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Flames 7, Blues 2 post-game embers: Unstoppable?

Sometimes, there are games in which one team is simply better than the other, and there isn’t much to be done about that. It seemed like the Flames were always the worse team. Now, more often than not, they’re the superior one, forcing other teams to admit defeat. What a difference.

Feel of the game

You’d have forgiven the Flames for coming out to a poor start – back-to-back matinees are definitely not particularly common – but instead the Flames completely dominated the first, and it won them the game. Three quick special teams goals, all about five or six minutes apart, were the result of consistently strong, relentless play; Alan Quine’s goal to make it 4-0 at the end of the first was pretty much a dagger, and the Blues didn’t have much hope for recovery after that.

Not to say they didn’t try, getting off to strong starts in both the second and third periods. David Rittich made some big saves for the Flames when he had to, and it cooled off the Blues. They did score twice, largely due to sloppiness from the Flames due to their being up four goals, but it never really gave the Blues any sustainable momentum, and eventually, the game just played out: a safe win that saw the Flames net a couple more for good measure.

The Flames came ready to play. The Blues did not. And that was pretty much the game.

The good news

Seriously, gutsy effort for a weird schedule start. Don’t forget it very easily could have been 5-0 after the first period – this roster does have a history of scoring five goals in one period – but for Jake Allen’s stop on Matthew Tkachuk early on. Their start won them the game.

You gotta love the special teams in this one. The powerplay isn’t going to score every game, no matter how good it looks; two quick goals resulting from Mark Giordano blasts early in the man advantage and another Quine goal for good measure had them go three-for-four, though. The penalty kill was perfect, as well – and it was probably absolutely devastating for the Blues to see an opportunity for them to tie the game immediately go the other way and double the Flames’ lead with Elias Lindholm’s shorthanded goal. Their special teams were a clinic, and really highlighted just how important Giordano is for the powerplay.

In addition to Giordano’s typical amazingness, the rest of the Flames’ big five – all of their 35+ point getters – were on throughout the afternoon. The top line exhibited its typical chemistry, even though the only even strength goal they scored was an empty netter; they exhausted the Blues with some of their offensive zone time. And Tkachuk was feeling it in his hometown with six shots, leading the team.

Quine is becoming quite the story in his own right, not getting big minutes but not looking out of place, either – and that goes for all five games he’s played for the Flames. Obviously he’s not going to be a point-per-game player, but his performance would be considered pretty solid even if he hadn’t been scoring. A counterpoint to that: Dillon Dube and Andrew Mangiapane looked pretty good in their first few games, as well, but eventually teetered off; a counterpoint to that, though, is that Quine has actually been getting tangible numbers on the board where those two couldn’t. It’s gonna be interesting to see who stays when Michael Frolik is healthy, but Quine’s making his case.

Starting the same goalie twice in two days can be a risky move, but it paid off for the Flames with Rittich. The Blues had a lot of life to start the second and third periods, and that’s when Rittich made some of his best saves of the game. If he hadn’t made those, this one could have ended up a lot closer.

The bad news

The Flames did rest on their laurels after taking a 4-0 lead to the locker room. The first period was their only really great period – but then again, it’s a long season and that’s a pretty substantial lead, so it’s understandable. And it’s probably actually good news that Bill Peters likely wasn’t happy with that. I’d bet it’s a lot easier to accept your coach telling you not to be complacent when you’re seeing success every day; you’re probably a lot more motivated to keep it going.

As good as the powerplay was, that’s two games in a row the Flames gave up a goal almost immediately after having their man advantage killed off.

Numbers of note

47.5% – The Flames’ 5v5 corsi. They had a 75% in the first period, and a 16.67% in the third. That’s what happens when you have such a massive lead and the other team isn’t talented enough to come back from it.

17 – Lindholm has tied his career high in goals during a season. It took him all of 34 games. His career high in points is 45 in 72 games (prorates to 51 in an 82-game season). He sure looks like a 50-point player this year.

9 – The number of shorthanded goals the Flames have this season, second in the league. Marks Giordano and Jankowski each have two; Backlund, Frolik, Lindholm, TJ Brodie, and Noah Hanifin each have one. Derek Ryan and Travis Hamonic both have shorthanded points, but no goals. Garnet Hathaway is the only regular penalty killer missing from this list, though certainly not for lack of trying.

9, 16 – The Flames’ league rankings in both the powerplay and penalty kill, respectively. Good special teams help teams win, as was particularly shown Sunday. The Flames have turned their powerplay around from last season, and their penalty kill has improved as this season has gone on. They’re a good team, and they’re winning.

0.925% – Rittich is sixth in the NHL in save percentage when it comes to goalies with at least 900 minutes played. The Lightning are one of the few teams above the Flames in the standings and they play each other Thursday; you’ve gotta think it’ll be Rittich starting that one. He’s earned a true test, and the Flames need to see how he handles an opponent of that caliber – to say nothing of how he probably gives them the best chance to win.

4 – It’s the fourth time this season the Flames have scored seven or more goals in a game, and the 11th time they’ve scored five or more goals in a game. With 122 goals, they’re tied for second in the NHL in terms of goals scored. With 3.59 goals per game, they’re fifth in the NHL. Colorado has its two 50-point players, but the Flames now have two 40-point players and five 35-point guys. The big five are absolutely crushing it. And no other team has a big five.

1 – With 35 points in 32 games, Giordano is finally tied for first in defencemen scoring. If this keeps up: Norris. Norris Norris Norris Norris Norris. He’s doing absolutely everything for one of the best teams in the NHL. Norris.

Final thought

Scoreboard watching is fun when the team is winning. I’ve gone from Pacific Division scoreboard watching to Western Conference scoreboard watching to entire NHL standings scoreboard watching. They can’t actually be this good, can they? The Blues certainly aren’t a top level test this year. It definitely feels like something is going to fall off at some point, but we’re approaching the halfway mark of the season, and there aren’t really any major red flags. It’s absolutely wild to think about.

  • freethe flames

    I have not seen the last 2 games as I was working; I’m looking forward to seeing the game against Dallas. Quine seems to fitting in; he’s 25 and has played over 80 NHL game sin his career; it is not uncommon for many guys to take this long before they make it into the NHL. That is why I am not worried about Mangiapane; he is 22 and finding his way. Let’s be patient folks; do we remember Paul Byron how long did it take him to become a solid NHLer? Go and compare his development curve to Mangiapane’s; very similar. I bet most of us would be very happy if Mangiapane turned out as good a Byron.(I’m not saying he will or won’t but I’m prepared to be patient and see).

  • Sticktap

    It is Wild, indeed. As has been said many times here, with just a notch above average goaltending and continued improvement in overall play, they could really be going somewhere we haven’t been in a long, long time. GFG

  • stuhfan

    Truly mind-boggling how the Blues have gone from dominant to doormat so quickly. For the last few years it has always seemed like a road game in St. Louis is a guaranteed L, so it was great to see the boys light it up and beat a team that they absolutely should have. Blues pushed back in the last two periods but I was totally fine with the Flames hanging on and nursing a multi-goal lead on a back to back matinee road game.

    J Bo is still his comically average self (I laughed when he had a brief rush and lobbed the softest cookie into Dave’s chest – peak Bouwmeester).

    This team performance can’t be pinned on one guy, but it has to be beyond coincidence that ROR is always on losing teams. There was lots of chatter last summer about him coming to Calgary; how glad are we those rumors didn’t pan out.

    • cberg

      The one thing I will say about ROR is he seems to have a “me-first” attitude which can be clearly seen in his multiple contract and team squabbles. That attitude is the opposite of team-first play so it’s easy to believe the ROR-losing team analogy.

  • Orrwasbest

    Rittich is playing great in net but he gave the puck away 3 very noticeable times to the Blues when handling the puck, anyway something for him to work on. Overall though it looks more and more like we have a #1 Goalie on our hands. Keep playing him as he wins and improves every time out. Will be a great test if he plays against TB.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      Yes, he had some really juicy giveaways which he will need to clean up. But when the Flames limit HDS chances he can look unbeatable. We need him to make the saves that he should and some that he shouldn’t. Right now, his big saves are rallying the troops. With a young D core he provides the necessary calmness. Personally, I would have ridden him more early in the season when he was hot but for the most part it is hard to argue with how BP manages his players. The funny thing is that he is among the league leaders with no indications that it is not sustainable.

  • His Dudeness

    We play the Lighting and Jets in our next 4 games. If we can win 3/4 of these games then we are without a doubt an elite team. Rittich needs to start both games against the 2 best teams in the league and preferablely 3/4 games. Give Smith Dallas I guess.

    • Alberta Ice

      That Jets vs Lightning game last night was absolutely beastly. Both teams skated fast, passed crisply, shot often, and went full out. The goal tenders stood on their heads. Yep, this will be a real test run for the Flames. If they play like these two teams did last night and get some wins against them, they will belong with the elite for sure.

    • Looooooob

      I was so impressed with how Rittich played in a back-to-back weekend matinee. He was poised, sharp, and covered up rebounds. Even vet goalies have a hard time with playing back-to-back road games. Really starting to think this guys a keeper!!

  • His Dudeness

    Our schedule through the end of January has lots of very winnable games. We need to continue playing great and build up a sizeable lead in the Pacifc. Then we can start tinkering with a more balanced lineup.

    Would really love to see Lindholm as 2C with MT for a stretch of games. Backlund back with Frolik and leave JG and Monny together. See if Bennett or Neal or maybe Janko can find some chemistry on the wing of one of those top lines. As has been pointed out when the playoffs roll around teams like Anaheim and SJ can shutdown our top line. If we can balance things out you will have to choose if you want to focus Monny/JG or MT/Lindholm.

      • His Dudeness

        I didn’t say change it now. I said build up a sizeable lead in the Pacific then tinker with the lineup over a stretch of games to see if different players can build chemistry together. You clearly suck at reading comprehension…

        • Avalain

          Last year I’d have agreed with you. This year, however, it’s really hard to say that different players aren’t getting a chance to play together. Peters will move players around all the time. That being said, why change it if it isn’t broken?

  • cjc

    Tampa Bay will be the mother of all measuring sticks for this team. Unlike Nashville, they aren’t missing a top D and half of their top 6. I Want To Believe, but I feel like Calgary has been drubbing the league’s weaker teams this year and maybe their schedule hasn’t been too challenging. Still, good teams win the games they should win, everything is pointing in the right direction and it has been a long time since we could say that about our team.

    • cberg

      Although I don’t disagree, beating Tampa, like we did in Tampa last year, is still only 1 game. I’m more concerned about continued strong efforts and building consistency game after game. So far its looking good but there is still a long season ahead. The Pacific Division has been playing lights out the past 2 weeks so consistency, boring consistency is what we need. Just crush ’em.

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      The Flames biggest challenge has been making the choice for the starter in a game. Philly was a mistake after the way Rittich played in EDM. He was not godd, regardless of when he decided something wasn’t right. Overall, the team hasn’t had many letdowns in the last month. The EDM was probably one of the few, along with VGK.

      Tampa is just another team that’s beat up on the East this season. 19-2-0 against the East. Definitely a high-scoring team with depth, but they have less players with more than 30 points. They do have more in the 20-30 range than CGY.

      I’m more concerned about the games in the West. Dallas, for their dirty plays that go uncalled. WPG for their big hitters. Anaheim for being insulated from bad penalty calls. How BP picks the starter is most important. Do not shove Mike Smith down our throats. If he plays good, plan the next start on who you think can win the game. WPG = Rittich. TBL = Rittich.

    • Sol Goode

      Go look at the wins we have this year, we have beat Nashville twice,Colorado twice, Minnesota twice, the Jets and Leads once so far. We have beat most of the best teams in the league, we can hang with the big boys.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      I watched a chunk of the Jets v Bolts game and it was good hockey. There were times when the bolts absolutely pinned the Jets for extended periods but the Jets were ableto stay close. Both teams had timely goal tending but some porous defending…not unlike the Flames. The Jets are who we think they are but they are winning a lot of games after 60 mins of regulation which does not transpose to playoff hockey.

  • Alberta Ice

    Pure joy watching Johnny handling the puck. And so glad Gio and TJ are having such a good tandem time together again and are getting rewarded for their excellent play. And, again, I want to thank the Blue Jackets, Oilers, and Canuck Organizations for passing by on Matthew Tkachuk in the 2016 draft. Still can’t believe we got him. (I have nightmares over thinking if the Oilers had drafted him ahead of us considering that the lottery balls had fallen for McDavid the year before. Can’t imagine Chucky Cheese playing on a line with Big Mac D. A worst nightmare it would have been indeed and a horrible sandwich combo for Flames fans to eat. So thanks again to the Oilers org for keeping that gutsy thought in the realm of sci fi.)

  • Off the wall

    Remember when we all believed that the Central Division was going to have the final two Wildcard spots? I sure thought so.

    Don’t look now, but the Pacific has them locked up for the time being.

    We have a 5 point lead in the Pacific. +29 goal differential, 2nd best in the NHL! Wow.

    This team makes me happy and grateful to watch them each game.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      It is kind of scary how we have been playing dominating hockey and yet we only have a 5 pt lead. I thought Anaheim would have dropped but having the best goalie in the league has saved them. The good news is there new cast like Sprong and Aberg are pretty soft so I am not sure what they bring in the playoffs.

    • Baalzamon

      Remember when we all believed that the Central Division was going to have the final two Wildcard spots?

      I was not among them. I certainly didn’t predict what’s going on right now, but I told all of you that there was no way the Central was getting both wildcards this year. They didn’t last year, and those teams only got worse while almost every team in the Pacific got better.

    • Cfan in Van

      And I think Quine will be around for a bit… Now that will be some depth. We just need Neal to wake up in the second half and we’re motoring. Maybe he’ll be able to whittle himself a stick that suits him by then.

  • Brian McGrattan's Salute

    What has been really nice to see is how much the top line has been committing to defense and back checking these days. It’s night and day to me. They’re still not the best in our zone, but they can hold their own. Back checking has been way better, and consistently, in the last few games. Lindholm has always been good, but Monahan has really stepped it up. Very welcomed change.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      I would love to see a medical study done on mood and productivity as it correlates to the success of the local sports team. I am pumped about this team.

  • Flamesfansince04

    Unstoppable… Possibly. Let’s try to beat lightning, jets, preds, leafs, bruins (in that order) and see what we can get ?. My guess is a 3-1-1 out of that bunch.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    As BP continues to tinker with the line ups, I am wondering if there has been any consideration to move Janko to the second line as a RW in an effort to creat a true shutdown line. This would provide a second line that could score.

    Tkachuk would be the driver of this line but both he and Backlund could utilize Janko’s shot. Perhaps Quine could offer more scoring than Ryan as a 3C but I am not sure what his face off winning potential. I can’t help but think the goals he has scored have been goal-scorers goals something I don’t see a lot from Bennett, Ryan, and Czarnik.

  • oilcanboyd

    The Flames Fantastic Five: 11 points against St Louis.

    The more I see Lindholm the more impressed I am. And Gio is having a fantastic season. Too bad Eastern types don’t watch many Pac Division games.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    Gio winning the Norris. Get real! Gordie Stellick and Bob McCown have already sent in their Morgan Rielly ballots. Ron Maclean’s visit with Morgan’s ma and pa and reminisces about their boy’s humble beginnings in hockey to the first of what will no doubt be many Norris wins has already been filmed and edited and is ready to go during the award ceremony in June. Heck, a few weeks back one of Friedman’s 31 thoughts was that the guy who engraves the names on the trophies had already been in touch with Rieliy to confirm if his last name was spelled “I before e.”

    Gio has no profile east of Strathmore and even that claim might be boastful as Jim, an employee at the Fanattic at North Hill Mall told me for every customized Gio jersey he sells, he sells three Morgan Rielly jerseys.

    Gio just getting named one of the three finalists for the Norris is the biggest Norris dream Gio can dream.