Flames 5, Predators 2 post-game embers: How Swede it is

Alan Quine scored. Who saw that coming?

Feel of the game

Saturday night was weird and good all at the same time. Maybe it’s because as an observer you always expect to see Mark Giordano or Mikael Backlund on the ice. Maybe it was the weirdly almost-sluggish pace of some of the Nashville Predators. Maybe it was the assorted cast of depth options (both AHL and NHL) who got opportunities in lieu of the aforementioned mainstays missing.

It felt more like a mid-January game, with the mid-season doldrums in full effect. At times it didn’t feel like two of the best teams in the league facing off against each other, but more like two teams playing for the sake of playing. Sometimes that’s a good thing (in the Flames’ case) as they made history (sort of):

De goda nyheterna (The good news)

A lot was made and has been made about Oliver Kylington. His draft stock was high coming into 2015, it dropped at the draft, and the Flames lucked out getting him 60th overall midway through the second round. There’s the belief – of some fans in the fanbase – that he’ll never defend at the NHL level – that he’s a liability out there and that he’s the eventual odd man out when it comes to the future of the blue line.

Honestly none of that matters now as he’s checked off another vital milestone in his pro career with his first NHL goal. It’s just another step forward for the young Swede who has been playing against men (in the SHL) since he was 16. It’s something huge to build off of and the Flames have done a lot of great things in terms of building Kylington into what he is now. They’ve found ways to maximize his strengths and worked on helping round out the opportunities in his game.

At the NHL level, Peters and the coaching staff have continued to give him room to play his game while adjusting to the NHL game pace. It’s a rare and wonderful experience to follow as not one, not two, but three young defensemen on this roster this season have been given these opportunities. In Kylington’s case, last night was a massive milestone as a whole to see what happens when everything clicks in a single game.

Depending on when Juuso Valimaki returns, it’s an interesting situation unfolding. Do you keep Kylington up and send Valimaki down? Do you send Kylington back, until there’s another opportunity? Kylington finished the night with a 62.07% CF at 5v5, playing primarily against the Predators’ bottom six which is a great spot to continue to develop him like they’ve done so far with Valimaki.

We would be remiss if we didn’t discuss Rasmus Andersson, whose ascension to the top pairing in Giordano’s absence is a hopeful teaser of what he can do later on in his NHL career. Paired with TJ Brodie, Andersson played a career-high 22:59 in all situations including 20:46 of it at 5v5. The pair did see a mix of talent in the Predators’ top six as Peters elected to match strength on strength for the most part.

In a lot of ways, Andersson’s tenure with the Flames has been spoken of in polar opposite of Kylington’s. It’s never been a “maybe Andersson will be the odd man out” and traded narrative. It’s always just been an emphasis on when he gets his opportunities. He looked okay in an elevated role, jumping up in the play when chances permitted. In terms of shot metrics, Andersson did struggle a bit with a 44.83% CF at 5v5, but made up for it with his critical role in helping create Quine’s third period goal.

Now we can look ahead to see if he’s playing in the top pairing tonight against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers. If it’s a one-and-done trial, then it’s just another milestone for Andersson to build upon in his rookie season. If it’s not the last we see of him in the top pairing then he’ll arguably face his greatest test in Edmonton.

The bad news

The power play across the board Saturday night was atrocious to say the least. In four minutes on the man advantage, the Flames mustered a single shot. The problems with shot generation aren’t inherently offensive zone-specific either, because as a whole the team struggled in every crucial area imaginable. Entering the zone appeared to be a monumental task that Nashville’s penalty kill was prepared for, breaking up entries.

If the Flames got into the zone, their inability to set up and work as a complete unit was stifled by errors or miscues. If they did get set up into their traditional 1-3-1 it didn’t generate anything. It’s as close to perfect penalty killing on the Predators’ part as it was an excruciating car accident portrayed by the power play units.

Fans, analysts, and everyone in between were robbed of a potential best-on-best game. Nashville came into the game missing three top six forwards in Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, and Kyle Turris. Factor in PK Subban, arguably their best two-way defenseman, and it’s a shame to see. It’s not to say the hockey itself was terrible, but it’s terrible that we were unfortunately robbed of seeing both teams with their best dressed lineups.

If these two teams meet in the playoffs, hopefully both of them are healthy and/or without suspensions; it would give fans of both teams something to salivate over rather than rehashes of previous first, second, or third-round rematches of years past. If there is some sort of hockey deity or tribunal, may they watch over both teams and ensure a possible encounter later in the spring of 2019.

Numbers of note

  • 1st in the Western Conference. I’m sure I could write a long-winded sentence or paragraph about this, but it speaks for itself.
  • 44 NHL games, over the course of three seasons between goals for Quine. Quine is – at the time of writing this – second in scoring for the Heat and it’s a nice story. He’s a fringe NHL guy currently, getting the opportunity in lieu of injuries to make an impression and it was made Saturday night. In a super limited role, he finished the night with a 54.55% CF at 5v5 and 11:03 of ice time. Alternative title: ♫ Red, Red Quine ♫
  • Three, two, two – that’s three shots, two scoring chances, and two high-danger scoring chances for Andrew Mangiapane. The diminutive winger is due, maybe more so than James Neal in regards to scoring a goal. Since coming back from injury, he’s taken a few big hits and kept on coming. For a sixth round pick in 2015, he’s adjusted at the AHL level quite well. At the NHL level he’s still finding his game, but he’s a deceptively deadly player who creates chances in close. It’s only a matter of time before he scores and then hopefully everyone who slept on him takes notice.
  • Zero power play goals. In four minutes of power play time, the Flames struggled to generate anything beyond a single shot. Over the last 11 games, the Flames’ power play as a whole has been clicking at a 30% success rate.
  • 85.71%, the percentage of Kylington’s offensive zone starts. Add in 11 on the fly shifts and you get a really fantastic example of the coaching staff putting him in a position to succeed.
  • .920 SV% at 5v5 for Mike Smith. He’s looked better lately, there’s no denying it. It’s good to see, honestly, because this team is going rely on him and David Rittich to maintain their stranglehold on the Pacific Division. He made a couple of really good saves and the second goal against was less than favorable, but it’s a positive trend on aggregate.

Final thought

The Flames are without two of their de-facto “shutdown McDavid unit” Sunday night. It’s going to be a difficult task, probably one of the hardest the Flames have had this year. It’s a perfect storm of the worst variables coming together for a battle against their provincial rivals. The second night of a back-to-back, their best defenseman and potential Norris candidate suspended, and their best shutdown forward injured.

Hopefully he can be managed with the roster assembled and with as little shenanigans as possible. The team is already tops in the West and maintaining it is the goal. If they can steal a win on a schedule loss, with these factors in play then it’s great. It’s another hypothetical two points they need.

Oh and James Neal: please score a goal before Milan Lucic. Give us the Christmas miracle that fans so desperately need.