In a delightful twist of fate, the Flames capitalized a bunch of times off of a goalie playing poorly. It might have been more fun to watch them do that if they had been playing well overall, but there’ll be more time for that later. And it’s definitely way, way more fun than being on the losing end of such a game.
Feel of the game
Things started off as a rather back and forth affair, a little more in the Avalanche’s favour due to an early powerplay, but the Flames looked to be well on their way to victory with an early 2-0 lead and David Rittich turning away anything that looked dangerous. At least, until the Avalanche were finally able to capitalize on some zone presence of their own, something that started courtesy of a Rittich clearing attempt. Then the Avs rushing back to the Flames’ end right at the end of the period allowed them to tie the game, putting things in a more precarious position.
And then, the Flames went right back to relying on Rittich, as Colorado controlled the puck for the most part. Rittich was up to the task, though, which was far more than one could say for the guy in the net on the other end of the ice. A quick powerplay goal by the Flames kind of stopped their bleeding, or at least allowed things to even out as they retook the lead.
But the Flames were better in the third period than they were in the second, and a flukey goal by Michael Frolik seemed like it was going to put an end to things – particularly with the way Rittich was playing. The Avs were able to add one more goal off of the rush to make things interesting, but there wasn’t enough time left. It was a weird win – but a win all the same, and one that definitely allows for further confidence in Rittich as the Flames’ starter, even when he didn’t even have his best game.
The good news
Big Save Dave is really good at living up to the nickname – he has a great ability to make the stops the team needs him to the most. On numerous occasions the Avalanche had extended zone time and were swarming around Rittich, and he just didn’t let anything in. Not every member of a team will have a good game simultaneously, which is why it’s always nice to see the goalie calm in net and able to take care of things. It’s like the total opposite of Mike Smith.
Mark Giordano doesn’t even need a stick to thwart a scoring chance on the other team’s powerplay in a game’s dying minutes. He can do all of that and have a three-point game while playing the most minutes on his team, because he’s a Norris-caliber defenceman.
Some shoutouts to the depth forwards, who worked to create some decent chances, even if they ultimately didn’t even result in a shot. James Neal’s assist was well deserved, and both he and centre Mark Jankowski could have added to their point totals on the night. Derek Ryan was noticeably hustling, and Austin Czarnik along with him. The depth isn’t going to shine like the 50-point scorers, but that the team’s fourth line can be out there causing havoc in the offensive zone is seriously such a big upgrade from what the Flames have had in the past.
Rasmus Andersson played well, too, even without his usual partner (one who’s a bit more capable of skating than Dalton Prout) on hand. He also got special teams time in: Andersson, Giordano, and TJ Brodie were the only Flames defencemen to play in all situations.
The bad news
The Flames were exceptionally good at turning the puck over, particularly in their own zone, leading to extended offensive zone opportunities for the Avalanche. They were fortunate it only resulted in one goal against: the chances were there, over and over again, for Colorado to take the lead. Sometimes it was thanks to a shot going wide, often times it was thanks to Rittich, but it’s definitely not a sustainable way to try to get wins. Turnovers and flubbed zone exits have come up as problems throughout the season, but it was like all of the worst moments happened over the course of this one game.
Noah Hanifin had a rough night on the Avalanche’s first two goals, which is the second game in a row that’s happened for him. The Flames were particularly passive on the Avalanche’s zone entry on the second goal against, right in the dying seconds of the first period – which was, evidently, a poor time to lay off.
As good as Rittich was, his attempts to play the puck still need some working on (or they could just be limited all together), and that third goal against certainly wasn’t pretty. That probably stands out a little more though because there’s been a lot of good from him otherwise!
Numbers of note
41.3% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF on the night, during which they didn’t even really have one period in which they were clearly the better team (goaltending aside).
35-16 – That’s a pretty ugly shot ratio. Interestingly, though, while the Avalanche out-corsied the Flames 54-38 at 5v5, via Natural Stat Trick, high danger 5v5 corsi events were 5-4 in the Flames’ favour.
60% vs 80% – Frolik was reunited on Backlund’s line, which probably had something to do with the Flames facing off against two of the top scorers in the NHL in Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon. It worked, for the most part: when MacKinnon faced Backlund, he had a 60% CF over 12:28 5v5 minutes, and when apart for 6:18, MacKinnon’s CF jumped up to 80% (mostly against Sean Monahan’s line). He led the Avalanche in 5v5 corsi, as well: 67.50%. The Flames rarely have to go up against super lines like their own, but they’ve definitely got a plan in place to counter it, and one that’s been consistently effective.
43 – Giordano now sits at a point-per-game once again. It’s probably only a matter of time until he joins the Flames’ four forwards in the 50-point club, but in the meantime, he’s fifth in team scoring – and third in overall defencemen scoring.
20+ – Matthew Tkachuk’s empty netter means the Flames’ top four forwards all have at least 20 goals on the season now. There are presently 29 20-goal scorers in the NHL; the Flames are the only team with four of them, though the Avalanche and Lightning do come close with three each.
7:15 – In the previous game, Czarnik played just over 13 minutes, something he hasn’t really gotten to do much since October. That didn’t last long; he played the least out of all Flames players against the Avalanche. Other victims: 8:31 for Sam Bennett, and 9:53 for Garnet Hathaway (with 3:23 on the penalty kill helping him get there).
16:53 – Frolik got minutes, though – his highest ice time total of the season. The last time Frolik got 16 minutes in one game was on Oct. 25, the 9-1 loss to the Penguins. Is it just because he was a good option against MacKinnon’s line – one more trustworthy defensively than the other options in Bennett or Czarnik, at least – or will this be a turning of the corner? I’d bet the former, but who knows.
8:12 – Prout returned to the lineup for a spell. It’s at least more than the 6:31 he played in his previous two games for the Flames, though. Combined. He only saw one second against the Avalanche’s top line, which was probably for the best for all of us.
60 – Two teams in the NHL are sitting at 60 points on the season. The Flames are one of them.
It’s good the Flames are still pulling wins out almost regardless of how they play – or how good of a job their goalie does for them, that too – but they definitely haven’t been at their best. Playing primarily at home for pretty much the next two weeks (there’s a road game in Edmonton, but it’s not like Edmonton is far away) could be telling: travel fatigue shouldn’t be a problem again until February, so we might get the chance to see how well they play in ideal circumstances once again, and hopefully, with it, just how good they really are.