Going into this season, there was a basic assumption: the forwards were improved, the defence was slightly weakened, and goaltending was a giant question mark. With all that in mind, a reasonable prediction would have been that if the Flames found themselves in a run and gun game, they’d probably come out on top. And that’s exactly what happened.
Feel of the game
Sometimes, there are games in which everyone collectively decides not to bother playing defence. This game didn’t start out as one of those – though it did start with the Flames playing particularly sloppy, and even though they scored first, they took a well-deserved 3-1 deficit to the locker room after the first period.
Columbus continued to take over the game, scoring on Mike Smith just 49 seconds into his entrance in the second period. That seemed to wake the Flames up, though – and, more importantly, it woke their powerplay up. Getting their first man advantages of the game, the Flames went to work, and tied things up: a realization that they couldn’t coast as they had been, they’d have to work to get this win, and work they did.
And then their earlier sloppiness seemed to infect the Blue Jackets, as both teams traded high danger chances – and sometimes, goals – in what turned out to be a chaotic second period. Even though the Flames kept scoring to build their lead in the third, it kind of started to calm down, and eventually, two things became clear: the Flames were going to skate away with a regulation win; and sometimes, it just sucks to be a goalie.
The good news
The Flames had their best offensive performance in years with nine goals. They’ve been pretty good at scoring all year, though: they don’t have any eight-goal games this season, but before this particular goal-fest, they already had two seven-goal games, three six-goal games, and two five-goal games under their belts. That’s 51 goals over their eight highest scoring games this season. Sustainable? Absolutely not, but it keeps happening on occasion. Fun? Hell yes.
A lot of that credit goes to the top line. Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Elias Lindholm have their occasional off nights, but more often than not they’ve been among the NHL’s top offensive players, and it remains a genuine treat to watch them – Gaudreau, in particular, has been feeling it lately. Throw in Matthew Tkachuk and the Flames’ group of young forwards is just absurd – a little more on this in the “numbers of note” section.
Special teams were working in the Flames’ favour, big time. It was their powerplay that got them back in the game, and scoring on three out of four tries typically means you had a good night. The penalty kill played its part, too: the Jackets’ powerplay could have brought them back to life, same as the Flames’ did for them. But the Flames only gave up one powerplay goal on three tries. In a game like this, special teams were crucial, and it worked in Calgary’s favour.
It’s always nice to know that this is a team that can stare a three-goal deficit in the face – including what could have been an extremely demoralizing early second period goal (if this was the 2017-18 season, that would have killed them and they’d have probably lost 9-1 again) – and still believe they can win. I’ve said this before, but they’re like the 2014-15 “never quit” Flames, only with far more talent and skill.
The Flames’ recent blowouts have been against Vegas, Winnipeg, Arizona, and Los Angeles. The Jets are good, the Golden Knights might be, the Coyotes and Kings are not. The Blue Jackets, meanwhile, have a real chance at winning the Metro – a division that’s definitely tougher than the Pacific – and the Flames went toe to toe with them and came out on top. Beating up on weak teams is one thing; this is a far more encouraging end result.
The bad news
Though the end result was good, this definitely wasn’t an ideal game. Enjoy the win, absolutely, but I’d bet there’s a sense of awareness that the Flames need to tighten things up, big time. Outside of a frantic second period goal burst, they were sloppy for most of the game; that can’t continue.
I wasn’t a big fan of pulling David Rittich after the first period – not when we’ve seen Smith perform far worse and get to run with the net until the game was thoroughly out of reach. It didn’t even seem to wake the Flames up; going down 4-1 did. Rittich wasn’t to blame for the first period so much as the entire team was. It’s more about the future of the Flames than anything else – Smith shouldn’t be getting special treatment; he almost certainly shouldn’t be here next season. Rittich might be, and the Flames need to give Rittich more chances to prove himself. It worked out this time around, but hopefully Rittich will still see plenty of starts in the near future. Complaint rescinded if he does.
Numbers of note
44.87% – The Flames’ 5v5 corsi on the night. It improves to 47.31% when looking at all situations. The team had a brutal first period, a much improved second, a lot of help from special teams, and a need to fend off a talented team that was suddenly chasing. It was a lot all at once.
23.8% – The Flames officially have a top 10 powerplay in the NHL. Dave Cameron who?
30+ – The Flames have four forwards all with at least 30 points on the season: the top line, plus Tkachuk. Gaudreau leads them all in points (35) and age (25). Colorado, Ottawa, and Toronto all have three players with 30+ points; nobody else has more than two.
27 – Also, Mark Giordano, with a three-point night, remains fifth both in Flames scoring and league-wide defenceman scoring.
5 – The Flames scored five straight goals in a single period. Again. It’s the third time in eight games they’ve done it. That’s certainly one way to overcome a three-goal deficit. The Flames are first in third period goals (43), fourth in first period goals (31), and 24th in second period goals (24). They’re working on that last one, apparently.
100 – They also scored two overtime goals, and so, Austin Czarnik’s tally to mostly-officially put the game away was the Flames’ 100th goal of the season. It took a third of the year to get there. In 2017-18, the Lightning led the league with 296 goals for. The Flames are tied for fourth league-wide in goals at present.
3 – The number of Flames who didn’t get to play in the third period: Garnet Hathaway had one shift early (on which he drew a penalty, and then we never saw him again), while Sam Bennett and Derek Ryan were benched for the entire frame. On the plus side, that meant 15:01 in ice time for Andrew Mangiapane, and I think we can all agree that at this stage Mangiapane getting more minutes can only be a good thing. (Also, it’s good to see in action that Bill Peters doesn’t necessarily get random, unconquerable vendettas against players: James Neal still got to play, Czarnik got bumped up the lineup, Ryan apparently isn’t infallible.)
.692% – Sergei Bobrovsky played the most out of the four goalies in this game, and saw the second worst save percentage for it. Sure puts Rittich’s .786% and Smith’s .813% in perspective. Everyone was bad, but some were worse than others.
Upgrading the forward lineup sure has paid off for the Flames so far this season. Also, you know what’s fun? An offensively engaged TJ Brodie – someone we hadn’t seen much of prior to this year.
A lot of little things are working out right now, and it’s a third of the way through the season, a pretty decent sample size. Maybe these overall positive performances will keep up? And if they do… what then?