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Photo Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Flames 4, Blackhawks 3 post-game embers: Hoarding 50-point scorers

The Flames aren’t playing perfect games, but they’re getting the right results. It’s those results now that can ensure we’ll be worrying about just how well they’re playing later on. Say, in the springtime.

Feel of the game

The Flames and Blackhawks traded chances early on, but it was the Hawks that were the better team through most of the game, even though the Flames were the ones to open the scoring. While they had their moments in taking over the game and creating chances, the Blackhawks had more of their own. It was David Rittich who ensured the contest stayed in reach, even when Chicago took a lead early in the second – the Flames were simply being outplayed, and their goalie had to keep making big saves (and Sam Bennett and the post, too, at certain points).

At least, until the Flames were able to tie it up with a beautiful powerplay goal towards the end of the second. Suddenly, with the game tied going into the third, it was like there was no going back: Johnny Gaudreau finally scored on a breakaway to retake the lead, and as the game entered its final stretch, the Flames, as a group, just completely turned it on. Three lines were getting scoring chances, the puck control was flat out dominant, and it was like the Hawks were completely lost, but for a few brief moments they were able to get the puck in the Flames’ zone.

An empty net goal took care of things for the Flames, the Blackhawks not having enough time left to try to do anything after a very late powerplay goal, and that was that. The better team didn’t look like it through 60 minutes, but when it counted, they were phenomenal, and it got them the win.

The good news

David Rittich continues to more than come into his own as the season has progressed. He didn’t have the prettiest stat line, but he just keeps making the saves that absolutely have to be made. Defence is struggling, puck is bouncing around the crease? More often than not, Rittich ensures it’ll stay out of the net. He’s quick to react. And, as the absolute last line of his team’s defence, he does his job in bailing everyone else out. You can’t really ask for more out of this guy – and it’s great a team of this talent has a goalie to match.

Even when the top line isn’t scoring, they’re an impressive group, creating so many chances – and then scoring anyway. Probably the only criticism for them is it’s a shame Matthew Tkachuk can’t play with Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Elias Lindholm on a regular basis, but at least they’ve got the powerplay for that. It’s absurd how talented this young forward group is. The Flames go as they do – so fortunately, they’re all well over a point per game.

Austin Czarnik has been battling to get into the lineup more often than not, but playing alongside Tkachuk and Mikael Backlund towards the end of the game, he was doing a great job in creating scoring chances as well. It was nice to see that level of play out of him – he may not be living up to the hype his free agency generated, but he’s performing pretty well for a depth player, and games like this show he does have that extra gear in him.

Seriously, when the Flames turn it on, you can see exactly why they’re near the very top of the league. They can be absolute forces of nature – it’s a genuine treat to get to watch a team at that level.

The bad news

That said, the Flames seem to have this habit of playing down to their opponents as of late. They didn’t have the best game, at least not until they tied things up at two. I think, at this stage, it’s fair to expect a little more through 60 minutes when it’s the team ranked second in the standings against the team ranked 27th. The Flames were sloppy and defensively loose through most of the game, and had to rely on their goalie to keep them in it. They’ve raised their own standards, but they haven’t quite been able to match them on a regular basis.

Travis Hamonic and Noah Hanifin, in particular, looked pretty ugly on the Blackhawks’ first two goals. That’s not to outright condemn them, especially since pretty much every defenceman gets victimized at some point, but it definitely wasn’t a banner night for them, either.

Numbers of note

51.4% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF on the night. Their third period was absolutely dominant. In the second period, the Blackhawks had three high danger 5v5 corsi events to the Flames’ one. In the third period, the Flames had eight to the Hawks’ one. The difference between a bad team putting a good team on its heels, and vice versa?

50 – Welcome to the 50-point club, Tkachuk and Lindholm. Both have now scored 50 points in a single season for the first time in their careers. They join Gaudreau (64) and Monahan (54) for Flames 50-point scorers this season. The Flames now have four of them. No other team has more than two. There are only 16 50-point scorers in the NHL right now, and the Flames have a quarter of them. That’s just stupid.

64 – As a rookie, Gaudreau scored 64 points in 80 games. As a fifth year pro, Gaudreau scored 64 points in 44 games. He’s on a five-game point streak, with 13 points scored over that time. This is also just stupid.

10 – Monahan was credited with 10 shots in the game. Ten shots! On net! In one game! His previous record was eight shots in a single game, which he has done four times: three times in 2017-18 (including his second last game of the year, by which he very much did need the multiple surgeries he ended up having), and once in the Flames’ come from behind December win over the Flyers. What a ridiculous man.

14 – That’s a lot of shorthanded goals. Over the past 10 years, only four teams have exceeded that total: the 2015-16 Senators (17), the 2008-09 Flyers (16), the 2010-11 Islanders (15), and the 2011-12 Devils (15). There’s still like half a season left to play.

13:06 – Czarnik has had a tough time getting minutes, but this was the seventh highest ice time total he’s had so far for the Flames (out of 26 games). Five of those games came in October and one in December – he just doesn’t get minutes of this magnitude anymore. Maybe something to watch.

6:28 – Meanwhile, Oliver Kylington only played 6:28, the least he’s gotten in his career (his previous low was 8:21 in the Dec. 22 3-1 loss to the Blues), which lends more credence to the Flames looking for another veteran defenceman. (Just out of curiosity, but looks like Brett Kulak is now averaging 17:47 minutes a game for Montreal over 19 games with a 59.42% 5v5 CF. Huh.)

4 – The Flames only have four games left against the Central Division, which is a shame, because they have  a 12-4-1 record facing them, including season series wins over Chicago (sweep), Colorado (could still sweep), Minnesota (could still sweep), Nashville, and Winnipeg (could still sweep). They’ve lost to Dallas (could still be swept by) and St. Louis. Division of death what?

Final thought

The Flames keep winning, and they keep having some of the best players in the NHL performing at an elite level, and I just don’t know what to do with this. Their games definitely aren’t perfect, but they’re getting the right results in the end. How high should we be setting our expectations for this team? I don’t think we’re going to get a true grasp of that until they’ve clinched a playoff spot – which they are, in an extremely high likelihood, going to do.

  • withachance

    All the comment on FN lately had me thinking. Which team in the league has more than 4 or 5 legit, premier forwards…. Everyone keeps expecting the team to roll 4 lines of 50 point scorers and thats just not possible. This team is operating with the right formula: a core of premier players and homegrown depth pieces that wont get shredded by other team’s depth pieces. The Ryan line is looking dominant, third Janko line is holding their own, so not sure what fans want? Not everyone can score at the clip of the elite players.

    BP is doing what needs to be done right now, and thats win games. Obviously playoffs are a different beast but do we seriously expect BP to operate the same way as he does in the regular season? He’s definitely going to change things when he sees fit. Keep calm.

    • withachance

      Pens: Sid, Malkin, Kessel, Guentzel
      TB: Stamkos, Kuch, Point, palat/johnson
      WSH: Ovie, Backstrom, Wilson, Oshie

      Who else do these teams have in terms of actually good forwards??? Toronto and Winnipeg are the only teams I can say that do have legit quality 3 lines, but their defence is crap so not really a good tradeoff

      • cjc

        TB: Gourde, Miller, Killorn; newcomers Joseph, Erne, Cirelli also look like excellent depth
        WSH: Um, Kuznetsov? Oshie is fading, but Connolly and Vrana look like good depth.

        But you are right – you need superstars to win, and Calgary looks to have one in Gaudreau

        • withachance

          Thats my point though. If Killorn/cirelly or Connelly were on the Flames, I guarantee fans would say they are lacking in producing depth scoring. Those guys actually have very similar points totals as Janko, Bennett and Backs.

          If we consider those guys on the other teams to be good depth options, why do we never say that about our own players?

    • deantheraven

      Not to nit pick your comments, because I do agree with most, but while Ryan’s line has done a good job of keeping the opposition in their own end, scoring chances are sometimes squandered, other times simply missed (read: they ain’t scoring).
      I know I’ll get flak for this, but the only way to achieve “balanced scoring through 4 lines” is if you have guys who can put the puck in the net when given the chance.
      My solution won’t be popular, but here’s an idea:
      Johnny/Monny/ Neal (for 30-50% of their 5v5 shifts)
      Benny/Lindholm (same 1/3-1/2 of their playing time)/Byng (extra ice for Byng)
      Byng/Backs/ Fro ( Extra ice for Byng, 3M 2gether, 4ever. 3M rules!)
      Benny/Janko/Neal
      Czar*/Ryan/Hath
      (*I still see him as 4th line or lower)
      AND special teams:
      PP1= JH/Monny/Lindy/Neal/Brodie
      PP2= Byng/Backs/Janko/Gio/Ras
      Two D-men is better here, imho.Ryan hasn’t shown to be effective in the extra-man situation. Ras in his spot would at least create the point shot option.

  • buts

    Wow another entertaining game. This is the most fun watching a flames team in a very, very, long time. The turnaround after the last 2 years of bad hockey is amazing. Are we relying on the top 4 too much? Yes. Are the bottom 8 forwards needing to produce more offensively going forward and especially in the playoffs? Yes. There’s a lot of regular season left and time for BP to figure things out but boy oh boy this is an entertaining team. Thank you hockey gods because in this economic downtime in Calgary and Alberta we deserve this.

  • The GREAT WW

    Great to have all these 50 point scorers…..but we really need to clean up the defensive side of the game, were giving up way too many scoring chances.
    Looking at you Huska…..

    WW

  • Parallex

    I’d really like to win the division. I know that falls under the category of “duh” but going through the central division WC strikes me as way better then having to grind through VGK & SJ to get to the Western finals.

    • The Sultan

      At this point, barring a catastrophic failure, I’m not expecting but I want the Flames to win the West. Winnipeg and Nashville seemed to have missed a step but Vegas is right on our tails now. It’s just a matter of who can put together a better record over the final 40 games or so.

  • Off the wall

    Perhaps not mentioned is that Peters has a good read on his players.

    Czarnik was going, so he mixed it up and put him with Byng and Backlund. Czarnik set up Backlund perfectly, of course you know what happened.

    Bennett was struggling, so he moved him down to Jankowski’s line. However Bennett prevented a “for sure goal” in the 3rd, when he tied up the opposition in front of a wide open net. So let’s not be so hard on Bennett. It could have easily been 3-3 at that point. Possibly a different outcome too!

    We absolutely destroyed Chicago in the 3rd. That’s what good teams are capable of. And we have a great team!

    Keep on pushing the buttons Peters. It’s working…

  • Skylardog

    If Kylington is not injured, are we to assume there is something he is either doing, or not doing, that the coaching staff is demanding from his play? He was not on for a goal against before being sat (Hanifin and Hamonic I believe were on for the first 2). Ky did get caught badly on a 2or 3 on 1 early on that left Andersson in a bad situation. Bad pinches?

    • cjc

      Maybe, but I think it is more likely that Peters was shortening the bench which he does all the time. The team was in a tight game heading into the third, and it’s clear Kylington has a little further to go in terms of earning the same trust that Andersson has. I wouldn’t read too much into it though.

      • MDG1600

        I would say his turnovers have become an issue the last 4 or 5 games. There have been a few failed pinches in the neutral zone which is usually a sure way to get the coaches attention in a bad way.

  • TurkeyLips

    “How high should we be setting our expectations for this team?”

    We are a top 5 team in the league which means anything is possible in the post season. Only concern that of our cadre of 50+ point scorers 75% remain on the top line – so that’s a misleading stat with regards to depth at least. Fun season so far GFG ??

    • Kevin R

      What are other teams differentials of scoring % of top- line versus other lines. In this cap league I would say 90% of teams are pretty top heavy. Thats just the way it is.

  • Skylardog

    Czar had his best game, and his last couple or three have been far better than any he played up until now.

    Some tweaking is necessary. The top line is going like mad dogs, but someone(s), somewhere(s) in the lineup needs to start contributing. The bottom 3 lines also need to start playing the kind of defense they were playing at the beginning of the season. While the top line was porous to start the year, they have tightened up, but we can’t be giving 2 and 3 goals away each game with the bottom 9 on the ice.

    Still really believe that one (or 2) scoring forwards take this team to a new level. Kapanen. Make it happen BT.

    • Jessemadnote

      What is this obsession people have with Kapanen? I don’t see him as the type of player missing from our lineup and I don’t see Toronto wanting to trade him.

    • Derzie

      My theory is that we are seeing what a prototype Cap team in a watered down league looks like:

      – Elite 1st line (adding Lindholm was the missing link)
      – Elite 1st pairing (Get the band back together)
      – Solid starting goalie (Rittich better than expected)
      – Serviceable backup (.500 and we’ll be happy Mike)
      – Shutdown line that holds the fort but is not big on scoring (3M forever)
      – Secondary players that don’t give up too much but can’t be relied on for points (overlooked positive here is Ryan’s faceoff record. Huge impact)
      – Coaches that know how to use what they have (is it even quantifiable how bad GG was now that we’ve seen what Peters does)

      I think after half a season, our mantra of ‘get secondary scoring going’ is a pipe dream. They are what they are. We are winning and need to stay healthy to keep it up. Only so many elite players to go around with 31 going on 32 teams.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      It is strange how our team D has become so leaky. It seems like Hanafin and Brodie have struggled a bit. I have not noticed the rookies bleeding a lot of chances but have noticed that they get pinned in there own zone. Kjillington must have been making some consistent mistakes that cost him.

      Thoughts…

  • FlamesFanOtherCity

    I would say that the 3rd was for the most part, all Flames. IIRC, the high danger chances were 11-1 for the Flames. That’s not domination by the Hawks.

  • FlamesFan27

    Love these top scorers, but none of this matters if Rittich doesn’t play the way he has. The Flames dominated the third and could have pulled away, but the Hawks dominated the second and it could have been game over without his fantastic goaltending.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      I noticed the biggest advantage Rittich gives the team in the third period. We were absolutely dominating with wave after wave and had a couple breakdowns that were probably better scoring chances than we had and Rittich would not give up the tying goal. In fact, when he finally gave up that third goal we were leading 4-2. We have not had that type of lock down mentality in a keeper since Kipper.

      I hate to give the Backlund bashers any ammunition but that penalty he took in the last 2 minutes has happened far too often. The formula that the team is using to kill penalties along with the player usage is a pleasure to watch.

  • cjc

    Calgary’s recent play against bottom dwellers leaves something to be desired. You need to look back to December 16 for the last time they really took it to a weak team. They have recently spotted Detroit, Philadelphia, Vancouver, St. Louis and now Chicago leads, and while they were able to recover for at least a point in four of those games, they haven’t played a solid 60 minutes in any of them.

    Weirdly, Calgary is 11-5-2 (.667) against teams that currently hold a divisional playoff spot. However, they are only 13-7-1 (.643) against non-playoff teams. (They are 3-1-1 (.700) against wild card teams). They play 16 more games against teams currently in a playoff spot and 22 against teams outside the playoffs. They have two more games each against Vegas and San Jose.

    • Cfan in Van

      It’s strange and a bit concerning, but there’s another way I’ve begun to look at this. The Flames can put together a decent game against any team, good or bad. It may take them a period or two to feel out what they need to do, but by the third, they almost always have it figured out. Thinking in terms of a 4-7 game series, they’ll have those feel-out periods well out of the way after the first game, and may just be able to run from there.

      The playoffs are usually populated by good teams, and the Flames seem to consistently play pretty well against good teams. Even looking at their record against non-playoff teams, .643 is still going to win you a series if one of them sneaks in.

      That doesn’t sound so bad to me.

  • redwhiteblack

    We are blessed to have 4 awesome forwards. We need 2 or 3 others to be more consistent producers, then we can have the discussion about being an elite team, rather than a team with elite pieces.

    Bennett is expendable to me. The puck dies on his stick so often I have seem enough. The hawks second goal was a result of 2 turnovers by Bennett with no one pressuring him. That drives me nuts. The “he is a good playoff time” talk does not work for me when I watch him lose possession so often. I am in the trade him if the opportunity is right camp.

    • MDG1600

      Sam needs to quit pushing so hard to score – he is always trying to beat someone one on one at the blue line to give himself a breakaway or 2 on 1. Of course what usually happens is he turns the puck over. He needs to realize that in the NHL he isn’t offensively dominant like he was in junior. He should play more like Hathaway and just dump the damn puck and then go in to the corner and cause havoc – which is what he does well.

      • deantheraven

        Say Czarnik is playing better, I agree. Not better enough, but there’s no replacement @ 13F.
        I may have missed it, but did anyone mention that Hathaway was a beast last night? After the first few shifts of pass, pass, pass to somebody else for the shot because I’m not a goal-scorer, he and the other 4th-liners found a little confidence and started going at the net. Even though it was an empty netter, it was a well deserved reward. Hoping he keeps up the pace and plays with confidence. I believe he’s on the brink of finding his Mojo.

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      Bennett is getting icetime reserved for a great two-way player. He’s not that guy. Two goals scored with him on the ice, nowhere near the play. Passes behind Tkachuk. Makes Backlund look worse than he is. What I don’t get is that he gets that icetime after a bad game. He starts on the 3rd line for a couple of shifts, then back to 2M line. Play him on LW, on the 4th line.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      If I recall the Hawks second goal was Tkachuk losing the puck in the neutral zone and then losing his man. I think Bennett was expecting Tkachuk to move it up.

  • The GREAT WW

    I keep hearing:
    “Neal had his best game as a Flame!”
    He had ZERO points……
    “Czarnik had his best game as a Flame!”
    He had ZERO points….

    “They had a lot of good scoring chances”
    AND THEY MISSED ALL OF THEM…!!!

    If these are their best games that should be telling you something….

    WW

  • Flaymin Frank

    I sure hope #58 was benched for injury reasons and no other. I actually thought he and Razzy would be a better matchup against Kane’s line cuz of their foot speed. Ham & Han looked a little confused against Patrick & co.

  • Intercourse the Penguins

    The only reason I can see to sit Oliver for the last half of last night’s game is he is being shopped to Toronto and was kept out to prevent injury as a trade for Kapanen is a possibility. I do not think we have any more stud D prospects in the pipeline and I am opposed to any moves of our D’men.