it looked like he was out there way more often than that. Guess that’s all the powerplay time talking. Special teams helped limit Kylington to just 9:16, too.
It was far from a perfect win, but the recently recalled rookies are looking like they have a future in this league, and the struggling veterans are looking like they can still be counted on to contribute as well. Take the positive little signs and hopefully build on them.