Sometimes, a really good team plays a mediocre-to-bad team (depending on how much stock you want to take into said team’s rather sizeable injury list) on the second of a back-to-back. This was about the result one could expect.
Feel of the game
From the start, it felt like it was the Flames’ game to lose, and really, it was. After all, when it takes the opponent over half a period to get their first shot of the game, and on a powerplay nonetheless, well, that’s probably a sign that you’re in control. Mike Smith came up big with some saves, and the Flames weathered it out until Mark Giordano was able to open the scoring late in the first. And then Sean Monahan made it 2-0 just over a minute later and, well, that was pretty much it.
The Coyotes had their fair share of almost chances but couldn’t get anything going for themselves; the Flames had their stronger share of chances and capitalized on many of them. They were cruising, and there was nothing the Coyotes could do to stop it: not even a late second period goal gave them much life, because then they were still headed into the third period facing a three-goal deficit, and the Flames just didn’t turn off the pressure.
The Flames played a complete game, and the result was a tired, lesser opponent getting crushed.
The good news
Expectations don’t always match up with reality. In their previous game, the Flames faced a Panthers team on the second of a back-to-back: another tired team near the bottom of the standings. They played a horrible first period before coming away with a win. This time, the Flames were ready from the beginning. Maybe it’s the extended home stay, maybe it’s the message that they can’t rest on their laurels, but the Flames didn’t really take any part of the game off, which is something we haven’t seen much of lately. At the very least, it’s an encouraging sign going forward.
Giordano continues to show just why he’s a Norris caliber defenceman, and as a 35-year-old playing his 800th career game no less. It wasn’t just the goals – although those shots were beauties – but things like when, before he opened the scoring, he was largely in control as he, TJ Brodie, and the team’s second line buzzed with some serious offensive zone time that could have been the team’s first goal then and there. He’s deft, he does the little things right, and then he has the athleticism and strength to back it all up and turn it into something tangible. He’s one of the rare, truly special ones.
You’ve gotta love all four lines getting in on the scoring. Garnet Hathaway was the only Flame who didn’t pick up a point; everyone else did. The top line showed off, as they are wont to do. The second line made a bunch of smart plays, as they are wont to do. The third line wasn’t as noticeable as they were against the Panthers, but it’s not as though they were a negative impact, either. And the fourth line opened the scoring and got in more minutes than normal in a pretty big night for them.
Some shoutouts to a couple of rookies in particular: Andrew Mangiapane picked up his first NHL point, and it was largely because of him the opening goal happened at all. He was buzzing around the offensive zone in both the first and third periods a fair bit in what has to be one of his best NHL showings to date – and mind, a lot of his exceptional play occurred well before the game was out of hand. The same goes for Oliver Kylington, who has his own flair for creating havoc in the offensive zone.
Smith didn’t just do his job: he played well. He didn’t just give the Flames a chance to win: he shut down some dangerous Coyotes chances back when the game was close enough they could have made a difference. Smith did his job; the rest of the team did theirs for him.
The bad news
I mean, there were some defensive miscues and breakdowns that led to some Coyotes chances (including Kylington at the start of the second – whoops), and they ended up missing the net a number of times on their own, and things could have gone very differently for the Flames if they hadn’t. But that’s an extreme what if scenario. It isn’t bad for the Flames that the Coyotes got scoring chances; that’s going to happen literally every game.
There’s also that this wasn’t much of a measuring stick game for the Flames – sure, the Coyotes have been on an upswing lately, but they’re definitely not as good of a team as the Flames and they were playing on the second of a back-to-back – but it’s not like you get to pick your opponent. You play the hand you’re dealt. The Flames did it perfectly.
Numbers of note
50.63% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF on the night. Blame a 29.63% second period for the relatively low number, but that’s really only it.
47 – With a three-point night, Giordano tied the third most productive season of his career, 47 points in 64 games back in 2013-14, when he was a spry 30 years old. It’s been 45 games for him. And the Flames now have five players over a point-per-game, and are this close to having five 50-point plus players.
2 – Johnny Gaudreau is ranked second in NHL scoring with 69 nice points. Giordano is ranked second in defenceman scoring.
16:21 – Poor point-less Hathaway, who was also one of just two Flames forwards to not get a shot on net (the other being Derek Ryan), even though he got the third highest ice time out of all of them. It was a game in which Bill Peters could take advantage of the lopsided score to play his lesser players and he did just that.
17:46 – Dalton Prout played the least out of all Flames defencemen, and he still got a healthy amount of ice time. No need for benchings of any kind in a game like this.
+40 – The Flames have the second highest goal differential in the NHL. They finished the 2017-18 season with a -30. I guess the question that remains is: how high can they go? The Lightning led the way with a +60 in 2017-18; in 2018-19, they lead the way at +56 so far.
There they are. It feels like this team has been waffling and playing down to opponents’ levels since mid-late December. They returned to top tier status with this game. Curious to see if that keeps up with this friendly upcoming schedule before the All-Star break.