Flames 3, Blackhawks 2 post-game embers: Another necessary win

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.

Final thought

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.

  • The GREAT WW

    First in the Pacific!
    Yet we have a bunch of players who are underperforming offensively;

    Neal, Bennett, Backlund, Jankowski…..

    Some of these players will start scoring soon……right?


  • Skylardog

    The Flames have so much left “in the tank” that the remainder of the season should be a cake walk in the weak Pacific. They are finding ways to win, even when they play only portions of games. That was far from the case last year.

    They have had limited, but improving, secondary scoring. The top line has been mediocre offensively going long stretches without scoring at 5v5, then putting in 5 in just 4 periods. That line has also at times been very questionable defensively. Never mind the goaltending issues earlier in the season. If we can put this all together, there is no reason this team shouldn’t have a really good opportunity to make a Stanley Cup Final as they get a beat up Central Division Champion in the conference final. If we get all portions of the game going at once, who out there could beat this team? We are winning, and yet at times appear to have both arms tied behind our back.

    Last night, they dominated a poor team, that couldn’t break out of a wet paper bag in the first period. But what in the heck is Peters doing putting out Lomberg on the 5 minute power play up by just 2? They could have finished off the Hawks right then and there, but instead, left them just a shot back of being back in the game. The Hawks took that shot on a bad penalty call, and there we were just hanging on in a game that should have been over halfway through if not earlier.

    The Hawks could have and should have tied it up with the defensive break downs in the third. In a game we dominated for 40 minutes, we were fortunate to end up with 2 points and not headed to OT.

    The Hawks had just 3 wins in the last 17 leading up to last night, and we let/kept/allowed/gave them the chance/were inconsistent enough (pick one or all) to be in the game at the end. We tied them 1-1 at 5v5, and allowed the worst PP in the NHL to score. Not a good outing, but as I said at the top, they found a way to win.

    • R4anders

      Your posts are comically passive aggressive, they’re doing great but here’s why they suck nuts…lol

      The top line has been great, flash all the 5v5 stuff you want, that line puts up points. Our secondary scoring is pretty good compared to the rest of the league. Peters has done wonders for this team.

      We’re top ten in offense and defence in spite of Smith and his brutal start to the season.

      Chill out homie!! The flames are good this year regardless of your opinion.

      • Skylardog

        They are only 16th in GF/60, and 11th in GA/60. This is where a majority of the game is played, and we are just average. This team should be no worse than top 8 5v5.

        While plus 4 at 5v5, this team scores inconsistently, but in bundles. Take away some 4 and 5 goal 5v5 games, and the numbers would be very underwhelming.

  • 31 Thoughts With Morgan Freeman

    3. Interesting story out of California. Oakland University has distributed more than 800 hockey pucks to its faculty members to help deter gun violence. The university police chief justified the plan by stating, “Throwing heavy objects to distract a shooter can be an effective strategy as long as your aim is better than Milan Lucic.”
    4. ICYMI, Since Nov 1, The Flames own the 3rd best power play (29.5%) in the league. Where would the team be with a halfway effective 2nd unit? Are they starting to come around or do more changes need to be made? How do you re-configure PP2 to improve?
    5. Calgary’s penalty kill is the greater concern. On the season, Calgary ranks 25th (76.2%). Granted, if you discount October, they sit 17th (80%), but they still need to be better.

    • Burnward

      Re: PP2…if and if Mangiapane can do it, I’d put him in the gaudreau spot and run interchangeable players…

      gaudreau =mangiapane
      Monahan = neal
      Tkachuk = bennett
      Lindholm = ryan
      Gio = pick your D

      • Skylardog

        Even though he has scored a couple in the last few weeks, any PP with Ryan on it is just spinning its wheels. One has to ask how good PP2 could be without Ryan?

        I thought PP action was what Czar was brought in for. Maybe we can see if he is a PP specialist when he gets sent down to Stockton. I heard he can light up the AHL.

          • Skylardog

            Cause Neal is having such a great year with Ryan as his centre, and the other winger Ryan has spent a lot of time with is now playing in Stockton.

            And I will remind all of how good Skinner was in Carolina playing with him. Don’t let the eye tests fool you. He gets very little done on the ice.

          • Jessemadnote

            So Derek Ryan passes the eye test eh? But when we delve a bit deeper… 60.57% corsi since Nov 1, (3rd best in the NHL), 7 points in 14 games, 55% faceoff percentage… Damn… that’s a pretty good third line center.

        • Marvin the Paranoid Android

          Marvin is a fan of Ryan on PP2 as when it happens many more people are upset and depressed. Unfortunately for Marvin, though this can’t last because Ryan actually is an effective 3rd line center and when others start to figure that out all of this angst and hand wringing and hating will stop. That’s depressing to think about.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    As Ari alluded to, overpassing yet again dogged the team last night. I’ll take a shot missing the net over one too many passes and a lost shot opportunity almost every time. Might be time for Peters to have the boys playing paintball or laser tag every week to drill the “shoot” mentality into them.

  • withachance

    These are the games that a top team has to grind out a win from. Wasnt the prettiest, they made mistakes but they got the W. Contenders has to win even on off nights and they did that. Hope the team understands where they need to be better at (no more breakways please!) and keep working on the things they are great at!

    Ryan looking great the past couple of games. I think I understand why BP wanted him here – he’s just a dependable, steady player. Glad he’s on the team. Hope new Mangi -Ryan – Neal line pops off. At this rate, who goes out when Frolik returns?

    • MDG1600

      Fro might end up back with Backlund and Tkachuk. Tkachuk has gone crickets since Benny arrived on the line. Not necessarily related I guess but I think BP will want to shake something up to try and get Byng going again.

      • Kzak

        As previously stated, we need to build a solid second scoring line to be a Cup contender and that line must contain Tkachuk but must not contain anyone named Backlund, Bennett, or Frolik.

        • MDG1600

          I sort of agree but there isn’t really much else for an option other than I wouldn’t mind seeing Janko get more time on a scoring line. Neal is a dud. Ryan isn’t scaring anyone. Not sure you want to break up the top line.

      • Skylardog

        Actually Tkachuk has 4 goals at 5v5 since Benny was put on the line. He only had one at 5v5 when Frolik and Czar were on the line, and the only goal was when out with Czar, not Frolik.

        Matty has had his scoring on the PP drop, not his 5v5 play.

        • MDG1600

          zero in the last 5 games and the line hasn’t looked particularly great other than Backs flukey 2 against LA. I’d just like to see more 5v5 scoring out of the 2nd line. Tkachuk is a damn good passer and neither Benny or Backs are good finishers (admittedly neither is Frolik). Meanwhile we all wait for the “real” part of James Neal to show up.

      • withachance

        I actually think that line has looked pretty nice with Benny. Only changes I would make to the lineup would involve moving Neal around to get him going but willing to see if he clicks with Mangi

  • MDG1600

    What scares me a bit with Neal is that he can’t seem to handle the puck and it reminds a lot of Curtis Glencross when his time in the league ended. I know Glencross was never the player Neal was but he went from 20 goal scorer (12 in 38 GP) at 32 to out of the league 2 years later. It’s like some of these guys get the hockey equivalent of the yips in golf.

  • Flint

    We should be keeping track of Smith’s games that are over .915sv% as that is about league average (haven’t looked it up to be exact). It may be the same numbers of games as his over .900sv% (haven’t looked that up either, but a .900% game isn’t a good game. Nor is .905% good enough for that matter. Smith seems to be making a bit of a comeback thankfully but let’s not lower the bar so low.

  • Jimmyhaggis

    What’s up with Tkachuk? Everything he touched turned to gold, now he”s disappeared, I wonder if the early success has gone to his head. Think the old man, Keith, has to have a man to chat.

  • Heeeeere’s Johnny

    Great discussion today folks. IMHO I’m pretty good with the lines. There’s a few tweaks I would make (see below) but I do like the general structure. We have a scoring line, a play-driving line that effectively neutralizes other top lines, a line with a mix of scoring and responsibility that can be deployed flexibly and a line that depending on make up may have some surprise scoring power or some irritation value. I didn’t number these lines because I think you can move them around to create interesting match ups.

    If I were to tweak things a bit I would do this:
    JG- SM- EL (I get that there may be times where they can be risky defensively but they are too much fun to watch and too dangerous to split up).
    MT-MB-JN/SB (I want to see Neal with this pairing more often but perhaps not full time … need to get Neal some more looks).
    AM-MJ-GH (these guys ate the A when they were together last year and deserve a look in the Show)
    SB/JN-DR-MF (I’d like Ryan to have Frolik to see if they can get to elite shutdown level and take some of that heat off Backs’ line – JN isn’t optimal as a winger in that set up – I think SB can play that roll though).

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      I think we saw the beginning of a good line Sunday. Mangiapane with Neal and Ryan. Some speed, some shooting and good board work. If you want to double shift Johnny, that would be the place to do it perhaps. Janko is playing well enough to move up, but I like the idea of a RHS with Neal and Breadman.

      The issue I am having is the 2nd line. Bennett has a great checking game, but he doesn’t seem suited to play RW. Either that, or he is not skilled enough to finish. Too many chances end up as missed opportunities. I can’t be certain if he’s a detriment to Tkachuk or if Tkachuk isn’t getting the chances because Bennett is taking them. Either way, they aren’t scoring at the same rate they were before.

  • Off the wall

    I don’t know about you, however Mangiapane impressed the heck outta me . Sure it was his 1st game, however I noticed him every single shift.

    That drive where he was at full speed, took the puck off his right skate to his stick – had me in awe.
    Not to mention his board work looks a lot stronger. If it weren’t for the crossbar, he’d already have his 1st goal.

    I have to wonder if a Mangiapane- Czarnik- Neal option might work? 2 puck skilled players might get Neal going. He’s on the precipice of scoring, maybe this provides the recipe for him. I still don’t understand why Czarnik is always out. I know he’s not physical, but he’s got hands.

    Smith with that back skate save was a beauty. I honestly had to watch it 3 times, how did that not go in?

    I love Lindholm. I can’t imagine our team without him. He impresses me every single game.

    • BlueMoonNigel

      Regarding Lindholm, he might very well be the best player in that blockbuster with Carolina.

      I am still taken with the idea of removing Lindholm off the top line and having him centre his own high-octane line. I get the fad of super lines, but my thinking is still spread-the wealth-old school. Give me two solid scoring lines, and I’ll give you a club that is a serious cup contender. Put Neal with Johnny and Mony. Lindholm centres Chucky and Mr. X. Lots of internal candidates for Mr. X.

      • Burnward

        I’m kind of tinkering in my mind with Ryan up there. Right hand shot, solid on the draw, little Swiss army knife for the guys.


      • R4anders

        Why would one of the hottest and best teams in the NHL Mess with virtually all of their line pairings to get one or two guys going? The flames are not lacking for offense right now.

        I honestly have no idea why everyone keep saying we need to mess with the lines, I understand James Neal is not doing what we are paying him to do but why would you potentially risk all the chemistry your team has right now to get a guy like him or Jankowski/Bennett going?

  • Off the wall

    Is anyone else a bit concerned why Smith has been lunging at pucks this season?

    This is the first time I’ve ever seen him do that in a season. I’m not sure what he’s doing? Does anyone on FN have an explanation for this?

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    I am starting to see why Czarnik continues to be the odd man out. I noticed him in the LA game for all the wrong reasons. He was too easy to push off the puck, he wouldn’t go into traffic, and can’t shield the puck on the cycle. Right now he is our only small player that plays small. Johnny is far more physical and is smaller.

    Before we signed Czarnik, I thought we already had a better version in our stable in Mangi. I still feel this way. The one strategy I would like to see BP employ with the young players like Mangi, Kjillington,Dube, and Ras is to overplay them when there is a chance. For young players scoring your first goal is very stressful. The longer it takes the more explaining players feel the need to justify a slow start. Mangi played 10 games last year without registering a point and that is all people remember.

    If a player plays top minutes, plays on the PP, and plays on the PK in the minors then put him in that situation to get his first point or first goal. Once that weight is off their shoulders they are likely to settle in.

    Ottawa did a great job of this with Batherson and he scored in his first game and is brimming with confidence. When a player has yet to score in the NHL it follows them and starts to define them. With proper player utilization coaches can reduce the burden by helping the player, which helps the team.
    The best way for a player to believe he can play at the next level is too contribute. Contributing on the scoreboard is likely going to keep you in the line up whereas only contributing in other facets of the game is a recipe for replacement.

    • Albertabeef

      All I remember from last season was a crappy coach and Mange playing with a couple of old bums. Then I see the points and get happy that coach is now gone!!! 🙂 As well are those two old guys. Although when I call Stajan a bum I do it with respect lol.

  • Garry T

    The players we have are fine. Just tweak the offensive system by having guys stick ready either side of the net for tap ins. If we had that going in Chicago the score is 6-1.

    The break always are the result of a full on pressure system for both the fore check and the scoring component. Your D on this team are offensively gifted and like to be involved.

    There are three things I would do to kill the break always.

    1 kill the back pass and all three forwards drive the net pushing all five opponents back towards the net in their zone. With a smaller offensive zone structure you move the puck hard and fast and that system will result in nullifying the ability of the defending team to counter and fast break on you. Your shots on net are bang bang and more likely to go in. The Defense does not need to be in so tight giving them time and space to react.

    2. Having 2 guys on Defense playing high with forwards playing low leads to too much passing and the lessening of effective shot taking. Going back to option one, your center is in tight harassing the goaltender or doing picks on whoever and poring pucks to the net in a tighter proximity factor. Wingers shoot or whoever has the puck in tight shoots first and if there is a rebound, all three forwards are on it harassing where possible but still focused on rebounds.

    3. Everybody as forwards head to the net on entry in a tighter grouping.
    Left or right wing following the center for rebounds depending upon the angle of attack. This creates havoc with the opposing team as everything is happening to them at a high level of speed. Whichever winger is less involved with the attack heads for the side of the net or moves into the center or slightly off center slot. Dispense with the outside passing factor completely and confuse the opposition protecting system.

    There is a fourth component. The shooter concentrates on net space that is available and picks his spot firing the shot at the target given, fast and hard.
    We miss far too many shots high and wide. Will be very entertaining!

    Go Flames