Flames 8, Sharks 5 post-game embers: Score lots, win games

The point of hockey is to score more goals than the other team. The Flames can be really, really, really good at doing that sometimes.

Feel of the game

The Flames have had some trouble living up to the expectations their record has set for them as of late, and playing against their own division has been something of a problem for them, but they were definitely ready to start the game against one of their toughest opponents yet. An early goal by the reunited 3M line set the stage, and though the Sharks came back soon after, it didn’t take too long for that line to retake the lead. Throw in a quick powerplay goal and David Rittich making a number of big saves, and it looked like the Flames had this one.

There were still 40 minutes to go, though, and the Sharks scoring a powerplay goal of their own early in the second was a good reminder that this was a contest between two good teams. Matthew Tkachuk scoring a beauty just after another powerplay gave the Flames some much-needed breathing room, as would have a Sam Bennett goal that was ultimately waved off. That could have put the game in jeopardy – the Sharks came back, again, to make it a one-goal game – but a Johnny Gaudreau feed to Elias Lindholm that restored the two-goal lead in the dying moments of the second added a lot of reassurance.

At least until deja vu struck once again, with an early Sharks goal in the third to turn it back into a one-goal game. That’s about when the entire thing went off the rails: Bennett’s amazing effort resulted in a James Neal goal, and the top line went berserk to suddenly turn a 5-4 game into an 8-4 game within a matter of 3:29. As resilient as the Sharks had been all night, they weren’t coming back from that – so, going along with the officials’ refusals to call the game, both teams started physically beating up on each other rather than play out a game that was clearly over. Happy New Year.

The good news

It doesn’t come together every game, but outings like this one really show just how much forward depth the Flames have at their disposal. Three lines got in on the scoring, with Mikael Backlund’s starting the party and Sean Monahan’s putting it all away. Bennett only had one assist to show for all of the work he was doing on the offensive side of the puck, but it was a hell of an assist; Neal, in addition to the goal he finally scored, had a couple of other golden chances he just couldn’t bury because, well, that’s just how his season is going, but the effort is there. Even Derek Ryan had a couple of great chances. Only four Flames forwards didn’t have a point on the night.

Even though he let in five goals, Rittich stood tall at crucial parts in the game. The Sharks never got the lead, and a lot of that had to do with him (and, on occasion, his goal posts). The Flames dressed their best goalie for one of their biggest games of the season and he delivered – and, when the Sharks started taking over the flow of the play, he bailed his team out. Nobody had a perfect game, but the Flames’ skaters and netminder gave each other just enough to work with. Also, there weren’t any precarious moments when he came out to play the puck, which looks to be an improvement.

The bad news

Score effects probably had something to do with it – other than the 5:12 for which the game was tied, the Sharks spent a lot of time trailing, and by multiple goals at that – but they did look like the better team (although their defensive breakdowns were way, way worse than the Flames’ – and they had more of them, which isn’t something one can always count on). If anything, it’s a reminder that the Flames still have some work to do, which we should all be expecting, anyway. It isn’t inherently bad – more an acknowledgment that games like these aren’t exactly the norm.

The ending got completely out of control, and for no good reason. I’m going to call out the officiating for this one: they had the chance to get the game under control once it became clear the Flames were going to win and they didn’t bother to put a lid on tempers, resulting in the end of game explosion. Aaron Dell being mad he had a bad game is no reason to spear Bennett, who had done absolutely nothing at that point. Giving Gaudreau a penalty for retaliating against the nonsense Evander Kane was giving him without giving the original offender a penalty of his own was ridiculous. Bennett going after Radim Simek for no reason in the dying seconds of a three-goal game was just plain stupid. It took a lot of the thrill out of such a big win for the team. A lot of people are at fault for that nonsense, but properly calling penalties probably could have prevented some of that. Nobody could be bothered, and NHL officiating continues to spiral downwards.

Numbers of note

44.68% – The Flames’ 5v5 corsi on the night. They were pretty in control of things for most of the first period, and killed it in the third when they took over with a 55.17% effort. But the Sharks’ 68.75% second period could have been costly, were it not for Rittich and some particularly timely Flames goals.

18 – Lindholm has a new career high in goals. His previous career high was 17 in 81 games back in 2014-15. It’s only been 40 games this season, so he’s probably not done yet. He’s also up to 44 points on the season – the exact same total he had through 81 games his last season in Carolina, and one off of his career high. His 18.2 shooting percentage is nearly double his career 9.9%, but then again, there was always the ultimate ace in the hole when it came to picking up Lindholm: he’d never played with players as talented as Gaudreau and Monahan before.

(This isn’t a number to note but while talking about Lindholm hitting new career highs, I just want to point out Tkachuk is four points away from setting a new career high of his own. His isn’t as dramatic of a glow up as Lindholm’s but it’s still pretty good.)

16 – The Flames’ top four scoring forwards combined for 16 points, including the top line wreaking havoc, Tkachuk crushing it with his own regular linemates, and the powerplay coming back to life.

40+ – The Flames’ top four scoring forwards are also their four players with 40+ points on the season. Their next game is the official halfway mark; at least four Flames players are guaranteed to be over a point per game at that stage. (Mark Giordano still has potential for this: he has 37 points in 38 games.) Colorado, Pittsburgh, Tampa and Toronto each have three players with 40+ points; nobody else is touching the Flames in this regard.

21 – Both Gaudreau and Monahan lead the team with 21 goals each. Colorado, Edmonton, Tampa, and Winnipeg are the only other teams with two 20+ goal scorers. Drop the number to minimum 18 goals – because that’s what both Tkachuk and Lindholm have – and Tampa’s the only team that can match the Flames with four 18+ goal scorers.

55 – Nine players in the NHL have hit 50+ points; Gaudreau is one of them. He’s fifth in NHL scoring.

141 – The Flames are third in the NHL in terms of raw goals scored. At 3.52, they’re fourth league-wide in goals per game. Just imagine if Bennett and Neal were less snakebitten.

1/8 – For the fifth time this season – one-eighth of the year so far – the Flames have scored at least seven goals a game. Yes, they’ve won all of them. Only one of those five games has had any empty net goals scored in it.

14:44 – Michael Frolik’s ice time in his return to action, partially affected because he didn’t play any special teams. Ice times were actually very even across the board: only Giordano, TJ Brodie, and Tkachuk got over 20 minutes of play.

Final thought

The Sharks were always supposed to be the division winners this season, but the Flames have been keeping the top spot warm for over a month now. Because of that divisional element, this was an even higher stakes game than the ones against Tampa and Winnipeg. The Flames – even as they’ve struggled – have shown that they can, at the very least, hang with the top teams; at their very best, they can convincingly win.

It’ll probably be a fight until the very end for who will take the top crown, and the Flames will probably be in it the entire time. Just half a season to go.

  • Off the wall

    Happy New Year FN!
    Officials. I’m not sure if anyone knows this, however the majority of referees are Canadian born. 35 out of 44. The remaining 9 are USA born. Six have yet to call a game, 4 of them being Canadian.

    So the narrative of being mostly USA refs is absolutely wrong. Sorry to disappoint you.

    Ironically, Dan O’Halloran (who called the game) was the most experienced NHL ref in the league.(1376 games) His partner, Kendrick Nicholson has been in the league for almost 4 years (179 games)

    Linesman account for 90% Canadian born. Approximately 42 linesman. Let’s put the officiating into perspective.

    Having officiated, I’m a little worried about how our games are being called. The league has taken away a lot of the decisions from the officiating, resulting in lost time and lack of respect for the officiating rule book.

    Last night was a prime example.
    The referee’s can confirm with the linesman about missed calls. You will often see them huddled together when making a decision. I’m pretty sure one of those linesman saw the spear on Bennett last night. In fact, being a linesman, you sometimes notice more than the refs, just due to your position on the ice.

    If play was still going, and no ref called it, I think it might be imperative to allow the linesman blow play down, much like they do for too many men.
    They would confirm with the ref, the ref makes the call on the ice, so confusion doesn’t creep into the game. The game is increasing in speed, and sometimes an official might miss calls that look evident to us, however the sight lines may have prevented the close ref from seeing it. The back ref could have seen it, but again positioning is imperative to make the right decisions. They can’t call what they don’t see.
    How they didn’t see the spear is another story..

    We’ve got 4 officials on the ice per game. If the league is going to get this right, then perhaps the linesman can increase their role in the game. Blowing down blatant infractions should be within the scope of their work.
    Let the refs call the game, but let’s put an end to thinking they see everything. They don’t, and sometimes their just plain bad.

    The NHL league of officiating isn’t keeping up with the players.
    We’ve got to change this!

  • Squishin

    I reffed for 6 years when I was a teenager. You put up with a lot of crap, and people can be very unkind. It’s a lot for a kid to take.
    The problem in the NHL, I believe, is that the game is now so fast, it’s almost impossible to see everything and make decisions within a split second.
    One solution that stands out to me personally is that the linesmen should be allowed to call more than just Offside, Icing, and Too Many Men. The technical aspect of their job is much easier than the referees’ job. The have the time to pick up some penalties behind the play as well.
    In order to help with the goalie interference and goal disputes, the linesmen on the blueline should be able to sprint to the net during the scramble BEFORE the whistle blows and aid the ref in making the correct call. The back linesman can move up to cover the blueline while this is happening.
    That’s the best alteration to the coverage system that I can come up with. Other than changing the rules, there’s not much else.

    • Off the wall

      Squishin, It’s great to know others have ref’d. I started out in Calgary, reffing minor league games. The biggest concern I had, was the officiating opportunities.

      You have to work your way through all the BS in the minor system. Years spent being a linesman, before you got a sniff at being a referee. It turns a lot of older (20+ years old) people away from officiating, when you’re being a linesman for that long. Some are happy to be linesman, others want to be referees. I always wanted to ref.
      I loved calling the game, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, while allowing the game to play out the way it was intended. I missed a few calls, however I always talked to the players and coaches. That means a lot to them. Even when you’re wrong.

      I wanted the opportunities that were afforded to others, however you know how that works. Friends of the upper officiating often got the games that were due to people who put in their work.

      I quit the minor league system after watching my crappy senior official botch the Macs tournament in Calgary.

      I went to a men’s league and thoroughly enjoyed myself. No BS, just calling games. Two men system, red arm band on one arm, the other for calling offside, icings. That was also when two line passes were called, so that added to the fun.

      I watch referees probably more closely than others, due to my experience with it, however it’s not an easy task. I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt on some things, however blatant infractions should never be missed. That’s when things go sideways, as we witnessed last night.

      I can tell you from experience, probably you can too, that the best officials don’t necessarily get in. It’s a fine debate that will go on until the officiating league recognizes this and starts making fundamental changes to the way they handle their own personnel.

      • Squishin

        I was never as high up as you were – most of my work was the B leagues. I can’t really speak to the personnel decisions, because I never had any seniority. The best level I got to was linesman of Bantam AAA for a game or two, plus some pretty skilled peewee kids. I’m 75% sure I worked a game Morgan Klimchuk was playing in when he was a squirt.
        The reason I think the linesmen were relegated to offsides and icings in the beginning was partially because of the two-line pass, since it added a whole lot of extra watching and focusing. Now the job is much easier, and linesmen don’t have enough to do, while in some cases the refs have too much.

  • Albertabeef

    You misses a number Ari!
    -5 the number of assists/points from Monahan setting a personal record. According to the media guide and game logs Monahan had never had 5 assists or points in a game before.