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.
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.