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Flames 2, Wild 1 post-game embers: Still winning

Winning is never boring, but games against the Wild always seem to have dull moments, don’t they?

Feel of the game

Drama begets drama, and that was the theme of the first period, right from 40 seconds into the game onwards. Mikael Backlund has been Matthew Tkachuk’s centre for pretty much his entire NHL career, so he certainly didn’t appreciate losing him to pointless shenanigans from an earlier game, and got his vengeance – something that ended up really paying off for the Flames, as the fight knocked Matt Dumba, who averages the second most ice time for the Wild, out of the game. In between further bouts of fisticuffs that ultimately had no effect on the score, Mark Giordano got his second shorthanded goal in as many games, and it felt like that might have been enough.

It wasn’t. After the Flames spectacularly blew a couple of powerplay opportunities – including a 26-second five-on-three – the Wild tied the game on a shot David Rittich, who had been outstanding up until that point, should have had. And then a whole lot of nothing happened, aside from maybe James Neal hitting a post and Elias Lindholm firing way high.

At least until about halfway through the third, when Neal got the chance to redeem himself after the Flames had carried the puck the length of the ice, a deft sliding of it to Tkachuk giving them the lead once again. That seemed to give the Flames a bit of life, at least until the Wild kicked it into a much higher gear, time running out for them to tie the game and the zone presence that often accompanies desperation settling in (in part thanks to an ill-timed and bizarre penalty). But thanks to Rittich, they couldn’t find the equalizer, and the Flames got a sleepy matinee win in the books.

The good news

Giordano is absolutely feeling it right now, so all the praise should go in his direction. He’s returned from suspension by scoring a couple of shorties and continuing a point streak, which is now up to four games. He is, and remains, absolutely phenomenal to watch.

I don’t really know what else you can say about Neal – his shooting percentage is comically low and just absolutely nothing will go in for him, even though he’s sixth on the Flames in shots taken. The thing with shooting percentage is it hints it might not be Neal’s fault his points totals are so low, and he’s just a victim of a truly unprecedented, for him, cold streak. There’s no guarantee it turns around, but he’s overall been a pretty alright player this season. And that was a pretty nifty assist he had. The talent is still there, it’s just taking a while to properly show itself, assuming it ever does so in a quantifiable manner – for which there’s certainly still a lot of justified hope.

Tkachuk is amazing at every facet of the game, but we already knew that.

Rittich gave up one bad goal, but otherwise, he really shut down a pressing Wild team. He continues to deserve a higher share of the workload. Maybe not Sunday – playing a goalie in both games of a back-to-back tends to not always be the greatest idea – but definitely a higher share. Most nights, he gives the Flames a chance to win, and even just steady goaltending is probably going to take this team far. Rittich should have every opportunity to provide them that, because he just keeps turning in great performances.

The bad news

The powerplay wasn’t great once again, but this time, it had the added embarrassment of the Flames mostly passing around the perimeter while on a five-on-three. The Flames seemed to be better at five-on-five than they were at five-on-four, and better at five-on-four than five-on-three? (Yet they seem to be pretty good at six-on-five?) They still have a decent powerplay percentage, but giving up a goal right after such a poor two-man advantage could have been a backbreaker. (Also, with Giordano unavailable, what’s it going to take to get Rasmus Andersson some powerplay time? He’s proven he can do a great job in empty net situations; why not this?)

A lot of players didn’t have their best games – playing against the Wild in a matinee will do that – but the sheen is starting to wear off of Andrew Mangiapane. He still looks better than he did during his first recall a year ago, but he’s definitely had better games. It took Andersson a while to get his first NHL goal, so that part of Mangiapane’s game isn’t dire – he’s definitely gotten chances – but considering how the Flames should still have a third line spot open, it’d be nice to see him pick back up to his earlier performances.

Between slashing Gaudreau endlessly, concussing Backlund for no reason, and stunts like Luke Kunin running Rittich in his crease, the Wild sure do seem like a team of jerks. They’d be really easy to hate if they weren’t so bland and forgettable, a brand they’ve consistently carried for the entire decade, and probably longer than that.

Numbers of note

48.1% – The Flames’ 5v5 corsi. A poor first period sunk them; they were above 50% in the second and third frames.

3:48 – Dalton Prout’s ice time. So it’s Anthony Peluso all over again, defenceman version, only without a goal called off due to goalie interference. And without a fight – Prout didn’t have much to do in that department after three other Flames went for it. So it again prompts the question: what was the point? Surely Austin Czarnik’s more valuable than this.

5:23 – Giordano’s shorthanded ice time, during which he also scored a goal. He led the Flames on the kill by a solid 55 seconds. He’s still got it, and it’s maybe worth wondering if he’s ever going to lose it.

38 – Tkachuk has tied Sean Monahan for second on the team in points. Tangentially: the Flames are still the only team with five 30+ point scorers. No other team has more than four.

0.971% – Rittich’s save percentage in the game, holding off 34 of 35 shots. He’s up to 0.925% on the season, which has him sixth in the NHL among goalies with at least 800 minutes played. It looks like he’s bounced back nicely from those couple of underwhelming outings he had earlier that saw him ride the pine for a bit.

Final thought

Though a lot of players weren’t firing on full cylinders, they dug down and found a way to win. This looks like a team that can win convincingly in both run-and-gun and tight one-goal games. Even if they aren’t for real, contender-wise, they’re certainly trending in that direction – so if they aren’t, maybe they will be soon.



    • cberg

      I love the way Rittich is shouting out instructions to his D when the play is in the corner. Communication is helping them out and it was fun to see that in action this game…..

  • Skylardog

    Rittich!

    All starters have off nights, and his off nights are better than most goalies on a good night.
    All starters give up a bad goal here and there. His have been few and far between.
    And he just looks solid at every moment during the game doesn’t he? His positioning is top notch, as are his stats.

    By the way, cause I just can’t help myself, the top line is now scoreless in 3 straight games at 5v5. Consistency is their issue, 5v5.

    Sure like Lindholm with Tkachuk… and Neal.

    • Tease the Dog

      Hey you’re not falling for that trick are you? BP is just like Dad with the cat treats. He’s pretending to offer you Lindholm as a centre, but then he’s gonna but him back with those other two guys. That damn cat gets all the good stuff and he just laughs at us for having hope.

    • Burnward

      And I’m loving Sammy more and more with each scrap. He’s a good fit there and guys now know that “THE BADGER” will eat your face in a second.

      Would like them to explore that more and you can always move Lindy back for PP and if things aren’t working.

    • cberg

      Lindholm with Tkachuk and Neal looked OK, the problem being that Lindholm is much faster than the other two and so he has no-one to pass to when he leads the rush. Same problem years past with Gaudreau, until they got Lindholm at 1RW. It is certainly a temporary fix, with injuries and the game situation. What it really shows is the flexibility of the team and the skill of the coaches in changing the line-up around to meet a specific situation, like…. needing a goal.

  • cberg

    I thought the Wild goal was more of a quick, great shot rather than a Rittich miss, but to each their own. Rittich is playing very well, as are the Flames around the crease, clearing things out quickly.

    Its ironic Dumba missed most of the game, but truly fitting. He deserves it. Tkachuk gets a lot of credit for going after him right away, as does Bennett, later, against Suter. Those two add a lot of functional toughness the Flames need every night but especially come playoffs.

    On another note, it is crazy the way the Pacific Division has been tearing up the league the past couple of weeks. The Flames are on a tear, but so are Anaheim, the Oilers and San Jose. It’ll be very interesting to see who can keep it up the longest, especially with Christmas, then the January doldrums coming up. With the intensity of internal competition on the Flames, I’m liking their chances.

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      The shot went off Hamonic’s skate and changed direction by about half a foot. Rittich talked with Hamonic about it after the goal, since he knew it wasn’t a clean shot. Probably said something like, “Hey, I’m not Smitty. No need to get in the way of those. I’ve got this”.

      Agree with Ari on the woeful 5on3 PP. Brodie is a puck mover, not a PP specialist. Ras should have taken that spot, becuase he can at least get a shot on net. Ras’ puck moving ability is underrated as well. He can skate the puck in without anyone stopping him. He does need to shoot more and stop passing to his partner.

    • Derzie

      To separate the hot streaks from the legit teams, look at the goal differential. It seems to be a very good indicator for who the good teams are. A few team near the top with dismal goal differential. Expect the majority to slip back, but there are always exceptions. For the Flames, it’s the best goal differential I’ve seen since i started watching the stat. Solid, solid teamwork.

  • TKO

    This write up feels quite negative… is it just me? Rittich had what , a .975 last night?
    On another note, We have five 20+ pt guys, and Prout, a 3 min per night tough guy, but it’s the top scorers fighting? Ya, I like the passion and toughness but I would have rather seen Prout deal with Dumba…

  • Eggs Bennett

    It sure seems like whatever team that Boudreau coaches turn out to be big A-holes. The Gaudreau injury happened in Boudreau’s first season with MIN, and let’s not forget the stupid stuff that happened with Kessler and Perry in the 2014-15 playoffs. The consolation is that the Flames are beating the Wild regularly.

      • KootenayFlamesFan

        I agree we haven’t seen a lot from Prout but he did have a couple shots, and I remember the end of one shift where it looked like Minny was going to start something and then the guy looked around, saw Prout, and just skated away. I have a feeling that a lot of the time seeing nothing is actually Prout doing his job.

        Not saying he belongs on the roster, just something I noticed.

  • Grayone

    Well said throughout Ari … Rittich proving to be very, very dependable … sadly I agree with your mention of Mangi … I was downcast when I came to the same conclusion. I really wanted AM to shine this year having been given this chance. On the contrary I have been very pleased with what we have seen from Quine (spelling?). Has he had a noticeably weak shift since his call-up? Good luck today Flames, I suspect we will need it. Tough back to back.

  • Eggs Bennett

    Gio is a beast!! What hustle on that second goal. Guy is all heart and soul and the best d-man in the NHL right now. Always makes smart defensive plays and poke checks. #giofornorris

    • Derzie

      He’s the textbook definition of the award. Not a forward playing D, not a stay at home guy, but a balance of all of the great qualities of defense. And he’s a model captain and a community pillar. The very best.

  • Rusty Shackleford

    Czarnik needs to get an extended look. Routinely getting scratched for non-NHLers like Prout, Peluso and Lomburg? Come on BP give the guy a chance!

  • Flaming Duck

    I was curious as to how Rittich would play with Smith “injured”. Last year he needed the safety blanket of Smith around. If the Wild game is any indication, wow he has really improved his mental toughness and confidence to play in this league.

  • Day1-Cfan

    I am liking what I have been seeing from this team since the Pit game.
    Have to agree about Mangi, it seems like he just does not have the size to play with the big team. Quine I have really liked from his limited showing here so far. Would like to see what Rychel(spelling ?) can do with a call up.
    BSD is proving he has the goods to be our #1, the coaching staff needs to let him run with it!
    Also the power play needs to get shots on the net and let the muckers out front jam in those rebounds.
    There is way to much passing going on with out any shots.
    Good luck against the Blues today in another matinee! Let’s give em something to be BLUE about. GFG!

  • The Beej

    @Ari

    You missed on a couple of your points.

    1. Rittich was screened on that goal. Not so sure “he should have had that one”. Nothing factual in your take on that. The numbers say he had a great game. You are picking knits here and not even correctly.

    2. Prout was dressed as insurance. Our defence core has injuries right now and it looked like someone may be pulled out of the game. Going down to 5 D was too big of a risk for Peters to take. Peters even said this pre game. You cover the Flames. How did you miss this?

  • Jimmyhaggis

    What do expect for a morning game, Rittich has sure improved since last year, keep in playing, he’s young and hey, during the playoffs one goalie runs with it until he blows up, this would be a good test.

  • Stockton's Finest

    Based in his time in Stockton, I would not doubt Rittich would start again today. Plus, with Rychel as a scratch from the Heat last night (man we cod have used him), I wonder if he was on a plane to St. Louis to meet the team there.

  • deantheraven

    Firstly, this was a treat for us. We’re in Germany. I usually have to watch most games waay after you folks in North America. After the highlights, summaries comments. Often the biggest challenge is watching the game without seeing any of the above. So I have a subscription to nhldotcom.
    I watched this one live, and had the opportunity to pause, rewind and re-watch any moment (sometimes I show my 10-year old boy some little things that players do to make or break a play). I have some points to contend with Ari today.
    One, Rittich was unbeatable. The one that got by changed directions after going off Kyllinton’s pants.
    Two, Neal’s assist was a shot/pass going to the slot when a defender’s skate caused the deflection to Tkachuk. Finally he got some luck. If you watch him on the bench after the play, he looks to be saying something like “how I get a effing point”.
    And about Mangiapane. To misquote a soon-to-be-former president, “Send him down”.
    He’s got support here on FN, far more than Hathaway has or will ever get, based on what?
    His almost points? His almost grit?
    There was some good action in this game. The Flames gave up a few VH scoring chances. Rittich made some 10-bell saves. Ditto Dubnyk.
    The third period of your boring game featured some outstanding work by Hath and Benny, being absolute dogs on the puck. Mangi wasn’t there because he has never show Peters any reason to put him on the ice when the game is on the line.
    Dalton Prout was there, according to Peters, because some guys were “dinged up” and he didn’t want to risk being down to 5 defenders in a tight game (like the Wild had to deal with when Dumba left in the first).
    You could argue that because Tkachuk. Gio and Benny all ‘answered the bell’ that there was no need for Prout and his paltry ice time, and fair enough. However, for all your dreams of the Evolution of Hockey leading us to a game where fighting is no longer a part of it, it can also be argued that evolution is process that takes generation after generation after generation to become visible. And this game ain’t there yet.
    Also, Prout got a beauty of a slapper away that gave us a scoring chance. Last game Czarnik played, he did naught.
    Point being, if you’re going to dress an AHL’er and give him limited minutes, an extra D man who can hit, shoot and fight (if necessary) has equal value to a guy with less size and the same amount of SOG’s. The Flames won a grinding, low scoring game against a team that has a history of taking liberties. If they can limit the amount of shenanigans the opposition tries with an ‘extra’ player and still win, why not?
    You’re much more likely to see this kind of a line up come April.

    • Derzie

      Excellent analysis. Thanks for this. Drew my attention to some of the hard work going on in this team. When a team is playing hard for each other, the results speak for themselves. Purple Gatorade, Peters, Carolina additions, hardworking callups, playing players to their strengths. Such a great feeling as a fan to see this play out. So, so surprised and so glad to be.