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Lightning 5, Flames 4 (SO) post-game embers: Exactly what we were promised

Two of the top teams in the NHL going toe to toe for 65 minutes. Yeah. That game was phenomenal.

Feel of the game

Initially, it seemed as though both teams were getting a feel for one another to start, as though they were conscious of what a big matchup it was and needed time to observe their opponent before really getting going. And then, the Flames just took over. Sure, they got scored on first, but quickly potted three goals over the span of about eight minutes to take what was looking like a commanding 3-1 lead after one. The Flames weren’t just hanging in there with the Lightning: they were dominating them.

That ended in the second period, during which it almost seemed as though the Flames started to coast. They quickly saw their lead evaporate, and taking multiple penalties could have given the Lightning the ultimate edge, were it not for the Flames’ penalty kill fighting them every step of the way.

That set the stage for pretty much the perfect period of hockey in the third. Both teams got great chances; both goalies made amazing stops. It was a back-and-forth of the highest level, and it was pretty much non-stop exciting – particularly in the final five minutes. Sure, there was disappointment when Dan Girardi scored to give the Lightning a 4-3 lead, but at least it had been a hard fought game. But then Johnny Gaudreau – who had been buzzing throughout the night – got a partial breakaway and, with even more determination than he’d shown before (and he’d shown a lot), tied the game and sent the Saddledome into what sure looked like a frenzy.

Overtime was even more exciting. The Lightning hit posts or shot wide; the Flames had extended chances and Louis Domingue had every one of them. The Flames had every opportunity to end the game but just couldn’t beat a goalie who had also risen to the stage the contest had set.

Which left a seven-round shootout: about as coin flippy as a game could possibly get. Both teams deserved the win. Both teams put on a hell of a show. And even though the Flames only picked up one point – and even though they had so many chances to take two – that was one of the best games we’ve gotten to see them play. It lived up to the hype.

The good news

The standings show the Lightning as the absolute class of the league. The Flames are grouped in the tier just below them. They went toe-to-toe with them the entire game, and absolutely no point were they out of it. You can add all the asterisks you want for the Flames’ performance so far this season – weaker opponents, injured opponents, whatever – but you can’t really come up with any excuses on this one. Halfway through the season, and the Flames are legit.

Welcome back, Mikael Backlund. Welcome back, Sam Bennett. Both players had a hell of a night, particularly in the first period, when they were creating scoring chance after scoring chance after scoring chance, and capitalized on two of them. All while having to face off against the Lightning’s best – Backlund, in particular – and doing a great job containing them. This is pretty par for the course for Backlund, but it’s especially nice to see Bennett have a game like this: he wasn’t flashy like in his four-goal game, but he was solid and things paid off for him.

It’s easy to forget, since Johnny Gaudreau is just the default Flames leading scorer, and has been for almost his entire career. But every now and then he’ll have a game that just makes you sit back and admire him. This was one of those games for Gaudreau, and he kept ramping it up as the game went on and urgency increased. He’s so captivating – and then he turns it up another notch and his team gets something out of his singlehanded effort. He’s a top offensive talent and we’re so lucky we get to watch him game in, game out.

The penalty kill kept the Flames in it, big time, barely giving the Lightning a chance to do much of anything on four powerplays. Elias Lindholm has turned out to be such a miraculous get: he’s kind of like Backlund but with a far more lethal shot. What a gutsy effort from the group, especially considering the back-to-back kills they had to make right when the Lightning had picked up major momentum with two goals.

David Rittich gave up four goals, but two were deflections off of his own teammates. This was one of those games were the 0.889 save percentage isn’t a good reflection on how well he played: he got out-duelled by his counterpart, yes, but facing a top team with so many offensive weapons and giving his own team a chance to hang with them was a real measuring stick for a relatively green goalie. I don’t know what else he could do to cement himself as the Flames’ starter – but that he got to start this game to begin with is probably a good sign.

The bad news

Credit to the Lightning, because they’re a good team, but the Flames are a good team, too, and should have been better than to let the Lightning walk all over them in the second period. The Flames should know more than most that a two-goal lead is extremely surmountable; their start to the middle frame didn’t reflect that.

The penalty kill was great, but it shouldn’t have had to have been: the Flames took way too many penalties, the too many men one in the third period being particularly silly. Their penalties have gone up as of late, and it’s something they need to clean up. And even though they got a handful of shorthanded chances, spending all that time on the kill likely impacted their ability to create more scoring opportunities – which, in a game that went to a shootout, they probably needed.

It isn’t happening every game, but it’s popped up a little more often over the past week or so: the Flames are developing a knack for surrendering a goal soon after their powerplay is killed off. It’s happened in three of the past four games.

The shootout was real bad, featuring some questionable selections (Backlund and Bennett scored during the game, why not go with them over James Neal or a defenceman? And if you’re going with a defenceman, why not one of the top scorers in the league in Mark Giordano?) and a bunch of players trying to out-deke Domingue immediately after seeing their teammate fail to do just that. Although, fortunately, it’s not like the shootout is a thing in the playoffs – and the Flames sure look like they’ll be playing in the spring. The extra point would have been nice, but at least this is one error not worth fretting over.

Numbers of note

48.91% – The Flames’ 5v5 corsi on the night. They were well over 50% during the first and third periods, but a 30.77% in the second sunk them. Their corsi goes up to a 50.93% in all even strength situations, including overtime, during which the Flames did everything but score.

80.5% vs 28.6% – The Flames’ 13th-ranked penalty kill completely shut down the Lightning’s second-ranked powerplay. Lindholm, Backlund, and Giordano were the only Flames to get over four minutes on the kill.

6 – Gaudreau led the way with six shots on net. He wanted to score, and he was finally rewarded for it. Backlund, Matthew Tkachuk, and Sean Monahan all had five shots of their own.

40 – Monahan’s goal was his 40th point of the season, giving the Flames three 40-point scorers. The Avalanche are the only ones who can match that total (including Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon, who are starting to creep towards 60 points.) Drop the limit to 35-point scorers, and the Flames are still the only team with five of those – no other team has more than three.

3:07 – When a playoff-type game breaks out, there isn’t quite as much room for Ryan Lomberg types on the ice. It’s easy to forget because he’s been out for over a month, but take this lineup and swap Lomberg for Michael Frolik. The Flames can be better than this, and they still got four goals.

Final thought

After years of being the definition of mediocrity, the Flames are now the kind of team that can play hockey at its best. They were one half of one of the greatest displays of hockey we have seen all season across the entire NHL. They helped showcase the sport at its peak, and this was just some regular season game in December.

I’m so happy. I’m so proud of them. I can’t wait to see how high they can go. It may not (probably won’t) be a Stanley Cup, but it’s so much better than everything that’s had to precede this season.

  • The GREAT WW

    Why do these senior FA signings falter so bad on the Flames (Brouwer, Neal), other than the obvious that they are old and just signed their retirement contract…?

    Here’s a theory; BT blows all kind of sunshine up their a$$ at FA signing; how they are going to lead this team to the promised land…….then when they get here they realize we already have a captain, who happens to be the best in the league…..now they are without purpose and mail the games in.

    Just a theory…

    WW

    • Girouxalem

      WW you have lots of bad/hot takes. But I’m with you on this one. Have no doubt BT promised Neal he’d be playing top line with Johnny to get him to sign. He comes and gets relegated to the third line (deservedly). His effort level is extremely poor. 5 strides and then coasts around for 30 seconds and calls it a shift.

      • Skylardog

        He was relegated to the third line before he even took to the ice for the season opener. That is ridiculous.

        Now it is in his head that he can’t buy a goal. Neal not going is on Peters and Peters alone. Part of a coaches job is to put a struggling player in a position to succeed. He has not done that with Neal at any point in the season. It is now at the point where Neal is the problem, because a fix to his issues was ignored for 30 games.

        He earned top line minutes when he signed his contract.
        It is also fair at this point to say he doesn’t deserve a chance at top line minutes now.

        But darn, how good could this team be if he was potting 20-25 this season?

        • withachance

          Agree with this. It’s not that the player himself does not have the skills anymore, just his confidence and belief is gone. I think he needs a reset of some kind. Not sure what, but Im pretty confident in BP’s personnel management – will be interesting to see how this plays out through the season

          • The GREAT WW

            Neal needs a re-set…..,on another team.

            The coach needs to put him in a position to succeed?????!!!!!!
            The coach needs to get him going????!!!!!
            Enough of this garbage; Neal came into camp out of shape, its all on him, he needs to go.

            Trade him for Lucic; both are horrible hockey players, at least Lucic brings something.
            I prefer we could somehow get Reaves….

            WW

          • Flaming Duck

            I thought we would get a couple of good years out of Neal as he can score. Never expected him to be this bad right from go. My only hope is he is recovering from some type of injury (otherwise he is just this bad). With 5 years of contract to go, management needs to find a way to wring out whatever hockey value is left in this guy.

          • withachance

            WW this is why you’re a fan and not a coach or a GM. Your thinking is always based on emotions and impulse and kneejerk immediately when you see something you like or dont like. Theres no patience or rationale, just the trade everyone for a bag of pucks. This is real life, with real people involved, where coaches’ jobs are as much as man management as tactics and lineups.

            Now Im not saying I have the solutions to helping Neal be successful with the team, but when you suggest trades for literally a pylon, it just makes you sound like you’re typing out the first thing that pops into your brain without a filter or even thinking about it. So no, enough of your garbage.

            withachance

          • Flames fan since 83

            Neal did not start the year on the third line.
            He lost the battle for the first line in preseason. Then he played his way from the second line onto the third line.
            The “gotta build his confidence excuse” is for young guys, and not for a perennial 20 plus goal guy with a dozen years of experience. This is on James Neal, and NOT the coach.

          • Flaming moe

            WW do you really think oilers would trade Lucic for Neal? Just like Kassian for Brouwer. Lol Lucic has been playing good fast paced hockey this year despite only having 8 points. He Hits, fights, back checks, fore checks with authority. Wth does Neal bring to the table???? Absolutely nothing!

          • The GREAT WW

            @Flaming Moe

            Lucic and Neal have some of the worst contracts in the Pacific if not the whole NHL (along with Loui Erickson and Leon Drisaddle).

            Trading a turd for a turd is not unreasonable……

            WW

          • Flaming moe

            I know WW but I listed all the things that Lucic brings to the table on a nightly basis. Neal brings nothing else to the table other than 10 consecutive seasons of 20 goals. He is on pace for 6 goals. I don’t think the Coilers would trade Lucic for a guy who brings nothing to the table. I don’t think I’ve even seen Neal attempt to finish a check this year. If Tre can manage to pull off a Neal for Lucic trade well then I will say he is the best GM in flames history. Our team could use that big mean sob on our team. No one would miss Neal.

          • The GREAT WW

            @Flaming Moe

            That Brouwer Kassian trade I suggested last year would have been great for the Oilers;
            Kassian has 2 goals and one assist.
            Brouwer has 7 goals….

            Another opportunity missed by CHIARELLI to improve his team.

            WW

        • Flames Fan in Edmonchuck

          Putting struggling players in a position to succeed? Pretty sure that was James “I did NOTHING to deserve this opportunity tonight” Neal as the third shooter in the shootout with the game on his stick…. isn’t that Peters trying to give him an opportunity to succeed? HIS pre season determined where he slotted, this is on him, I can forgive bad luck but Neal’s effort level hasn’t been great since he got here.

          • FlamesFanOtherCity

            Monahan and Neal were the only ones to try to beat a hot goalie with a shot. The rest were mostly feeble attempts to deke out a huge player that covers the bottom of the net effectively. Tkachuk used his textbook move. He’s got better things he can use. Blaming Neal for the SO loss is dumb. Maybe look earlier in the game where Brodie did a Kris Russel special knocking the puck in his own net or tried to pass the puck into the net on a glorious scoring. And I’m not even blaming him, just saying there are other reasons we didn’t get 2 points. Puck was frozen under the goalie and play not blown dead. But, that’s so Oilers to wine about the refs. They suck. It doesn’t change.

        • BendingCorners

          Nah. BP knew what Neal’s expected role was, and expected him to fill it (if preseason quotes are anything to go by). But Neal wasn’t up to the task so Lindholm got the spot instead.
          I’ve watched Neal miss open nets this year, more than once. The chances are there, it’s the execution that’s missing. He’s here till at least June so if he plays better the rest of the way, good. But I won’t be holding my breath.

        • Chucky

          Both Bennett and Lindholm have justified their first and second line minutes. How do you justify taking time away from guys who are succeeding in order to allow a guy the opportunity to succeed.
          Players earn positions based on performance not on contracts. What did you do for the team last shift determines whether or not you get another.
          When you are getting paid that type of money only performance talks.

        • Jumping Jack Flash

          I am not sure what else BP could do to get Neal going. I am sure they dangled top line minutes in front of Neal to sign but he is not dumb enough to think that he did not have to uphold his end of the agreement. He has not done that. BP has an obligation to all players and the fans not just Neal. I don’t want to pile on but he is a black hole that is offering no value right now. Our third line has struggled with Neil on it.

        • Spider you muda&@#ker

          Pretty hard to argue with Bill Peters coaching decisions last time I checked they were first place in the division. Ill take that over James Neal on pace for 20 goals thats for sure

    • Al Rain

      You sound like whiny Eric Francis. Flames are sitting 4th in the league, 1st in the west without much from Neal. We’ll be even better when he starts contributing.

      But hey, whine away if it makes you feel better or if you think coach Peters is reading these comments looking for ideas.

  • Avalain

    Something else to mention is that both Anaheim and San Jose lost their games in regulation last night, which means that the Flames actually pulled further ahead with the loss.

  • withachance

    Such an unreal game. This shows the Flames can hang with the best of the league. No team deserved to lose that game. Also how clutch has Ryan been in these tight, last minute situations with his draws and overall play? He’s been a good get, no matter the points that he scores.

    If the biggest gripe for that game was the shootout selection, then I think thats not a big issue at all. Shootouts literally do not matter and the team will probably be pretty confident with their performance in the actual game. Regarding Neal, yes he’s looked pretty trash this season. But lets not be fickle fans and treat him like how Brodie and Hamonic was treated last year when they were slumping. Basically everyone around the league thought Neal was a good pickup for the Flames, no one couldve predicted how far off the cliff hes gone this season. Brouwer i think most of us saw coming how bad he would be but dont pretend like Neal wasnt a good signing for all 31 teams at the beginning of this season. We have him now, might as well give him time to figure it out rest of the season and next.

    Burke said a couple of weeks ago that Calgary fans were pretty ridiculous. We’re 4th in the league and here we are complaining about shootout selections and lack of scoring depth… Lets just enjoy being fans of one of the best young teams in the league

  • Skylardog

    The Flames have been really bad all season (and last) at surrendering goals soon after PP. It really comes down to how players are used.

    Remember that a team after killing a penalty usually has its best players and top line rested once the penalty is killed off. That means the opposition’s top line is coming out.

    But we are using Backlund on the second PP unit. He is unavailable, as is our top line having been out for roughly 1:20 of the PP. We are ALWAYS matching third or even 4th line guys against the opposition’s top line after a failed PP. And we often get taken to the cleaners. Add to that that Gio is often not yet ready to go when the PP ends, and it is a recipe for disaster.

    A simple change to Backlund not on a PP unit would help dramatically. He is not a shooter or top notch set up guy anyways, so why use him on the second PP unit?

    It is also the reason Byng should not be with Backs. We need Matty on the PP.

    Set up your lines and PP units so that Backlund, Frolik once he is back, and their LW are ready to go and rested as soon as the PP is over. I like Dube or Lazar out on left with Backlund.

    Benny was a beast last night.

    • Heeeeere’s Johnny

      Love this take Skylardog. Never thought of that myself. That means either Janko or Bennett should center PP2 … perhaps both should be on the ice for draws although both are left shot. I’m also down with a 3F2D as a change of pace. SB-MJ-JN and NH-RA.

      • Skylardog

        Keep PP1 intact. Move to 3F and 2D on the second unit, but use Kylington like a forward and play the same system. I would go Benny, Neal, Janko, Kylington, Ras as unit 2. Could slot in Czar somewhere if you like, and if he is in the lineup.

        I would try Janko, Tkachuk, and Czar as line 2. Got a mucker/scorer, a sniper (Janko is one), and a set up guy that needs to be tested to see if he can handle being in the NHL. Leaves Neal, Hath, and Ryan as 4th line. Neal could slot in somewhere in the top 2 if needed.

    • BendingCorners

      @Skylardog – Rearranging PP2 and the 2nd line is one way that might work, but the team overall is doing well so a smaller change might be better. The PK unit does well, so sending out what effectively is a five-man PK unit should plug that leak – Jankowski with Hathaway and an LW along with Hanifin and Hamonic after a PP might do the trick. It means taking Hanifin off PP2, but Andersson or Kylington could fill that spot.

    • Chucky

      The problem last night was that Brodie came out on left defense with Hamonic right after a power play. This was not a good pairing last year and should not be used this year. If the second PP unit had Kylington and Anderson on the points then the Hanifin / Hamonic apiring with Backlund, Tkachuk and whoever could be on the ice for the next shift. They would give up a lot less goals.

  • buts

    Great game last night. When you make 5.75 USD on a 5 yr contract you better produce or at least create chances to show that eventually goals from you or from players around you. Yes James Neal looks worse than Brouwer, I can’t believe I’m saying that but don’t let our position in the standings FN cover up how bad he is playing. Everyone says he will show up come playoffs and big games….well last night was a big game against the number one team in the league and Neal was garbage again. His feet aren’t moving, he’s skiing on his skates, he’s not battling for the puck or position, his shooting looks weak and he brings down the team’s pace anytime he is on the ice. You all know BT and BP see what we are seeing and they won’t publicly come out and sheet on the guy. But something has to be done.

    • Jimmyhaggis

      Great point, yes this was a big game and Neil didn’t respond, what a shame to waste so much cap space on a player who doesn’t deserve half of what he is being paid. There isn’t much they can do, I don’t think he is tradeable, maybe put him on waivers and send him down to Stockton. I also think BT won’t be making any FA signing again soon.

    • BendingCorners

      I don’t expect much improvement from Neal, but last night he probably shouldn’t have dressed. He has some kind of facial injury, maybe a fractured jaw, and a few extra nights off wouldn’t have been a bad thing. The injury likely made him worse than usual.

      • BendingCorners

        For all we know, he may have been toughing out injuries all year – hip pointer, groin, sports hernia, wrist. Any of those would slow him down. Hockey players don’t like to admit to injuries so it’s at least possible.

  • Flaming Duck

    Wow what a game, especially compared to the Dallas game a few nights ago. I was really impressed with Tampa and the style they play. As a Flames fan I could not be more e cited to see my team go toe to toe with them. We have a great team this year and it is a joy to watch them. GFG!! On an unrelated note; Calgary should just stop signing over 30 UFAs to massive contracts, I just do not get it, over priced and under delivering these type of UFAs.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    This is the first foray for the Flames in the upper echelon of the league in a long, long time, and even though they lost last night, they showed they belong in the conversation about top-end teams with a legitimate Stanley Cup dream this season. That is a huge leap in a short time from where this demoralized and discombobulated team was when last season ended.

    While the Flames lost last night, it sure seemed like a win to me with how well they played and how exciting the game was. Sign me up for more of these games!

  • cjc

    I thought Domingue was fairly rotten in the first. He froze after Bennett’s initial shot and had clean looks on the goals by Monahan and Backlund. If Vasileskiy is in net, I don’t think the Flames get a point here, despite playing pretty well.

    Also, I think we should rename him Mikael Backhand. He has whiffed or been snake bitten so many times this year, maybe he should break out the Backhand more often.

    • Cfan in Van

      Domigue was also lights out on a lot of very good Flames chances throughout the game, as well. He played a great game, and it’s doesn’t give him (or the Flames) enough credit to project a different outcome with a different goalie.

      And Backs finally scores, and you still seem to be on his case.

      Rotten takes.

      • Jumping Jack Flash

        Pretty tough for Vasilesky to do more than Dominguez did in OT and SO. He was a little leaky on some in Regulation but he more than made up for it.

  • KeepitReal

    5 teams in ten years. It does make you wonder what goes on behind closed doors. JN hasn’t faced a dry spell like this under these conditions. This will be a true test of his character. When the die hard faithful and press finally stop protecting him it will be interesting to watch.

    Last night was a barn burner. Too bad Benny or Backs didn’t get a chance in the SO.

  • Eggs Bennett

    The dome was absolutely buzzing, especially in OT when everyone was on their feet when the Flames were on the attack. That was one of the best games I have ever seen, kudos to both sides. Three frustrations from last night:
    – shootout: why did nobody try to deke and elevate the puck…? Trying the same move five times that didn’t score clearly shows a lack of creativity and shootout practice. As soon as OT ended, I didn’t have a good feeling since this great game was going to have a lame ending with a SO
    – why the heck did Brodie pass the puck when there was a gaping net after Domingue coughed it up behind the net? I get there were a couple lightning defenders in the way but in that situation you have to SHOOT THE PUCK!
    – how did Domingue not get a penalty after that giveaway and he pinned our player behind the net without the puck. Interference?? I think the ref got too excited when the puck came out front

  • Burnward

    Just think of Neal as a 2 million dollar vet with all the money we saved on Mony, Johnny, Lindy, Brodie, Gio, etc etc etc.

    Win some, lose some.

    But after the best game I’ve seen in years the last thing I care about today is Neal!

    Go Flames Go!!!

    Big Save Dave! Big Save Dave!

  • The GREAT WW

    Did I ever tell you how we ended up with Neal?

    Flames management flew in Reaves and were wining and dining him. Reaves agreed verbally to a contract. On the way to the airport Reaves told the boys: “You should go after Neal too”.
    Reaves later called the Flames back and said Vegas had matched the Flames offer and he would stay in Vegas.

    The rest is history……

    WW

  • calgaryfan

    Great hockey game, Flames played well. The Lightning are a little deeper team right now on the forward lines. Seem to have a more dangerous 3rd line. The Flames are competitive with the Lightning and if Janko and Bennett keep improving that gap could be closer. Jankowski needs to trust his shot more, he has the tools to be a better finisher.

    • Chucky

      Jankowski is an odd study. His time on ice (18th) and shifts per game (17th) indicate that he should not be tied for 9th in scoring. 25% of his points are while playing short handed so they might be considered tough points as opposed to an empty net goal maybe soft points depending on how much work is involved. He plays in difficult situations but can’t seem to get a full game where he is consistently third line centre. However it seems like he is starting to get more time and more comfortable so maybe he will solidify his place soon.

      • Jumping Jack Flash

        @chucky…I remember when Janko first went to the AHL, he had a hard time generating shots. Perhaps it was because he felt as a rookie he needed to pass and did not think he had a better chance to score over his veteran linemates.

        When you put Bennett or Neal on his line he feels obligated to feed them the puck because of their superior pedigree. However, when he is entrusted by BP in a short handed situation he flips a switch and puts the onus on himself to carry the play and score. When he gets a rare shift with Johnny or Tkachuk this fire is evident. It is safe to say that Janko easily has another 5-6 points if Neal or Bennett hit empty nets.

        • calgaryfan

          Jumping Jack, I believe you are right. I have seen Janko dish the puck to a linemate quite a few times when he could have and should have taken the shot.

  • Flaming moe

    Chucky is on pace for 90 points. How much do we pay him??? And is everyone ok with Rittich being resigned to a starters salary or do we go out and see what is available?

  • Jobu

    Jobu starting to think that the teams Forecheck and scoring pressure is great but haven’t figured out how to bottle it up and play with a lead yet. Jobu has faith Peters will clean this up as the year goes on.