74

Flames 6, Flyers 5 (OT) post-game embers: Never in doubt

Saw a kid in a Gaudreau jersey on the train on my way home, later than normal. That’s one great thing about all of this: there’s that lesson about never leaving a game early, because you never know what can happen. Wednesday night a bunch of fans got to experience that, some for the first time. It’s a special moment – and this might just be a special team.

Feel of the game

Though the Flyers got out to a major early shots lead, you could tell from the beginning the Flames were more alive than they had been during Sunday’s 1-0 loss. That really started to come together when Sam Bennett capitalized off of a major offensive zone push that was better than the powerplay the Flyers had just been on, and the Flames looked like they’d be in good shape the rest of the game.

They were not, multiple defensive breakdowns leading to the Flyers scoring four goals in the second period, including three in just under two minutes – the last of which felt like a total backbreaker. Allowing a powerplay goal immediately after scoring shorthanded is one thing; following that up by falling down in the defensive zone and then the starting goalie letting in his obligatory softy is something else entirely. The sting was lessened when Sean Monahan made it a one-goal game again, but still, that was a lot of damage that had just been done.

The Flyers’ own shorthanded goal only put things further out of reach, but to the Flames’ credit, at least they kept trying. And then they really kept trying, Rasmus Andersson out in what’s becoming a defining empty net role for him. You want to celebrate someone’s first goal, but especially if it’s meaningful, and really only if there’s still something to celebrate – and though the Flyers kept clearing the zone, Monahan made sure the game continued.

David Rittich redeemed his overtime effort against the Stars, Johnny Gaudreau did a Johnny Gaudreau thing, and really, at this point, it isn’t even surprising that they won. It’s just a great feeling.

The good news

Bill Peters’ go-to combination with the goalie pulled in the final minutes of a game is Mark Giordano and Andersson. In his final season in the AHL, Andersson had 39 points in 56 games; those offensive instincts haven’t quite found their way to the NHL yet – except when they have, in the most dramatic of situations. Two of Andersson’s three points so far have come in empty net situations: his first goal and his first point, which were both shots from the point. It’s just absolutely thrilling to watch a team have trust in its young players, and even more thrilling to watch them justify it. Next step: give Andersson powerplay time.

Giordano isn’t too bad, himself. He’s 35 years old and still over a point-per-game as a defenceman, to say nothing of how welcome his return to the lineup was. It’s gonna suck whenever age catches up to him, but it sure doesn’t look like it’ll be anytime soon. And even if it is, the replacements are already loading up.

Monahan is a goal-scoring machine. Matthew Tkachuk continues to establish himself as indispensable. And Gaudreau just keeps ramping himself right up. The Flames’ top three offensive players were all drafted by the team. It’s like with Andersson: it’s great to see a group come together like this, but a little more special when they’re all homegrown players. It also gives you more hope for the ones still on the horizon.

This is a common motif, but: it’s like 2014-15 but with talent. The talent part is very, very important. But so is the level of play in the last two minutes of the game. Together is a great combination.

The bad news

Mike Smith wasn’t solely responsible for that flurry of Flyers goals, but he was responsible for the fourth one against, and it wasn’t even a surprise to see that one go in: he’d just given up a softy against the Predators in his previous start, too. He’d get the benefit of the doubt – particularly for any possible ailments he may or may not have been feeling – if goals like that weren’t so common for him this season.

A stretch of decent games beforehand and the occasional shutout isn’t enough; Rittich has the better numbers overall and the Flames need to stop treating him as a backup. The double standard is frustrating: Smith singlehandedly costs his team points and gets another crack at it; Rittich has two meh games back-to-back and gets relegated to the bench. I really hope Rittich can get the longer leash Smith seems to have.

With four penalties in the third period, it’s like the Flyers were begging the Flames to tie the game. The Flames only decided to do so once it was really tough. Peters kept running with the second unit to start, so I’m going to pick on them specifically: despite its futility against the Flyers and their league-worst penalty kill, the Flames still have the 12th-ranked powerplay in the NHL. Four goals have come from the second unit, 17 fewer than what the top unit has accomplished. Maybe the forward group isn’t as deep as initially though, but the second unit absolutely has to be better than that, no excuses.

Elias Lindholm is one goal away from tying his career high. Still waiting! Unfortunate that as the Flames’ other top forwards all exploded, Lindholm somehow completely failed to pick up a single point.

Numbers of note

61.67% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF on the night, including a 72.73% in the third period. It wasn’t just score effects – they were a 57.69% group in the first, which they closed out with a lead. They had to work for the win though, but it all came together because that’s exactly what this group is capable of.

6 – The number of seasons Monahan has scored 20 goals. Also the number of seasons Monahan’s been in the NHL. Weird. He’s actually, ah, on pace for 51 goals in a full 82-game season? His career high is 31. Sure, his 19.2 shooting percentage could scare you, but he’s a career 15.2% shooter; it’s abnormally high, but not extremely far out of bounds. Also, he’s on pace for 267 shots this season, which completely demolishes any career high he’s ever had. So I don’t want to say he’ll hit 50, but let’s watch out for 40 first. If he shoots his career average this season, he’s on pace for 41 goals, so.

20-19 – Monahan, Tkachuk, and Gaudreau combined for 20 shots. The Flyers had 19 total.

10 – Monahan, Tkachuk, and Gaudreau combined for 10 points, as well. They’re pretty good.

30 – With Giordano’s 30th point of the season (and 31st, and 32nd), the Flames now have five 30+ point scorers. No other team has more than three. Also, another shoutout to Giordano: he’s tied for third in defencemen scoring league-wide, just one point back of the leaders.

4:41 – Alan Quine’s ice time, though he was a part of that offensive cycle that got the scoring started for the Flames. Fact is, Peters rolled with just three lines; Austin Czarnik and Garnet Hathaway got powerplay and penalty kill time, respectively, to bolster their ice time totals some.

7-4 – The Flames are second in the NHL with seven shorthanded goals. Unfortunately, they’re tied for seventh with four given up.

Final thought

The Flames are a top-heavy team entrusting rookies in key situations and they’re getting rewarded for both of those things. The present is brighter than we maybe should have expected. The future is looking pretty bright, too. Everything’s brighter after a win, and there have been 20 of those already this season. It took 40 games to get to 20 wins in 2017-18; this season, 32. They might actually be good.

  • Baalzamon

    The Flames are in danger of running out of time to find out whether Rittich can handle the starter’s job. And they absolutely can’t afford to enter next season without an answer to that question.

    Like you said, the double standard is frustrating. For many, many reasons.

    • Cfan in Van

      I think BSD will get a good run, whether it’s circumstances or Peters’ choice. I definitely agree that he deserves a much longer leash than he’s been getting. Smith is valuable when he’s providing solid goaltending, but there’s way too much favoritism involved.

  • BendingCorners

    They do look good, even when they are bad.
    PP2 should have Jankowski not Neal, Quine not Ryan, and Kylington/Andersson instead of Hanifin. Bennett and Czarnik look okay out there, but not the others.

    • Chucky

      The way it looks the power play approach is one forward in front of the net for tips and screens, one forward in the high danger area to shoot and a defenseman to control and distribute, the forwards on the outside are there to dig the corners, shoot and set up the two other forwards.
      So Bennett to agitate in front of the net, tip and screen,
      Jankowski as the shooter from between the face off dots,
      Anderson to control and distribute because he has good vision and also will shoot,
      The problem is who digs the corners, shoots opportunistically and passes.
      Czarnik is not the guy, not a digger and oddly seems to have buck fever when it comes to scoring.
      We have not seen enough of Quine to know but maybe this is an opportunity for Mangiapane to show some scoring touch. It looks to me like the fifth guy needs to be either Hathaway or Kylington.
      The selections are probably way out there but major surgery is required.

      • Chucky

        That is a legitimate point and maybe Hanifin would be more effective with a better supporting cast. I think the caution is to not throw the baby out with the bathwater, but the question is where should the surgery stop. I think that if your power play does not score it is important to have a defense pair that has some shutdown capability on the next shift. At this point Hamonic – Hanifin is better suited to this role than Kylington – Anderson. It would seem counterproductive to give up Giordano on the first unit to have Hanifin on the second.

  • Flaymin Frank

    Enough already. Declare Diesel as our #1 and get on with it. Smith is a talented guy. But his penchant for letting in soft goals is not the way to make a deep playoff run.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      We saw this type of goaltending in Elliott in the playoffs and it crushed us. I agree we need for Rittich to carry the torch because we can’t have spotty goaltending in the playoffs.

  • Jobu

    Good win. But man… we can’t rely on last second comebacks every other game.

    Once again agree with Ari. Smith needs to take a backseat. My worry is the Flames want to keep Rittich on the pine as much as possible so they don’t have evidence to pay him a starters salary next year.

    • Cfan in Van

      If they gather enough evidence to go with BSD as starter next year, it’s going to be a good deal regardless. Even with a solid season, he doesn’t have the history to command a big number. If that’s the club’s strategy, it’s an absolutely stupid way to go, in contrast to playing him more and being sure about what they have.

      • Jobu

        Its not what they have its more what they wont have next year.

        They wont have Mike Smith starting as he’ll either move on to start somewhere or take a backup role for CHEAP.
        They wont have cap space to afford a goaltender higher than 4 million a year.
        They wont have a shot at another starter because it will be a massive overpay the Flames can’t afford.

        This all points to Rittich taking over next year, IJO.

        The difference between playing him another 35 games vs another 25 would likely be 1 million on his next contract or more. And every penny counts. If we can resign Rittich for Vasilevskiy money… 3.5 for 3 years… this would be great! But no “proven” goalie would ever sign that contract.

        • Cfan in Van

          Fair enough, but Vasilevsky is a horrible comparison to Rittich. When they signed Vaslievsky to his current deal, he had 90 games played in the NHL with an avg. % of .915 over 3 seasons of very consistent performance. The guy was a first round pick, and that commands cash in the early years, even with average performance.
          Rittich has 38 NHL games currently, and maybe he’ll get 30 more? He came from zero pedigree as far as NHL teams are concerned, and he has an avg. of .911 where all his good results came from one season.
          Now the Flames probably know that Rittich is the safest bet, avoiding giving away assets for someone else. But that means that Rittich has more value to the Flames, than most other teams that are looking at the above stats. He’s not going to get Vasilevsky money. I say it would be 2.5 or less.

          • Jobu

            Your missing the point. Jobus not comparing him to vasilevskiy. Vasilevskiys last contract was a MASSIVE underpay. I mean, look at they guy!!

            That contract is far more suited for a Rittich. Look at what Hutton, Darling and Raanta signed for as backups becoming starter. If he knows he’s going to play 50 games his agent will get him that kind of money. No doubt.

          • Cfan in Van

            No, I get your point, but I still think the comparables don’t work out.

            Hutton and Raanta had way more games played before their current contracts (136 and 95). Darling is the closed comparison for games played before payday, with 75 game, but he had an avg of .947 over those three seasons with the Hawks! Rittich isn’t either of those guys.

            Sure he’ll get a raise, but I’d say they go low on years (2), and the Tre deal would bring it in at 2.5 or less. We can agree to disagree though, and pick this up at next summer…

          • Jobu

            And Hutton, Raanta and Darling all got 4+ million (not 3+) . Plus those signings were 1-2 years from Rittich’s. You are right in that he IS younger. And younger guys typically get paid less.

            Jobu hopes your 2.5 mill is accurate! But yes, time will tell.

        • FlamesFanFromMI

          I agree completely, but what if we can’t win these last minute games? The awful goal he let in was just shameful. Imagine losing this game by one goal EVERYONE will lose their mind and call for Smith’s head. What’s more important? This season or next? They already have Neal “issue” that they can’t resolve why create another that can be easily solved? Let’s hope we start the big save Dave for now and when Mike comes back from his injury he is back to last years December January’s Mike Smith. The goals he is letting in are looking similar to Elliot’s goal.

  • WildfireOne

    While the 2nd and 3rd goals were not his fault, a fully healthy Smith would likely not approach the onrushing threat on the 1st goal by simply sitting on the goal line…I hope.
    And let’s not even talk about the 4th goal.

    His 6-game win streak is equally because and despite of Smith.
    This should be Rittich’s net till he falters, and when I say falter, I’m not talking about a 1-0 loss that could easily have been 3 or 4-0 if it weren’t for Rittich’s play.

    • Cfan in Van

      I was freaking out about that first goal. Sure, the D did a poor job by allowing so much space, but BSD would have been ready with the poke, he loves that move. Smith only needed to extend his stick out about a foot to break that up. Unacceptable, and can’t be explained by injury.

  • oilcanboyd

    Two shorties in the dying minutes to tie. How many times has that been done – even in the new NHL where a goalie is pulled with up to 3 minutes to go in a game.

  • MDG1600

    Time for a mid-season report card on Mr. T:

    1) Improving team chemistry by dealing Hamilton and buying out Brouwer = A-.
    2) Finding a legit top line RW to play with Johnny and Mony = A.
    3) Improving the teams overall capabilities in the face-off circle (Ryan & Lindholm) = B.
    4) Finding secondary scoring with Neal, Czarnik & Ryan = C-.
    5) Addressing goaltending concerns = C.
    6) Improved style of play and player utilization with new coach = B+

    All in all I have to say a solid B grade which can easily shift to an A if he can find a solution to secondary scoring and solidify our goaltending before the playoffs start.

    • oilcanboyd

      3) Flames were 20th in the NHL at below 50% last season. Now sitting at 4th with 52.3 SV%. Give them an A+!
      6) Give Peters an A for style of play and player utilization. Making excellent use of our youngsters and prospect development. One hell of an improvement over GG. Effn boring hockey and did not trust rookies…

      • Derzie

        The biggest impact of ALL of the moves is 1) Jettison GG. 2) Hire Peters is proving to be almost as beneficial as move 1. Colour me pleasantly surprised by Peters. I honestly believe that the team would be 10 points better just by letting GG and his coaches go and not replacing them. Peters add another 10 on to that.

  • Jimmyhaggis

    Czarnik is definitely not ready, not sure if he ever will, Ryan, why is Peters playing him so often, he makes 1 good play and 4 lousy plays, I just don’t get it.
    Was James Neil dressed last night, can’t recall seeing him out there….
    Smith still makes me nervous whenever a shot is taken, he looks like gumby, flailing away like hes swatting flies. Come on Bill, give Rittich the reins for awhile. Other than that, exciting hockey, couldn’t say that about the team last year.

  • cjc

    The frequency this team gives up partial and full breakaways is infuriating – I can’t remember which goal, but Jankowski was an immobile pilon on one of those backchecks. That stuff is survivable against a team like Philly, but there is no way in hell they can do that against Tampa Bay or Toronto.

    Also, the powerplay. A decent overall percentage masks the fact that it goes cold at the exact wrong moment. They didn’t need to wait until the last 2 minutes to tie the game because Philly spotted them 4 man advantages in the third and they had zilch to show for it.

    The comebacks are less concerning than 2014-2015 though, simply because the underlyings have been pretty good. As often as they have had to come back, it feels like they should be leading more, earlier in games. That stuff should come out in the wash as long as they can clean up their neutral zone play and stop getting stretched by other teams. Ironically, they are falling victim to stretch passes in the same way they victimized other teams in 14-15. Calgary seems to score a lot of goals of good controlled zone entries and cycles nowadays.

  • freethe flames

    Happy with the win; absolutely. Happy with the process; not so much- too many defensive lapses.

    There is so much to happy with having BP being the coach but some of the decisions leave me questioning his work. How does James Neal pay 18+ minutes? He is by far the least effective forward of the bunch; he can not keep up the NHL and when something happens his reaction time is sloth like. I keep hoping he will snap out of it but it sure seems unlikely; it’s 32 games in he is terrible and there can be no excuses.

  • buts

    Great game to be at as usually I think I’m a curse as most games I go to it’s a loss. Did tv show Smith raise his stick after getting jeered on a dump in save? His body language looked like he was pissed off. I thought his lateral movement looked bad like he couldn’t push off. I watched Neal closely and he’s not hustling, skiing on his skates, not hitting and generally looks like he’s going thru the motions…..-4 says it all. All you Monahan haters can take a jump, yes he is not a pretty skater or physical but man he pulled away from Provarov in OT and some other flyer to set up Jonny as well as showed unreal sniping ability on his 2 goals. The guy is very good. Watching them live is worth the money as they forecheck, score and play very entertaining hockey.

    • Chucky

      But to some he will never be a first line centre because he is not Crosby, McDavid, Travaris or Stamkos and he does not “drive play”.
      He is currently tied for second in goals with the only centre with more is Brayden Point who has one more. So it is possible that he could end up as the centre with the most goals.
      I am old enough to remember a guy who played centre, did not drive play but he scored at a phenomenal rate and showed leadership and nobody said that Phil Esposito was not a first line centre.
      By the way Monahan back checks harder than Phil ever did.

    • Cfan in Van

      Interesting point about Smith raising his arms after that dump-in! They didn’t show his reaction on TV, they’d moved on. I heard the fake-cheer after his dump-in save though, and it made me wince. I feel bad when the crowd gives it to their own team, even if he’s at fault… Reacting like that is a bit much though, be a pro and take it in stride.

    • Tkachuk'sMouthGuard

      I was at the game and noticed it too. It almost felt like a slight ‘F you’ to the fans. Keep in mind i believe that was after the weak one he let in from Weise so its hard to blame the fans for jeering.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    I think it has become clear that our starting lines are not all firing on all cylinders at the start of the games. My concern is that we are a better team when we shorten the bench and mix and match lines.

    We have now won 7 games out of 20 by using this formula but have not won many games with our starting line ups in tact through the end of the third period. This shows that on any given night we can have 3 solid lines; but in the interest of getting our top players out more we are compelled to sit a line.

    I am not sure how sustainable this is. Last night for the first time I realized what our team looks like without Johnny’s elite talent…and is wasn’t great.

    We need better balance while we wait for Backlund and Frolik to come back. I think either Janko or Lindholm should center the 2nd line. I would try to add some skill to the top line RW in either Janko or Mangi if Lindholm is the 2C.
    I am done with babysitting Neal. Despite not getting in a position to get his shot off he handles the puck like a grenade. I am sure Czarnik and Ryan bring value but I am not seeing consistency. We are winning with our top 4 players but we have so much more to offer.

    • freethe flames

      If you move Lindholm the second center who plays RW with the top line? It’s time for Neal to eat popcorn. I would rather watch Quine or Lomberg than Neal at they can skate at the NHL level and will hustle to get back. I doubt there would be any takers for Neal if he was waived based upon his 32 games with the Flames.

      • Jumping Jack Flash

        Personally, I would try Janko or Mangi. Janko can take some facoffs with Monny and just concern himself with getting his shot off and helping the line defensively. Mangi would bring more speed but would not be able to share in any face off duties.

      • Baalzamon

        Well for starters JJF answered your question in his post. Second of all, does it really matter? Better a sub-standard winger in the top six than a sub-standard center. Always.

    • Chucky

      It would seem that Peters is still looking for the combinations that work. Hopefully he can figure out how to stop tinkering by the all-star break but right now we cannot argue with the results.
      I sure prefer this over sticking with the same lines game after game as they lose like last year.

  • Fat Tony

    If the team keeps playing like this then I’m fine with Neal under performing. This is a guy who has been to multiple Stanley cup finals and made an impact. He will bring the intensity needed when we need him most. Goal tending is still my biggest concern.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      I think goaltending has manifested itself into being our biggest concern. BP is making this more of an issue than it needs to be. We have one very capable goal keeper much like a lot of teams…until we don’t.

        • Albertabeef

          Dave faltered last season when the workload got heavy. Do you want to burn him out before the playoffs? If we were a bottom 10 team not looking at playoffs I might agree with you. As long as we look playoff bound we must be smart with these things and plan ahead.

  • SgtRoadBlock

    Just seen this on sportsnet

    Date Pos Player Status : Description
    12/13 RW Michael Frolik DL: Lower Body
    12/13 C Mikael Backlund DL: Undisclosed
    12/13 D Michael Stone DL: Arm

    12/13 D Juuso Valimaki DL: Lower Body
    12/13 G Mike Smith DAY-TO-DAY: Undisclosed <———–

    so a Goaltender call up later today…

    Sidenote: if we like to see what Austin Czarnik can do place him with Matty , Janko, Czarnik on the 2nd line since we got a lot on the IR… he a know shooter so test him… playing with Neal seems to hold people back cause of his speed.

    GFG

  • The Beej

    Think Rittich will be getting more starts after this one.

    To be fair to Smith he had a few games where he seemed to be coming around so I can understand why he has beengetting the opportunity to play through things.

    That said he came crashing right down again so I think it must be obvious to the Flames. Either he has hit a brick wall with his play, or he has been injured this whole time and is only owning up to it now.

    Whatever the case I would think Rittich gets at least 55 or 60 percent from here on out. He hasnt played a ton yet this season so he should be able t o take on a large increase.

  • Jourflamesfan

    I still cannot see this team as a real contender until they can solidify a #1 goalie.
    It will come down to steady goaltending to have success in the playoffs.

  • Off the wall

    Every Christmas my wife has 3 gift traditions.
    1. We buy each other socks and pjs – boring
    2. We buy each other something to hang on the tree – (why, I don’t know, our tree is going to fall through the floor if any more stuff gets hung on it)
    3. We buy each other underwear
    Only thing I enjoy, though I always feel like a perv looking at the ladies undergarments. I do get the odd grin, which makes me believe I’m still a hottie. But probably not.

    #3 in the hardest. I want my wife to wear sexy garments, she loves comfort.

    This year I bought her those bamboo undies. Then I took a pair of scissors and snowflaked them. She gets comfort, I get the sexy. I’ll just tell her it’s a NEW fad, and see if she notices the hack marks I’ve made.

    What? Don’t judge me. I have Christmas wishes too!

    I have no idea why I shared this, other than feeling like it was a Christmas miracle I witnessed last night. 7 seconds and we tie it up! Gawd I love our team. Then we score the OT winner on the first shift 3 on 3. I screamed so loud, Johnny Sockey lept off my lap and went into the bedroom. He had enough.

    Johnny Gaudreau cracks me up. He’s sharing his love with the boys.
    I hope he gives Rittich a shot of purple Gatorade before each game. Johnny can just tell him it’s purple coke, you know a NEW fad… much like my cutting of perfectly good underwear?

    I think this is going to be a great Christmas…