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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Flames 6, Red Wings 4 post-game embers: Never in doubt

Why bother leading for any of the game when you can just swoop in right at the end and take the win then and there? The Flames had a pretty rough night, but of course, they got it done anyway.

Feel of the game

The Flames were the better team to start, but that didn’t matter too much when their top defence pairing took back-to-back penalties right at the end of the first period, giving the Red Wings the chance to take the early lead. Detroit started taking over more and more throughout the game, but you have to give the Flames credit: they never let things get out of reach.

It was a real depth game. Though Johnny Gaudreau kept doing Johnny Gaudreau things, and the 3M line generated their fair share of chances, it was mostly the Flames’ depth forwards that came through for them. Their top defence pairing let them down, but one of their rookie defencemen was pivotal in getting them back up. The top powerplay unit didn’t look great, but the second unit gave them a perfect percentage on the night. Even as the Flames kept handing the Red Wings the lead time and time again, the less heralded players on the team stepped up time and time again.

It ramped up for the third period, when the goals really wouldn’t stop coming. But though the Flames’ defence left a lot to be desired, they never gave up on the game. It can’t be a good feeling for Detroit for that one to have slipped away, and it shouldn’t be a good feeling for the Flames, either: it wasn’t good. But they got the win, because that’s just what they do this season.

The good news

The Flames improved their forward depth over the offseason. That’s been overshadowed by their top four forwards collectively losing their minds and racking up the points nonstop, but this game was a great reminder of how opposing teams have to take all four lines seriously. Yeah, James Neal has been having the worst season of his career; he’s still James Neal, and he can still score. Yeah, Sam Bennett isn’t doing what was expected of a fourth overall pick; he still has talent. Yeah, Derek Ryan’s contract could make you think the Flames have another overpaid fourth line centre, but absolutely not for the amount of work he puts in.

All three of those players deserve an extended shoutout. Bennett and Neal got the second powerplay working, doing simple things like just going to the net and shooting and/or tipping; it was a change of pace when the top unit looked lost and had difficulties getting themselves set up. And Ryan has really been hustling these past few games, but he got something to show for it against the Red Wings: his effort on the Flames’ final penalty kill alone was what led them to their first lead of the game, and the eventual win. He created the shorthanded goal. He drew the penalty that led to Bennett’s game winner. He was stellar.

Also stellar? Rasmus Andersson’s presence on the second powerplay unit. It’s been a long time coming – he’s been so good in empty net scenarios – and against Detroit, it paid off in the form of two second unit goals. He initially created the circumstances for them just by wiring the puck towards the net. Let’s remember that he’s only 22 years old, but if the early returns are any indication, the Flames could be set for a powerplay quarterback for some time yet.

Special teams sunk the Flames early, allowing the Red Wings a five-on-three goal to open the scoring, but from that point on, Calgary was dominant. Four kills. Three powerplay goals, all by the oft-struggling second unit. A shorthanded goal. They would have been in trouble had the game been strictly played at five-on-five, but that’s why you have good special teams: so you get the chance to win.

For as much as the Flames struggled, the game was always within reach. The Red Wings never went up more than one goal at a time on them, and the Flames were (mostly) quick to respond. Although, there were those struggles…

The bad news

The Flames seemed determined to not bother tracking any Detroit players throughout the game. Letting Mike Green walk through them on the third goal? Check. Absolutely nobody picking up Dylan Larkin on the fourth goal, everyone – including the goalie – converging on Gustav Nyquist instead? Double check. The fourth goal against was particularly embarrassing – just a collective lack of awareness from everybody. The defence was shoddy and they were lucky their special teams and depth forwards bailed them out in the end.

The top pairing had an uncharacteristically rough night as well, TJ Brodie in particular. Two sloppy first period penalties had them down in the opening frame, and it got to the point they needed to be split up. Throw in Mark Giordano tipping in the second goal against and yeah, it wasn’t great. The good news is that we have entire bodies of work to indicate this was probably more of an off-night than any sign of continued decline, but what an off-night it was.

Mike Smith playing the puck is such a horrible adventure. Late in the second period he left his net to collect it, which maybe would have been fine but for the fact that there were a bunch of Red Wings around, and it’s sheer good fortune they weren’t able to get a shot off on the wide open net he left for them. (The skaters’ refusals to track opposing players extended to him as well, it seemed.) And yeah, he got an assist on the empty netter, but what a precarious assist it was. He causes way too many heart attacks with this stuff.

Numbers of note

45.16% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF on the night. The Red Wings looked to take over the even strength play about halfway through the game, but it was a game won on special teams (albeit, in all situations they had a 47.86% CF).

15 – The Flames lead the NHL with 15 shorthanded goals. They had 15 back in 2006-07, but that was a full season; this time around, it’s only been 49 games, so you kinda figure more will be on the way. The Calgary record is 23 shorthanded goals in 80 games back in 1987-88.

4 – Giordano is tied for third in the NHL with four shorthanded points, behind Mark Jankowski (seven) and Michael Grabner (six). He’s also tied for third in the NHL in shorthanded goals with three. Only one other defenceman in the NHL this year has multiple shorthanded goals: Esa Lindell, with two. As for overall defencemen shorthanded points, Travis Hamonic is in second place with three. Then there are 11 defencemen tied for third place with two, including Noah Hanifin.

1:19 – Andersson’s time on the powerplay. He played 14:19 total. He’s been steadily getting second unit powerplay time for about five games in a row now; great to see it pay off like this.

25:08 – Travis Hamonic’s ice time in his return to the lineup, 5:46 of which came on the penalty kill. Only Giordano (25:50) played more than he did. They rely on him; it’s wonderful he was able to return – especially because it meant things were okay in the real world.

7:54 – The fourth line had some great looks, but Andrew Mangiapane saw the least ice time out of all of the Flames. The team has had a forward spot open for one of their prospects to take since the start of the season, and nobody’s really been able to quite lay a claim on it.

Final thought

The Flames probably didn’t deserve to win that one. At the same time though, they did: they fought back, taking advantage of Detroit’s mistakes just as Detroit did their own. The unheralded players came through – and helped show this can be a dangerous team, even when their four top scoring forwards only have minimal contributions to make. Is it fair to say this is a complete team? Maybe – and if not now, we might be starting to get to that point. Here’s to a worthy followup.

  • Flames fan since 83

    I love how Bill Peters work’s the bench and adjusts the lines.
    I wonder what GG is thinking when he looks at his old team. I mean, GG must see how pig headed he was by insisting Brodie should be on the 1st PP and not Gio. And don’t get me started about GG”s insistance on Troy being on the first unit!
    IMO, the next tweak should be Anderson. He is emerging to be the teams best RHD. And I think Rasmus would be awesome on the first pairing with GIO! I know this is probably not the best move right now because of personal, but I just wanted to mention Rasmus Potential in my opinion

  • MontanaMan

    Confidence is key for an elite athlete – both good and bad. Last night Smith had it (still struggled at times but was confident with the puck and challenged shooters for the most part); Bennett (confidence grows as goals go in and you can see it in his driving the net); Neal (shooting the puck more and confidence starting to grow); Backlund (didn’t play well, yelling at the refs and opposition and off his game; benched in the third) and Brodie (really struggled last night which he does not handle well and body language showing his lack of confidence in his game). In a game like hockey, each shift grows on the next – having a good shift should lead to a better next shift but having a bad shift can’t destroy your night. It’s why sports psychologists are employed by every team!

  • Zesty14

    Very happy to see the team carry more of the weight then just leaving it to the first line. Everyone posting about us needing more depth and secondary scoring, we were shown some last night. If they can keep this trend up I can see a deep playoff run or a dance in the final. Every week that passes and gets closer to the end of the season the more excited I am for post season. It’s been along time coming. Keep pushing flames.

  • freethe flames

    Smith played well enough for them to win(he made some big saves when needed and kept the game form getting out of hand), Bennett has had some great games this year and last night may have been his best; if he continues to play like this(no he does not need to score 2 every night) then he helps to take this team to another level. Neal probably had his best game of the season and not just because he had a goal and an assist but because he was engaged. What I need to see is that kind of engagement from him for a number of games in a row before I’m convinced. Ryan was rewarded last night and of the the 3 FA forward signings he has been the most consistent.
    There are lots of things to be unhappy about in last nights game but at the end of the night they got the two points. Tonight they need to regroup and be better as a team. We play the Oilers, the Sharks play Tampa and the Knights play Pittsburg. Let’s see what the night holds.

  • Jimmyhaggis

    They have to learn to dominate a team like the Red Wings from start to finish. No fooling around, come playoffs it’s 60 minutes or you’re done.
    Tonight is going to be a test, can hardly wait.

    • Dr. Gonzo

      No they dont. They just have to find ways to win. You dont win a 7 game series any quicker by dominating. The Flames need games like this to understand and overcome adversity. Great win. Great contribution by the not usual suspects. If anything, games like this right now show the weak links and holes on this team.

  • Rocket66

    I’m concerned how the playoffs are going to go
    We rely on one line too much and guaranteed the first line will be covered as will Johnny
    Pittsburgh didn’t win cups playing one line. They had 3 and the third with kessel got it done
    Peters imo needs to start playing guys together to get chemistry Johnny mony play well because they play together 3m line also
    Peters has basically half a season to do something
    I would bring ferland back as at least a rental to play on the first line one reason is because he has played on that line before and to protect Johnny from hacking and whacking Will this line be as good as the current first line probably not but they will be still be a respectable line

    Johnny. Mony ferland
    Bing lindholm
    Jankowski. Backs. Frolik
    Bennet Ryan
    These are the pairings I would go with because play off hockey is not the same as the regular season

    • Dr. Gonzo

      Ferland is NOT the awnser. He wasnt the awnser when he was here, he isnt the awnser now. He is not an elite goal scorer. He is too inconsistent. He is damaged goods. He is injury prone.

    • KootenayFlamesFan

      You definitely picked the wrong game to post that on. This game is quite literally the complete opposite of everything you stated. I think the depth is there, it’s just had horrible luck up to this point.

      As far as grit goes, we haven’t been manhandled in months now. Quite the opposite really if anything we are matching or exceeding the opposition’s grit.

      Tonight is going to be awesome!!! The only thing that would make it better is if we weren’t on the second night of a back to back.

    • Rockmorton65

      This is not a one line team. Flames scored six last night and the top line was only responsible for one. On its current trajectory, this team is set up well for the playoffs.

      Shut down the top line, Byng & the 3M line can burn you.
      Somehow manage to stop the top line AND 3M, you get to meet Benny, Janks and The Real Deal.
      Focus on the forwards and the D will burn you
      With this teams shorthanded prowess, teams need to be thinking defence on the PP.

      I can’t wait to see this team in the playoffs.

  • Lazarus

    This whole team is The Real Deal.
    I enjoyed Neal, scooting Rittich back in the pregame from chit chat in warmup at center. “Get your head in the game, even if you’re on the bench..” Solid.
    Boss move.

  • Off the wall

    Peter’s is a great coach. I think we underestimated his ability, being with Carolina and the lack of success they had.

    He plays his best 9 forwards when games are close. I was surprised he sat Backlund a bit in the 3rd. That’s gotta be a first!

    Brodie was unsettling, so he put Gio- Hamonic back together as well.

    His read on the players is what I appreciate most about Peters. No problem mixing it up, doesn’t matter who you are or what position you play. That’s what the players need. Accountability, and Peters brings that EVERY GAME.

    He’s a beauty!

    • KootenayFlamesFan

      Spot on!!!! I liked his talk coming into the season but was a little apprehensive. He has proved to be even better than he sounded. This team is where they are because of him!

      • Off the wall

        That’s fair WW. We being (many) not all. I don’t count, nor do I keep track of who said what, I just remember the bit of questionable comments Peters received when we first brought him aboard.

        I wasn’t one of them, however I had some doubts when he first arrived.

        He absolutely silenced that, but I’m sure you had no worries whatsoever to begin with. If that’s the case, you win my friend! I hope that makes you feel better..

        • calgaryfan

          I was probably like most fans who knew nothing about BP. I only knew of his goalie problems in Carolina and his rant on Eddie Lack. When he was hired I was hoping Treliving got it right this time. BP has far exceeded my expectations.

        • HOCKEY83

          What’s wrong with you? Don’t you know you should always have WW in mind when making comments on this site….HAHAHA…Jesus…Who cares who we is…Can’t believe you indulged that comment. Anyone who says they weren’t a little weary of Peters coming from a garbage team is a liar.

  • Sven

    O M G …………

    ESPN

    NHL Plus/Minus Rating Leaders – All Players

    1 Mark Giordano, D CGY +31
    2 T.J. Brodie, D CGY +28
    3 Elias Lindholm, C CGY +26

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen any team sitting with first , second and third league wide half way through the season.

    and Backlund is 9th with Gaudreau sitting at 12

    wow

    GFG

  • SouthernFlame

    They should bring up Lomberg tonight to fight Krazy eyes Kassian again. Loved how Lomberg made him throw a fit and get ejected out of that game. Tonight will be a good test for the bottom six. Our bottom six has no excuses against their bottom six. Hopefully see a repeat of 2 goals from Bennett and a goal from Neal

    • His Worship

      Neal vs Lucic, 5 goals vs 4. Who has the worst contract. Lucic can at least forecheck (ie hit) and fight. If Neal is not scoring goals he is useless to our team. Let’s hope our bottom six can do SOMETHING tonight. Maybe Loubert can fight Lucic and show everyone he is the boss, if he doesn’t it should still have an uplifting effect on the team.

  • MontanaMan

    Given the Kylington was stapled to the bench in the third and the Flames up against the Oilers, I would expect Prout to play tonight as an answer to Lucic.

  • Ramskull

    It seems like every game summary for the last three weeks has been “The Flames weren’t great but then they scored 6 goals and won.” That’s not a knock on Ryan or Ari because that’s pretty much what it’s been.

    • cberg

      This year’s Flames is a throw-back to the high-flying, high-scoring 1980’s Flames. Its very exciting and we as fans have to change our thinking from the tight-checking, shutdown ways of the past couple of decades. These Flames have also shown they can shut it down, so I’m optimistic going forward they can play it any way the opposition wants to. The bottom line is they are winning, learning how to win many different ways, and being consistent. That should bode well moving forward.

  • Lamepoop

    Although the third line is starting to pick up, I’m curious to see what Chucky-Janko-Benny can do with some more time together as I noticed they were put together for a couple shifts in the third.