During a game in which the Flames were largely outplayed, two of their own players stole the show: their leading scorer and the guy who should be – is, by all recent accounts – their starting goalie.
Feel of the game
It took a bit for both teams to really get going, which is only to be expected following a holiday break. The Jets got things together long before the Flames did, though, setting the tone for the night: one in which David Rittich had to stop several high quality scoring chances, and one in which he did just that. This did not feel like a 4-1 game: it was one much closer than that, and one that the Flames likely would have been on the wrong side of were it not for their goalie.
But while Rittich was the biggest reason the Flames won, he wasn’t the only reason – it would have been tough for him to score goals, after all. Johnny Gaudreau put all of his talents on display through the night, with the Flames’ second goal – one that gave the Flames the most hope, restoring their lead not even a minute after the Jets had tied the game off of a brutal Alan Quine giveaway – really showing off just what he can do.
Down a goal going into the third, you knew a team as talented as the Jets wasn’t going to go quietly into the night; indeed, it was in the game’s latter stages that Rittich really had to make his best saves, but he was consistently impressive in doing so. Derek Ryan’s late penalty felt like it could have spelled doom, even with Rittich performing as well as he was; Mark Jankowski quickly put an end to that, however, and the Flames didn’t just snap their three-game losing streak – they also won the season series over the Jets, a team in contention for first in the West (which goes nicely with their season series win over the Predators, as well).
The good news
Rittich has to be considered the Flames’ starter now, right? There’s really no other excuse to have him start both against the NHL’s top team in the Lightning and get the first game back following a four-day break, and against another top team at that. And considering how pivotal Rittich was in keeping the Flames in the game – not only did he face so many high danger Jets scoring chances head on, but his lateral movement around his net was perfect in keeping the puck out, as well – he absolutely has to be getting the bulk of the starts from here on out. He’s just plain better than Mike Smith. He was one bad giveaway from shutting out one of the few teams above the Flames in the standings. Rittich has been a much-needed revelation this season.
Gaudreau scored a hat trick, just the latest example of how impressive a player he is offensively (to say nothing of some great backchecking efforts highlighted during the game). It’s the third time he’s had a three-point game in the past seven outings. He epitomizes the phrase “having the puck on a string” – it wasn’t just that his second goal of the night was timely (another one of those “big game” moments), it’s that it was one of those ones you go back and watch over and over and over again because it was just so pretty.
Elias Lindholm was a little outdone by his teammate, and he only got two points on the night, but he was pivotal in the Flames’ first three goals: Gaudreau trying to pass to him on the first one, the perfect passing with his teammate on the second one, and rushing up the ice with Jankowski on the third goal – and shorthanded at that. Lindholm has been a revelation: on a line with him, Gaudreau, and Sean Monahan, who can you afford to leave open? Turns out the answer is none of them.
James Neal still isn’t scoring, but he had the most jump among all the Flames to start the game, nearly scoring early on and drawing the team’s first powerplay. Here’s a factor to consider with Neal, even as his offensive totals have been underwhelming all year: he has a reputation in the NHL as a scorer. Teams still have to treat him as a serious threat (and he’s still showing why: those pucks probably aren’t going to keep ringing off the posts forever). And as long as games like this keep up, at some point, that serious threat is probably going to break through.
Though the Flames overall didn’t have that great of a game, a number of their depth players still had their own shining moments throughout. Particular shoutouts to both the second and third lines for trying to get things going, and to both Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington for continuing to look like they belong, even with limited minutes. Watching Kylington jump up into the play in particular is a treat.
The bad news
You can find an excuse in both coming off of the holiday break and having to travel, but the Flames were thoroughly outplayed for most of the game. The better goalie and the better raw offensive talent won it for them, but there are still some things to work out there – and it carries an extra level of concern, considering how the Flames hadn’t exactly been playing their best hockey (Lightning game aside) before the break. Take the points, absolutely, but they didn’t look like a top team on the ice.
Their powerplays in particular were pretty poor. The Flames spent a lot of time chasing, and didn’t exactly look threatening through four attempts.
It’s probably not that bad of a thing that it took Alan Quine nine games to make his first catastrophic mistake in a Flames jersey, and it ended up being not that big of a deal, but man, Quine’s giveaway was really, really bad.
A chippy game is one thing, but things like Noah Hanifin’s accidental knee to Connor Hellebuyck’s head, or Dustin Byfuglien (probably purposefully) slashing Gaudreau in what was clearly a losing effort really takes the thrill out of a victory. It’s good everyone’s okay, but things would have been just that much more fun without incidents like those. Some are unavoidable, and some are just being a sore loser – kind of brings back some memories of the Wild games earlier this month.
Numbers of note
41.3% – The Flames’ 5v5 corsi. Big Save Dave, folks.
3 – Jankowski is tied for second in the NHL with three shorthanded goals (Michael Grabner has four). He has five goals total this season.
10 – With 10 shorthanded goals this season, the Flames are second in the NHL – just one back of the Coyotes. Seven Flames have shorties this year; only four Coyotes do.
4 – Gaudreau now has four hat tricks in his career. They have all been scored during the month of December, for some reason. Two have been on a Dec. 22.
41 – With two assists, Lindholm now has 41 points on the year. He’s four away from his career high: 45 points in 72 games during the 2016-17 season. He’s played 38 games this year.
4 – Speaking of 40+ point players, the Flames now have four of them: Gaudreau (51), Monahan (43), Matthew Tkachuk (42) and Lindholm (41). The Avalanche, Lightning, and Leafs have three 40+ point players each, so nobody is matching the Flames.
5 – Both the number of shots Neal had, leading the team, and where Gaudreau ranks in league-wide scoring.
0.926% – After a 0.972% outing, Rittich’s season save percentage is tied for third among all NHL goalies with at least 1,000 minutes played.
The Flames got back on the right track thanks to their goalie. When’s the last time we could say that? Hopefully the rest of the team finds their legs again soon, because again: we know they’re better than this. Though that they were outplayed by a top team, and still won 4-1… This team is in such a good spot.
With a couple of Pacific Division outings coming up, they’ve got a chance to really start to pull away.