Two games against the Flyers this season. Two games in which the Flyers had a lead late before the Flames forced it to overtime. Two games in which the Flyers lost to the Flames in overtime. They haven’t been perfect games, but they’ve been fun – at least from one team’s perspective. Probably not the Flyers’.
Feel of the game
Maybe it was playing in the afternoon in a time zone two hours ahead, but the Flames didn’t look ready to play this one at all; though for that matter, neither did the Flyers. However, certain expectations can be set when it’s a team near the top of the league’s standings against one at the bottom, and with that in mind, it definitely wasn’t the greatest game – though it was probably the right result achieved in the end.
The Flyers scored off of two brutal gaffes by TJ Brodie and David Rittich; the Flames scored off of beautiful shots by Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk. When he wasn’t giving the puck away, Rittich (and on occasion the post) kept the Flames in it, giving the skaters every opportunity they needed to actually tie the game up – a total reversal of the way goaltending worked in the Bruins game. This was particularly the case before Tkachuk tied things up, with Rittich making several absolutely huge saves – including that one right on the goal line – to make sure his team wouldn’t fall to a multi-goal deficit.
Rittich made up for his mistake and then some. Brodie ended up making up for his in overtime, ensuring the Flames got their second point of the day. And for that, even though they have some extra games played, the Flames are still at the top of the Western Conference in January – good teams just find ways to win.
The good news
Here’s your daily reminder that Gaudreau is absolutely incredible at hockey. Even when he loses the puck – which he did a couple of times against the Flyers – he manages to keep it with him and create something out of it. Just ridiculous.
For a time Tkachuk was competing with Gaudreau for the team lead in scoring. Though we’re kind of well past that now – Gaudreau has just ascended to his own plane of hockey-playing excellence in the past week – Tkachuk provided yet another great reminder of just how talented he is, too. Not just the goal and assist – although those were pretty massive – but even the sheer confidence to try those between the legs move at such pivotal times during the game, and with the knowledge that there’s a good chance it’ll actually work. It all combines into one formidable player.
Oliver Kylington can skate. We already knew that, but it’s absolutely impossible to not be impressed with his wheels, which he’s been known for for quite some time. From taking away a Dale Weise scoring chance to creating one of his own after James Neal chipped the puck into the offensive zone, Kylington was able to show off on both sides of the ice. If he keeps getting better – which, why wouldn’t he? It’s only been 20 NHL games – then there’s going to be something really special here. (Special shoutout to Brodie’s own skating effort on his overtime winner, as well: he just put his head down and created that.)
“Big Save Dave” is a fun nickname but it’s also an extremely accurate one. Some standards have been lowered to the extent that a routine save can be something to celebrate nowadays, but with Rittich, he isn’t just stopping the pucks that need to be stopped – he’s stopping the ones that you wouldn’t think would be possible. The Flyers really, really, really should have taken a 3-1 lead late in the game. They did not. Because Rittich makes big saves, and on a regular basis, at that.
The bad news
But man oh man was that Rittich giveaway atrocious. The nice thing is it’s so easy to forgive him because, well, he made all of those other stops, and it isn’t a regular thing for him. But Rittich playing the puck has kind of been an adventure this season, and perhaps one we might all like to go on a little less.
The Flames really did not get off to a good start, and poor passing and overall play plagued their game, particularly in the first period (though they did take two too many men penalties in the second period, which is a whole other problem). This does seem to be something of an ongoing issue, though some of that may be recency bias. They were actually fine against the Bruins, but had that poor start against the Red Wings. They showed up against the Sharks, and outplayed the Canucks, but had some problems against the Jets, and were pretty awful against the Blues prior to the holiday break. A little more consistency in high level play would be nice to see along with the points.
The powerplay was atrocious. The second unit seemed to be having a better go of it than the first, in that they were actually able to move the puck around the offensive zone rather than spend time trying to chase it out of theirs (and Mark Giordano’s drop pass in the third that could have given the Flyers a breakaway – yikes!). The Flyers have one of the worst ranked penalty kills in the league this year, too.
What does Michael Frolik have to do to get more ice time? He’s done more on Mikael Backlund’s wing as of late than Sam Bennett has. There’s the Flames’ top five forwards, and then there’s the rest, and Frolik is among the best of the rest. It’s just absurd how little ice time he’s getting.
Numbers of note
51.46% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF. Pretty evenly played game, really; the better team won.
49 – Tkachuk tied his career high in points with 49. Last season, it took him 68 games to reach it. This season? Forty-three. Tkachuk likely would’ve been a 50-point scorer two times over by now if it weren’t for injuries, but it sure looks like he’s gonna reach that plateau sooner rather than later.
23 – Speaking of points pacing, with two assists, Noah Hanifin hit 23 points on the year, jumping him over Backlund for sixth in team scoring (Backlund sits seventh at 21, albeit with four fewer games played). Hanifin’s career season came in 2017-18, when he scored 32 points in 79 games. He’s on pace for 44 right now. From the second pairing. So that’s working out rather well.
350 – The number of points Gaudreau has in 355 career games. He isn’t just on the verge of becoming a career point-per-game player – something that isn’t exactly common nowadays – but he’s now third in his draft class in scoring, having just passed noted first overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Next up: Gabriel Landeskog, who has 38 more points than him in almost 200 more games played. Can Gaudreau catch up to him one day? … Maybe?
11:03 – Frolik’s ice time. Only Austin Czarnik (7:58) and Garnet Hathaway (10:02) played less. Take special teams out of the equation, and he played more at 5v5 than Derek Ryan did, too – though in fairness, his 11:03 in 5v5 ice time isn’t that far off from Backlund’s 11:39. Still, this is dumb. Absolutely no reason for Frolik to be getting shafted like this: he’s still a plenty good player.
24 – Rittich has officially appeared in more games than Mike Smith (23) this season. That’ll probably keep going up.
This group is so much fun. Gaudreau and Sean Monahan have been the main duo ever since Gaudreau entered the league pretty much, but how about Tkachuk and Rittich? From Tkachuk leaping into Rittich’s arms after every win to “thanks bro, I love you,” they are absolutely adorable and really pushing it for my new favourite pair on the team.
And both are due for new contracts next season! Fun.