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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Flames 4, Panthers 3 post-game embers: 3M line for life

One day, the Flames taking a substantial amount of time off from a game (in this case, the first period) is going to come back to bite them. Friday was not that day.

Feel of the game

Even though the Flames’ third line got them off to an excellent start, the team seemed compelled to just take off the entire first period, playing some of their worst hockey in recent memory (at least since they started looking like a legitimate Western Conference threat). They were fortunate to be down by just a goal leaving the first, though due to a late period penalty, that would soon turn to a 2-0 deficit as the Flames allowed a breakaway powerplay goal within the game’s 21st minute.

That woke them up, though. Or, perhaps more accurately, reuniting Michael Frolik with Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk woke them up. The reunited 3M line started creating scoring chances pretty much right away, and it was Frolik’s tip that both reduced the deficit to one and allowed the Flames to break through what had been a snoozer of a game. The entire team came to life after his goal, and Mark Giordano’s tying goal gave them a chance to start anew for the third.

So, of course, it was Frolik who helped get the Flames their first lead of the game, stealing the puck away when the Panthers tried to get a little too fancy for no apparent reason, and leaving Tkachuk alone in front of their net. From that point on, it felt as though the game was pretty safe for the Flames, and the top line finally contributing with the empty net goal confirmed it – even with a late Panthers goal to make it a one-goal win instead of two.

The good news

It wasn’t just that Frolik had a three-point night, it was that the entire team started playing much better once he was put back on the second line. Frolik had what was probably his best game of the season, and it came from being reunited with his regular linemates in Backlund and Tkachuk. We’ve seen Backlund and Tkachuk play well alongside Austin Czarnik and Sam Bennett, too – they’re Backlund and Tkachuk, they can probably play well alongside most anyone – but Frolik, especially as of late, has brought out the very best in that line. Against the Avalanche, it was in a defensive capacity. Against the Panthers, offensive. They’re a versatile trio, they’ve worked exceptionally well together for two seasons before this one, and it kind of feels settled that this should be the line going forward, barring anyone taking a night off or a trade for another top six forward or something. (Squeaky wheel gets the grease, maybe, but if the wheel is right about needing the grease to begin with…)

While it was the 3M line that took control of the game, the third line deserves a lot of love, too. Bennett in particular really shone, even on a point-less night. They had a good start to the game; they were matching the pace the second line set in putting on pressure in the second period; they were fun to watch because they were energetic and playing well. On a night in which the top line didn’t really do too much, the other forwards were noticeable for the right reasons.

Old man Giordano, who is still a point-per-game player 44 games into his 35-year-old season, is just really, really good. Still. That was a hell of a shot to tie the game, and he just never looks out of place, even though he’s always playing the biggest minutes. It’s going to be jarring if his play ever declines. And, knock on wood, but I’m so, so looking forward to Giordano back in the playoffs, hopefully on an extended run. If anyone deserves it it’s him.

The bad news

Yet another brutal first period by the Flames, in which they once again had problems with turnovers (Noah Hanifin – ouch. He wasn’t prepared to get pressured behind the net like that) and getting out of their zone. The Flames recovered well enough, but it’s a habit they’ll probably want to break out of at some point; playing that poorly for stretches of a game can’t keep up.

For the third game in a row, the Flames have given up a goal with the other team’s net empty in the final minute of the game. Two of their last three game winners have been empty net goals because the team has gotten lackadaisical after scoring the empty netter and extending their lead to two. Everything’s turned out okay in the end, but that’s only because the Flames have gotten those empty net goals to begin with (and they’ve certainly missed their fair share). It’s definitely gotta stop. Give credit to the other team for still trying to force overtime, but the Flames need to be better in the final minute, regardless.

David Rittich trying to leave his crease to do something with the puck continues to be an adventure, and not a particularly fun one. In fairness, after Rittich took a needless penalty freezing the puck at the faceoff dot in the first, he showed he learned from his mistake by edging back into his crease after covering the puck up in the third. Though there was also what could have been a dangerous clearing chance in the third, as well. As long as he’s got everything under control by spring!

Really no clue why Keith Yandle thought it was necessary to attempt an axe swing as Sean Monahan was scoring into the empty net. That was a temper tantrum. Just astoundingly unnecessary; players potentially getting hurt in garbage time helps nobody.

The Panthers challenged for goaltender interference on Giordano’s goal due to Tkachuk bumping Roberto Luongo in his crease a little bit before the puck found its way in. I’m not sure if that was much different than, say, Anthony Peluso getting a goal called off in Edmonton. This is more of an overarching bad news bit, though: we’ll simply never know what goaltender interference actually is. And considering the Flames’ history of goals not being called in the playoffs… I am getting preemptively worried, maybe, a little.

Numbers of note

65.88% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF on the night. When they turn it on (such as in the second period: 76.47%) it’s amazing just how dominant they are. Let’s not leave out their 24-12 in scoring chances, or 13-4 in high danger corsi events, either, according to Natural Stat Trick.

85% – In 12 minutes of 5v5 ice time with Backlund and Tkachuk, Frolik had an 85% CF with them. He was at 0% the rest of the game (i.e. the first period). It was probably a good move to reunite them.

15-19 minutes – Who needs a fourth line? Not Bill Peters on a Friday night, apparently. Elias Lindholm led the Flames’ forward group in ice time with 19:37. Frolik played 15:15, the least out of all of the top nine forwards. It was very evenly spread out, about what was deserved considering the games the second and third lines were having, and the fact you can never really count the first line out.

4-5 minutes – And then there was the fourth line, getting only about 4-5 minutes through the game (Czarnik with a little more thanks to starting the game with Backlund and Tkachuk). The fourth line got two shifts in the second period, and one shift in the third.

14:30 – In contrast, Oliver Kylington made his return to the lineup, playing the least among all Flames defencemen – and he still skated for a healthy 14:30. It’s the fourth most minutes he’s had in a game this season.

15 – Frolik has been collecting points since his return to action. His 15 on the season now ties him for 10th on the team with Bennett – albeit in 15 fewer games.

Final thought

The Flames have been floundering a bit in playing well through an entire game since just before the Christmas break. They’ve kept winning, though, so the damage isn’t being done in the standings. I think this is where the fear starts to creep in that the Flames aren’t as good as their record shows, even though a lot of other numbers point to them being a legitimately competitive team.

There’s the pessimistic outlook for that – this season is a mirage and they’re doomed in the playoffs – and the optimistic outlook – just imagine how good they’ll be when they get over this stretch and really get going for the postseason. I’m more inclined to believe the optimistic look is closer to reality. For all their warts – and every single team has warts – this is still a good team.

      • freethe flames

        WW I like Tkachuk but he gas some serious flaws in his game. At times he looks lost in the D zone(hence why he does not play on the PK) and I would love to see him play with more offensive guys but please tell me who on the Flames this would be. One guy I would like to see him have some significant icetime with is Janko but that should probably wait until next preseason.

      • buts

        I agree tho he played very well last night and deserved first star Frolik making 4.3 million a season has played maybe 8-10 decent games this year. He is showing decline like so many 30 and over players. Get some picks for him at the draft.

    • withachance

      When Backlund got injured, Tkachuk’s 5v5 points slowed down, and didnt look anywhere as dominant. I’d argue without Backlund, Tkachuk wouldnt be having as good of a season as he is.

      • Lazarus

        Well look at it the other way..I cringe to think of how few points Backlund would have without Tkachuk. He is carrying that kind in terms of secondary scoring..no question. It sure isn’t Backlund

        • Getpucksdeep

          Look at Backlund historically. Solid .5 pts a game. 2 x 20 goal seasons. He isn’t a 60 point guy but his defensive play and skating make him a really good 2nd line center. There’s 31 teams in the league and maybe 4-5 have a scoring 2nd line center. Janko may well grow into that position and that would be fun but for now Backlund is pretty reliable and once again hes on track for his 15-20 goals 40-45 points..

        • withachance

          Why are you looking at Backlund for points? He consistently gets 40-50 points a season, while stopping the opposition from getting points. Scoring isnt the only way to be good at this game.

      • TKO

        Tkachuks dad sure went out of his way to praise Backlund, saying he is the most underated player in the league and Mattyis lucky to get to play with him. Backlund has his weaknesses – his shot isn’t as accurate as it could be, but there are so many other strengths that Mathew can learn from Backlund. at his age, Backlund is likely to end up as a 3rd line center sooner than later, but is Jankowski ready to replace him as the shutdown guy?

        • Luter 1

          People underestimate Janko’s potential, he has already surpassed Backlund as an elite penalty killer, has a way better shot, has size and reach (needs to use it a little more) and is a better skater than he appears. Remember hes definitely still improving where backlund is topped out. Groom him for shutdown 2nd line center.

          • Heeeeere’s Johnny

            I agree with all you say about Janko’s strengths. His biggest weakness is consistency in compete level. If he is to become our 2C he needs to bring dog-on-a-bone puck chasing and strength and battle to the boards. That’s what everyone on the 3M line does … they win puck battles. Janko has to learn to do that.

          • Brian McGrattan's Salute

            Or it seems like BP wants a good scoring second line, so maybe Janko can be more of a scoring 2C, that plays a good 200ft game? Lindholm lite?

    • 谢谢兄弟,我爱你

      I dunno, man. Calling Backlund “Generational” and Tkachuk a “Plug” seems a bit strange to me. Maybe go get some more sleep before posting again?

    • The Iggy complex

      Hmm and yet Backlund is known through out the league as one of the best shutdown centers… Was even a runner up for that exact award… Sounds like plug material. 8 points in 7 games for Frolik… Also plug material

  • freethe flames

    No talk about Brodie moving to play with Hanifin and making him better in the last two periods. It does not surprise me that Gio makes Hamonic better b/c they play well together on the PK.

    Going to 3 lines great but Neal (the missing link) hardly should have been the 9th forward. You would love him if this was baseball and he was your starting pitcher as he had another” no hitter”. I get so frustrated watching him play as he has not lived up to anything that BT said he brought to the club; he is not scoring, he has no physical presence, and he does not agitate. All things I recall he was supposed to bring. He can’t be traded b/c of his term and cost. For this team to reach it’s potential “the missing link” has to find his game and I would be happy if as the Meat Loaf song says if he fond “two out of three ain’t bad”.

    • The GREAT WW

      Just imagine if “Plan A” had actually worked out; Reaves instead of Neal…..

      We would be in a much better place right now. Even Better than first in the Pacific!

      WW

      • Luter 1

        You just proved you are 100 times smarter than your 7 trashes. Really guys I know you like ice capades but this team needs a serious injection of toughness. 4 inches higher on the slash and you would all be whining about Monahans broken wrist and screaming for somebody that actually does some policing for this team. Right now no one fears anyone on this roster and come playoff time the shenanigans will begin, is this team ready for that or can survive 2 or 3 rounds of some of that crap. Unless James Neal transforms from a useless, no skating, no hitting, no passing, no heart, lost in no-mans land shift after shift – Reaves would be exactly what we need.
        To prove it, ask Vegas for a trade straight across – they would laugh and ask us if we were serious. Buy this guy out before he infects the team with whatever brain fart disease he has caught. Useless and lazy on top of it – poor janko and bennett playing with this dud.

        • withachance

          Again. Edmonton is dressing Lucic and Kassian. They are oozing toughness. Tampa, Toronto, Nashville are all teams that dont scream out toughness. Reaves literally couldnt even keep up with the speed of our 4th line.

          This is 2019, do you really think policing players stops the opposition from slashing the best players in the league?

        • calgaryfan

          Neal may be a dud, but Reaves is a plug. I was happy when Reaves signed with Vegas.
          How does Reaves stop a slash in the last few minutes when he would have been on the bench. A tough guy only works if he can take a regular shift.

          • Mickey O'Reaves

            Is 8g/7a and 11:30 in ice-time any good for a dude that supposedly doesn’t take a regular shift? He plays every day as well.
            Ryan Reaves finally found a GM and coach that knows how to use his skill set correctly.

      • Mickey O'Reaves

        But wait, there’s more! The Ryan Reaves has a CF% of 53.5 this season. That’s good isn’t it?
        “Yeah, but we’ve already decided that Reaves is nothing more than a goon and ‘studies have shown’ that you don’t need a strict enforcer type. So it is too late to change our minds now, no matter what the stats say.”
        For a bunch of seemingly objective number-crunchers, the stats sure seem to go out of the window when the player doesn’t fit the pre-conceived narrative.

    • Brian McGrattan's Salute

      I really like our third line recently. The only issue is that Neal is a bit of an anchor on the that line. Solution? There isn’t really one, but it would be nice to sit Neal for Mangiapane.

  • Lazarus

    Don’t let the 3Ms game distract you from the fact that even after being held pointless all game our top line scored a PP game winner with 1.5 mins to play..showing up when we needed them most.
    (History will never remember there wasn’t a goalie in net)

  • The GREAT WW

    Is Brayden Schenn the C for Byng?
    Put Jankowski on that line too.
    A rental for the next 2 years.
    They would want our first round pick. And we would need to send Neal to even out salary.

    That would be “all in” for the next 2 years….

    WW

  • Skylardog

    Brodie has had a good season. It didn’t work with GG and he was one of the casualties. He has rebounded.

    But he was BRUTAL last night. He is prone to occasional brainfarts, and had a few last night. Our 2nd, 3rd, and 4th D are struggling badly right now. I believe it is Hanifin, not so much Hamonic, but together they look horrible right now.

    As for Brodie, the second goal was entirely on him. Not sure what he was thinking. He was on Gio’s side of the ice. That kind of play from a veteran defenseman (or any for that matter) is inexcusable.

    Then with 3:40 left in a 1 goal game, he presses as the 4th guy on a rush. When the pass doesn’t connect, the Panthers are headed 2 on 1 the other way. Not the time to be jumping as th fourth guy into a rush. Third guy yes, but not when you are leaving yourself open to a odd man rush the other way at the end of a game.

    It seemed to me, more like Brodie was pulled away from Gio after the bad 2nd goal, not Hanifin and Hamonic being split up. I actually thought Brodie was getting bench when he wasn’t with Gio on the next shift. He should have had a few shifts off.

    There were other mistakes that didn’t result in a goal, just in case you are wondering.

  • Kzak

    Bennett really needs to learn to shoot the puck before an opposing player gets his stick on it. Guys like Ovi and Skinner are snipers because they get the puck and shoot before anybody even notices they have it and Bennett needs to either learn that or at least realize it because twice last nice while we’re SHOOOOOOOT, he’s getting the puck knocked off his stick.

    • TheDallyLama

      It seems to be in his windup, even if it’s just a wrister or snapper. I would think he needs repetition to solve that. The guy to talk to would be Lindholm. Everybody sees how he takes those cross ice feeds on the PP from Johnny and rips it off as quick as it was on his stick. But what do I know..it’s easy being an armchair GM/coach/skills coach right? Lol man I enjoy this beautiful game ?

    • Brian McGrattan's Salute

      So so true. I hope he’s the kinda guy that can recognize these things, and then just work really hard to address them. He’s even getting smarter and better with his hands and deking and such, but if he could get his shot off quicker maybe he could pot a few more every now and then

  • Jimmyhaggis

    Not happy with Hanafins play lately, Brodie has his confidence back, he doesn’t have to play with Gio any longer.
    Backs still solid guy, not sure why so many people down on him, every other team would love to have him on there team. During playoffs he’ll really become more valuable.
    Rittich has to stop this risky play, play safe, play smart.

  • Alberta Ice

    Missed Hathaway on the 4th line in this game. I like his physical game and he works hard when he is on. This team still has a tendency to be overconfident and play down to the level of their opponents as evidenced in the 1st period. Unlike last year, they are finding their mojo (usually coming out in the 3rd period) to win. But when you get to the playoffs, you got to play 60 minutes consistently with that mojo from the beginning. Until then, they are not at the level of the Lightning, Capitals, or Predators. If they can really hit it for 60 minutes beginning at the start of the game, I will regard them as a true Stanley Cup contender. They have certainly shown flashes of dominance, especially in the 3rd period. And I like Peters willingness to try change when it’s not working. The talent and depth is there. That gives hope for even better things yet from this team. KIGF.

    • Luter 1

      Czarnik sure isn’t having any impact. Little wake-up call from Peters to get back to what he does best, forecheck and hit. Worked for Frolik but biggest culprit Neal needs a benching and forced to watch replays of his play so far this year. he would throw-up watching that horror show. We have quicker players in our old-timers league.

      • Jumping Jack Flash

        Has anyone else noticed that Czarnik’s propensity to Whig on his shots when he has grade A chances? It is uncanny how he can have a point blank shot and muff it repeatedly. The third line does everything but score but we need to stick with it.

  • Heeeeere’s Johnny

    I think Huberdeau had a point on the penalty he took on Johnny. Johnny sold that to the extent that I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets a warning or a fine from the league for diving. Gotta be careful with that stuff. The last thing he needs is to get a rep for his “gainers”.

  • Lazarus

    What happened to the days of the Backlund Bump? Used to be he could drag Bouma, Colborne, etc to excellent campaigns…now anytime someone mentions “well hell, put Neal with him. If anyone could use the Backlund Bump its him. Then people say oh no, God no..you cant do that..Neal is too slow!!”
    No one was slower than Colborne. That tells me all I need to know about the “Backlund Bump”

    • Luter 1

      Usually agree with you but I would take Colborne in a second right now over Neal. This guy aged 10 years over the summer, he’s done. Rewatch a game once and focus on him, he’s completely lost out there. Even Cassie mentioned his notorious flybys last night when Bennett dug it out but Neal forgot to stop in front of the net. But Cassie also mentioned the nastiness Bennett and Neal can bring to the line?? Neal nasty are you kidding? The only time he actually stops is going into a corner when he has a chance to crunch somebody.

      • Luter 1

        If he would just cut for the net or pass before going behind the net once in a while I would like his rushes a lot more. Him and Hanifin are big bodies but never take the puck to the net instead take the easy route behind which is exactly what their D want you to do. Gio needs to take them aside and show them some replays of how he does it!!

  • Chucky

    Its January and this is a slump, this happens to teams that have performed well and have to play teams who have their backs against the wall.
    Its January and this is a slump and these guys are continuing to post two points every night. Think about that, think about other years.
    Stop complaining.
    Stop worrying.

  • FlamesFanFromMI

    Most of you guys are saying it’s true. Here is the reality. We are second in the whole NHL. We didn’t solve the goalie problem in summer we still winning ( would have 6 more points if it wasn’t for Smith but who is counting). Is Neal scoring . Umm who is Neal?Are we playing good? Hell no. We are winning and it masks everything. God forbid if we lose and Mike Smith and Neal aren’t playing who we going to blame then? To all who are preaching toughness, we are not in playoffs yet. Something will be done by trade deadline. BT’s job is on the line (if not this season without winning then next season) he will get something done. I won’t be surprised if Fro is gone in this summer. Let’s get in playoffs and pass the first round cause we haven’t done it since 04 (correct me if I am wrong). Let’s just wait and watch. When flames turn it on they REALLY turn it on.