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.
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.