It should’ve been a 3-0 win.
Feel of the game
Even through the back and forth action and both teams trading scoring chances, it felt like the Flames were in control of this one for most of the clock. Sure, there were moments that led to them scrambling in their own end, but that’s just what happens when playing a team that’s a worthwhile opponent. But the Flames did a great job of getting high danger chances, and they were the only team to capitalize on them.
Things just never really felt like they were in jeopardy. Elias Lindholm’s first goal got called back due to being offside? Well, that’s unfortunate – especially because it felt as though the Flames could have been up by a couple of goals at that point, were it not for Alex Stalock – but as long as they kept doing what they were doing, they’d be fine. And that’s exactly what the Flames did, and eventually, from Mark Giordano to Johnny Gaudreau, it was impossible to not reward Lindholm.
On the other end of the ice – those aforementioned shaky moments in their own end, the occasional unnecessary creation of running around in the defensive zone – Mike Smith settled into the game. The extra movements seemed to subside as the game went on, the jerkiness and split second shakiness smoothed out, and any possible anxiety watching him (which I will fully confess to experiencing in the first period) went away.
And once Lindholm got his second goal that counted, the rest of the game felt like a formality. It mostly was.
The good news
The Flames followed up a run and gun game (in which they triumphed) with a much more constructed, complete game (in which they triumphed). The scoring chances were still there. The scoring chances against lessened. There’s an adaptability to this team, that no matter what type of game it turns into, they still have a good chance of winning.
Gaudreau was absolutely everywhere on the ice in the best possible way (including backchecking, my goodness). He’s been feeling it pretty intensely as of late. And Lindholm is such a mindblowingly good complement to his line… watching the Flames’ top end players together is truly incredible. Remember how good Jiri Hudler was with Gaudreau and Sean Monahan back in the fluke 2014-15 season? This is so much better. And almost certainly longer lasting.
Andrew Mangiapane and Rasmus Andersson both came close to their first NHL goals themselves. And watching Mangiapane, albeit in his limited ice time, there’s a world of difference between him a year ago and him now. Time will tell if Mangiapane will fade away like Dillon Dube eventually did, but he’s been a pro for a few seasons now; it might be his time. Like it’s definitely Andersson’s.
An offensively active TJ Brodie, skating around like he owns the entire ice surface, is such a treat to watch. Even when it’s only his defence partner getting the points, Brodie has stood out positively more often than not as of late. That 2014-15 season? It’s so nice to see the Flames’ top pairing from that era wasn’t a fluke: they can be a top pairing on a good team, too.
The powerplay didn’t score, but the top unit looks dangerous more often than not. And the penalty kill completely shut things down. The Wild had five chances – four if you want to exclude the late game shenanigans in which the game was clearly over – and the Flames did such a good job of not letting them get much of anything. Great special teams game.
Earlier in the season, this looked like a good team, but for goaltending. Just a couple of weeks ago, Smith was singlehandedly costing the team points by giving up some of the most atrocious goals you’ll ever see on NHL ice. That he got more sure in himself as the game went on is a positive; maybe it’ll translate to the season as a whole.
The bad news
Mikael Backlund is the team’s fifth best forward, their most responsible one defensively, and he could miss time for essentially no reason. The empty net goal should have been called when Backlund was tripped (just because a game is over in theory and it seems pointless to call an infraction doesn’t mean an obvious infraction shouldn’t be called); Monahan should have shot into the wide open empty net too, for that matter. Yes, Backlund’s head should have been up. No, there wasn’t much reason for Matt Dumba to go in the way he did at the end of a game that was clearly over. But it’s all just so stupid. There was literally no reason for any of that to have happened – and now, just as the Flames are rolling, they may have lost a key part of their lineup.
Okay but seriously why the hell did Monahan pass the puck back to Noah Hanifin when he had a wide open net to shoot at? Does he think Hanifin and Lindholm are the same person? What even was that.
This isn’t “bad news” in the slightest, but it does have a slightly negative connotation, so… I know Bill Peters is not Glen Gulutzan (that’s been made rather clear), so I’m just hoping the team sticks to the plan of getting David Rittich starts, no matter how well Smith is playing. Maybe it’s “win now” time, but aside from Giordano, the Flames have a young core: ideally, it’d be “win now” time for quite a few seasons yet. Please look after Smith for the short term of this season; please look after the net for the long term of the club.
Numbers of note
49.33% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF on the night. They were a 38.1% in the first period, which honestly shocks me, because I thought they looked fine in that frame. Took over for the last two periods though.
15 – We’re 29 games into the season, and Lindholm is already two goals away from his career high. What. He’s at 32 points; his career high is 45. What. He’s currently pro-rated for 42 goals and 90 points in an 82-game season. I do not think this actually happens, but assuming he stays healthy, it’s going to be a career year, and likely by quite a bit. Some insight from noted Miikka Kiprusoff guru-turned Carolina Hurricanes guy David Marcoux:
I saw it first hand!
Lindy was snake bitten in CAR & was covered due to a lack of high end scoring forwards. Now in Cgy, he is not the players that teams are focusing on on that top line (#13 , #23)
— David Marcoux (@DavidMarcoux) December 7, 2018
18.5% – Lindholm’s shooting percentage so far this season. Through five seasons in Carolina, he was an 8.9% guy. So yeah, 42 goals probably isn’t happening. But also? Hell of a shot.
3 – So it didn’t happen, but Lindholm was super close to having a hat trick. He’s only had one hat trick in his career: March 8, 2015. Against the Oilers. Dude was always meant to become a Flame, clearly.
6 – Gaudreau is on a six-game scoring streak. He’s been involved in the offence ever since the Flames got shut out in Vegas. (Lindholm is only on a five-game scoring streak, so he should feel shame for that.)
6 – Gaudreau is also sixth in league scoring.
30 – Giordano needs one more point to hit 30. When he does, the Flames will have five 30-point players. No other team has more than three 29+ point guys.
3 – Also, Giordano’s now up in a tie for third among defencemen in scoring. He’s 35 years old and a point per game. Over a third of the way into the season.
3:48 – The Flames’ penalty kill was a major reason why they were able to win. Backlund played the second most out of all Flames forwards on it, behind just Lindholm (and he didn’t have a chance to play out the final minute). Only Lindholm and Travis Hamonic played more down a man than he did. It isn’t just potentially losing a second line centre – although it is that – but it’s potentially losing a top penalty killer, too. He played 19:14 total – the most out of all Flames forwards. He doesn’t show up dramatically in the offensive totals, but really, only five guys on this team do. But he’s absolutely crucial to their success.
Between Giordano kneeing Mikko Koivu and Backlund getting rocked for no reason, the third period put a complete damper on what’s looking like what could be a really legitimate team.
More often than not this season, I enjoy asking mid-game, “are the Flames good?” And they probably are. But I’m so hesitant to call them a good team because, well, I haven’t gotten to watch a good team night in and night out, and I don’t know how to react to it. Too cocky, and they eventually come crashing down (even though every possible number says that isn’t likely to happen, traditional and fancy stats alike)? Maybe it’s because the Pacific Division is so terrible? But this team has such a different vibe to it. And they’re a point out of a three-way tie for first place in the Western Conference. They’re top five in the NHL. And we’re over a third of the way through the year.
I really hope nobody is seriously injured – I want to keep watching a good team.