Against the Jets, the Flames played mostly poorly, and won due to amazing goaltending. Against the Canucks, they ran into another team’s amazing goaltending – and that nullified most of their scoring chances, and cost them a point.
Feel of the game
Through most of the game, the Flames looked like they were on another level compared to the Canucks – at least, at 5v5. Unfortunately for them, there were nine penalties committed through the game, leading to a lot of special teams play (particularly time on the powerplay, which was overall rather poor) – but also two shorthanded goals, the only goals the Flames ended up being able to score.
Though the Canucks drew first blood, the Flames were playing strongly enough that you knew they’d come back, and they did with a shorthanded goal. They then flat out dominated the start of the second, vastly outplaying the Canucks – at least, until they took a penalty, leading to their first lead of the game. But poor defence led to the Canucks scoring the only 5v5 goal of the game, and they gathered momentum from that, leading to a suddenly more precarious outlook than there had been before.
Both teams just played out the third period, and that kind of carried through into overtime, in which both teams got chances, but the Canucks capitalized on theirs.
All of that, but one goal in the game didn’t count: a Flames powerplay goal towards the end of the first that was nullified due to an inexplicably early whistle, and one that, had it counted, likely would have given the Flames the win. It can’t be blamed for everything – that early whistle gave the Flames a lengthy 5v3, which they did absolutely nothing with – but wiping a goal off the board is pretty big, particularly in a game as close as this one.
The good news
After more duds than not as of late, the Flames actually played a pretty good game. They controlled play at 5v5, particularly during the first half, and dominated scoring chances. It didn’t result in a win, but it was a step in the right direction – albeit, just a step, but it was good to see they still have it in them.
Freshly recalled after about a month’s absence from the NHL, Dillon Dube looked like his preseason self: energetic, smart, and with a couple of scoring chances to boot. He was noticeable, largely in a positive way, when he stepped out on the ice. There’s just as much to like about him as there was at the start of the year; hopefully it’ll translate into more points, should he stay up. Alongside Alan Quine – who’s five years his senior – he’s been the best of the Flames’ AHL forwards.
Gotta give credit to Mark Jankowski, who yet again proved dangerous on the penalty kill (and you’ve gotta love an aggressive penalty kill!) and factored in on both of the Flames’ goals. A little more on his numbers shortly, but if anything, he’s an absolute treat to watch when the Flames are down a man – his instincts in that game scenario have been outstanding.
David Rittich didn’t have his best game, but he didn’t let in anything particularly atrocious, either, and still made a number of solid stops. Really, it’s just a good sign that he got the start – further evidence that the best goalie the Flames have is getting the games to match that title.
The bad news
It’s great the Flames outplayed the Canucks, but scoring actual goals to go along with that level of play would have been even better. Jacob Markstrom was great – it’s probably the same scenario in which the Jets had to tip their caps to Rittich in their previous game – and the Flames definitely made it tough on him, but there were also times when they neglected to get a shot off in favour of holding the puck or squeezing an extra pass in, which has been kind of a theme with these guys. This game shouldn’t have been as close as it was.
Out of five powerplay opportunities, only one really looked threatening. Maybe two. The Flames have some high end offensive weapons, but their powerplay is going through a major slump at the moment. It’s not just that they aren’t scoring on it: it’s that they aren’t getting many chances, either, and sometimes end up killing their own powerplay. Looking more dangerous on your penalty kill is not a great sign for your man advantage, and it’s kind of been a theme on the season.
I really, really, really hate criticizing officials, because it’s so easy to miss calls, a fair number of them would be subjective, and like, I’d be a terrible ref, myself. But there are some errors that are just flat out inexcusable, and one happened against the Flames Saturday night: blowing the play dead as the Flames were about to get another powerplay, even though the Canucks did not have the puck. It seems as though that’s been happening around the league a lot more this season, and in particular for the Flames, that’s now twice in two games: the officials blew a play dead when the Jets took a penalty, even though the Flames were creating a scoring chance. This one was extremely costly, as it wiped a Flames goal off the board in what ended up being a one-goal game. Yes, the Flames should have been better, but still: the officials directly cost the Flames a point in the standings, and on an error that’s occurred more than once this season for several teams. What’s going on here? Okay, fine, this particular instance really sucked, but I’d take it if we saw anything resembling a hint of accountability from the NHL. We aren’t getting that, we’re just getting more plays blown dead when they shouldn’t be. Thanks.
Numbers of note
50.55% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF through this one. They killed it during the first period and a large chunk of the second, but ended up letting the Canucks back in it overall. Not being able to capitalize on their chances cost them.
12 – The Flames now lead the NHL with shorthanded goals.
66.67% – Jankowski, with four shorthanded goals and six shorthanded points, is tied with the Coyotes’ Michael Grabner for the league lead in both categories. He has six goals and 15 points total on the season, so two-thirds of his goals have come during the penalty kill, and 40% of his total points.
12 – The number of powerplays the Flames have had since their last powerplay goal, a quick rebound strike by Matthew Tkachuk against the Blues back on Dec. 22. They went 0-for-4 against the Jets and 0-for-5 against the Canucks, not including the goal they scored that was waved off due to an early whistle. Sometimes they don’t even get a shot off; other times, they get a 54-second 5-on-3 and do very little with it. The Flames’ powerplay now sits at 21.0%, 14th in the NHL, but Saturday night, it cost them.
6:52 – The amount of ice time Dube had in his return to the Flames, the least out of everyone on the team. He managed two shots on net, which was about on par with those who played many more minutes than he did.
26:15 – And then there’s Johnny Gaudreau’s ice time; only Mark Giordano (26:58) played more than he did. Gaudreau led the way with five shots on net, and was consistently dangerous. So was his line, quite frankly, and they also saw a lot of ice time for their efforts: Elias Lindholm played 25:07, while Sean Monahan got 24:56. Tkachuk and Mikael Backlund both played over 19 minutes; the rest of the forward group was kind of a wash. This is a five-forward team in its current incarnation; they really need a sixth guy.
4 – After Gaudreau’s five shots, Jankowski, Giordano, and Noah Hanifin led the way with four each. It might not be the best sign when defencemen are leaders in the offensive charge. (Monahan only getting one shot off in nearly 25 minutes of ice time is also… not great.)
6-5-1 – The Flames’ record against their divisional opponents. They’re at the top of their division now, but they absolutely have to be better against these guys: dunking on the Kings and Coyotes alone isn’t good enough, especially with the Sharks starting to close in.
The Flames will close out 2018 against the Sharks, their biggest competition for the Pacific Division crown. Really, the Sharks were widely expected to carry the division before the season started; that the Flames have held onto the top spot for so long has been both impressive and surprising. So that sets a very big stage for New Year’s Eve: a win and the Flames pull a little further ahead, still with a game in hand; a regulation loss and the Sharks take over top spot.
Considering the Flames’ overall lacking play as of late and their lacking record against their own division, this would be a perfect game for them to show up and prove they’re really in contention for the division lead, not just keeping the seat warm. Like the game against the Lightning, this one is starting to get the makings of what should be a good game – so hopefully the Flames live up to the billing they’ve set for themselves.