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.
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.