It’s wild how the Flames somehow lost a 1-1 game.
Feel of the game
It wasn’t a particularly great outing by either team. The start was incredibly tepid, as though both teams were wary of one another (all the while having to combat with not-great ice conditions). The Oilers found their legs before the Flames did, resulting in Connor McDavid opening the scoring; it was probably good fortune the Flames were only down by a goal, with a ton of time left to make up for it.
And that’s exactly what the Flames started to do in the second period, as they slowly but surely found their game. It even culminated in Anthony Peluso actually scoring a goal, the beneficiary of an Alan Quine shot, but for the goalie interference challenge that successfully overturned things. But whatever, they were only down by a goal. Plenty of time to tie it up, right?
That was the case but for the third period, in which the Flames took far too many penalties and couldn’t regain their momentum because of it. They did towards the end of the third, but by that time it was the Flames against the clock, and the clock won.
All in all, it was a decent effort by a tired, depleted team.
The good news
Some forward praise: Johnny Gaudreau is a thrill to watch, particularly when he has these moments in which he decides he’s just going to control the entire game, and nobody on the opposing team can stop him. (There was a downside to this, though; he seemed to lose trust in his linemates as the game went on, but passes were tough to receive, so he was probably right to switch to trying to do everything himself.) And Garnet Hathaway on the penalty kill was a ton of fun to watch (and he probably had better scoring chances than the powerplay did, which actually is pretty bad, but hey, point in Hathaway’s favour).
Bill Peters has frequently turned to using Rasmus Andersson in extra attacker scenarios (granted, the Flames haven’t had too many of those lately), and he did exactly that against the Oilers. We’re seeing quite a bit of it this season, but it’s a delight to see a coach put trust in his rookies, and even better when the rookies reward that faith. Andersson’s been successful before (he picked up his first NHL point helping tie the game against Washington, in particular). Though it didn’t go the Flames’ way Sunday night, Andersson and Noah Hanifin put on a clinic when it came to keeping the puck in the offensive zone. If Andersson’s trusted in that situation, it’d be great to see him get a shot on the powerplay, too, like Andrew Mangiapane did.
David Rittich had a great game, and was often times the only reason the Flames had a chance. The goal against wasn’t his fault, and he shone through the entire night. His previous two outings (pulled after the first period in Columbus, flubbed the puck in overtime against Dallas) were less than stellar, so this was an excellent rebound game for him after some time on the bench.
The Flames were missing two of their top defensive players in Mark Giordano and Mikael Backlund and still only lost by one goal while playing the second of a back-to-back. Maybe McDavid scores that goal if Giordano and Backlund are in the lineup anyway, but either way, the Flames kept the outcome in question until literally the last second. They’ve done a great job handling adversity thus far – and Giordano will be back next game.
The bad news
Giordano’s return can’t come any sooner. Dalton Prout was trying his best, but he’s just not NHL caliber (and I honestly think it would have been the better call to dress Rinat Valiev: maybe he would have been worse, but Prout just cannot play at this level). Both Giordano and Backlund’s absences were incredibly noticeable, and played a part in the Flames having a tough time getting going in all aspects of the game.
Specifically, the goal against. Derek Ryan is Backlund’s direct replacement, and he turned the puck over in the offensive zone that ultimately led to the Oilers scoring. TJ Brodie is Giordano’s direct replacement, and for some reason, he decided McDavid of all people didn’t need to be covered, which allowed him to score pretty easily. Not a banner moment for those two at all.
I don’t think it can be understated just how terrible the Flames were in the first. They did not come prepared to play. It’s understandable why, but still. James Neal in particular really stood out for an absolutely atrocious first period, though just about everybody was out of sync and couldn’t connect a pass to save their lives.
Let’s be honest with ourselves: refereeing is generally pretty bad most games. And it was kind of weird how the Oilers could get away with mugging Flames players all night while the Flames were continuously called for penalties. (That said, the Flames’ powerplay was pretty bad, so it’s debatable if calls going in their favour would have helped them.) But it was goalie interference in particular that stood out, and for all the wrong reasons. Peluso standing beside Mikko Koskinen is goalie interference, somehow? Koskinen had every chance to make the save even with Peluso there. And Sam Bennett’s goalie interference penalty might have been the most egregious of the night: he was crashing the net and had literally nowhere else he possibly could have gone. He wasn’t running Koskinen, he was abiding by the laws of physics, as most hockey players tend to do.
Numbers of note
50.63% – The Flames’ 5v5 corsi on the night. Their first period was brutal – a 38.24% – but they picked it up as the game went on. Sure, they were chasing, but that’s still encouraging: you can’t really fault this group for effort.
26.67% – McDavid’s 5v5 corsi against Sean Monahan’s line, which was the line he most frequently played against, to the tune of around 7:30. He was a 54.55% player away from that. Small sample size alert, but that’s interesting that the top line seemed to do a pretty decent job against him.
2:28 – Peluso’s ice time. To which the logical question is: what was the point? Even if his goal had counted, that’s still the question. The Flames were on the second of a back-to-back and Peters made their lives that much more difficult by putting their roster down a man for… what? One fight? (That was initiated as the Flames were entering the Oilers’ zone for a scoring chance?) What is the point of dressing a guy if you don’t trust him to play even three minutes? (Tangentially, I am extremely confused how Austin Czarnik is frequently scratched, but when he’s in, he’s on the powerplay. It’s really all or nothing with him for some reason.)
14:56 – Matthew Tkachuk’s ice time. The only forwards he played more than were Bennett, Mangiapane, Hathaway, Quine, and Peluso. (If you take away special teams, Bennett played more than he did, and he got more 5v5 ice than Ryan.) That’s not a good sign if one of your top forwards isn’t playing all that much – and another reason why I’m in favour of having Elias Lindholm centre the second line until Backlund gets back. Tkachuk needs someone on his level to play with, and he doesn’t have that right now.
0.967% – Rittich’s save percentage, and by the numbers his second best non-shutout effort of the year (first was him stealing that game against the Rangers with a 0.978% after stopping 44 of 45 shots). His season save percentage is 0.922%, which puts him in the top 10 among goalies with at least 500 minutes played. Please continue to play him; Smith is nowhere near as bad as he was earlier in the year but Rittich is still performing at a high level and deserves starts, for both his own good and that of the team.
The Flames were bound to lose again at some point. But, at least where things are at right now, I do believe moral victories mean something: they’re still likely to make the playoffs, and they showed that they can be a threat even without two of their key players. It wasn’t a pretty game on the ice, and there will always be room for improvement, but there was nothing disheartening about the loss.
On a totally personal note, after attending both the Saturday and Sunday games (first time watching hockey in Edmonton for me), I think I can safely say the Saddledome is a more entertaining building to watch hockey in. The company in Edmonton was great; the rivalry is absolutely delightful and incredibly fun in person. And I’m not faulting either team for their efforts on in-game entertainment at all. But whenever the Flames get a new arena, hopefully they won’t try to model the main rink after what Edmonton has – it was kind of muted and soulless. Maybe a better game would have left a better impression of the building.