The Flames weren’t anywhere close to their best, but I think they can be forgiven considering how they got the two points anyway, it’s only January, there are nine days until their next game, and oh yeah, that one little thing in which they’re literally second overall in the entire NHL.
Feel of the game
Oliver Kylington scored early to give the Flames some life, but aside from spurts here and there, the Flames didn’t really have that much life at all. The Hurricanes just completely dominated zone time early, and aside from a couple of high danger chances the Flames created – namely an early opportunity by Mark Giordano that Petr Mrazek stretched out to deny, and some pretty good James Neal almost-goals – they didn’t have much going for them (Mark Jankowski’s goal at four-on-four – because why score at five-on-five? – aside).
Though he wasn’t really challenged that much, Mrazek had a good game; he did have to make a couple of stops on the Flames that looked like they would be sure goals otherwise. But on the other end of the ice, it was David Rittich who had to do the bulk of the work – and he held strong against Hurricanes players, denying them in most every opportunity they got. He really couldn’t be blamed for either goal that went against him either; an unfortunate tip-in by his own defenceman and a late game-tying goal after his team had failed to show up for most of the game.
At least until overtime, in which TJ Brodie, he who scored the Hurricanes’ first goal, rushed the puck up the ice, and Mikael Backlund, he who helped create the Flames’ second goal, deftly got it in the back of the net. Fifteen seconds. The Flames didn’t deserve to win, but they did anyway – and that’s the Flames this season on their worst nights.
The good news
Backlund had a great game against the Oilers, and he kept it up against the Hurricanes with another multi-point night. Not everyone can be a 50+ point scorer on the Flames – only like, five guys are – but Backlund’s the sixth guy, and moves like his overtime winner help remind everybody that he can be a serious threat on the ice, too. He’s a key part of this team, and it’s always fun to see him show up in big moments like that.
Remember that, between all of the Flames’ rookie defencemen, Kylington was the afterthought. Injuries opened up an avenue for him, though, and it was a blessing in disguise in a way: now having played in 26 games this season, it looks like Kylington has real NHL talent. He’s up to three goals in his career now, including two in back-to-back games. Playoffs can be a whole different beast, but maybe the Flames won’t have too much reason to worry about defensive depth down the line?
The fourth line has shown a lot of jump as of late, and they kept it up in this game. I just like bringing this up because it wasn’t that long ago the fourth line would consist of, like, Backlund having to centre Brian McGrattan and Kevin Westgarth. Instead, a rookie in Andrew Mangiapane and someone who plays a harder game in Garnet Hathaway end up buzzing around the offensive zone causing havoc. It’s so much better nowadays.
Rittich has had some not-great efforts as of late, and some pretty okay ones, but it’s been a bit since he’s had to outright steal a game like he did against the Hurricanes. Though it’s not ideal that’s the situation the team put him in, it was wonderful to see that he’s still capable of having a game like that. He was fantastic.
The bad news
But it’s really, really not great the Flames led Rittich to do so much of their work for them en route to the win. though they got better as a group as the game went on, their start was pretty bad. It’d be a little easier to write this off as “they’re just excited to go on vacation” but for the fact that the Flames have had a number of games this year in which they haven’t looked great. Good to pull out the win regardless, but this is going to stop come springtime, right?
Though credit to the Hurricanes for shutting the Flames down. The top line, in particular, tends to be a lot more noticeable; against Carolina, aside from a good chance or two, there just wasn’t much going for them. You wouldn’t think a two-on-one with Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm would end without even a shot, and yet that’s exactly the kind of night it was for them.
Neal’s bad luck is just comical at this point. Sure, having the goalie make a save or just shooting the puck wide is one thing, but having the puck bounce over your stick while you’re facing a wide open net? That’s just a whole other level. On the other hand, it goes to show he’s doing a lot of things right, and that there’s hope things do turn around – but it’s just silly right now.
Numbers of note
35% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF on the night. They were not good. They were much better in the third period, but overall, they were not good.
8 minutes and above 50% – In a tight game, the fourth line understandably did not see that much ice time; Mangiapane and Hathaway specifically only played a little over eight minutes each – but that also allowed them to have the best corsis on the Flames. Not to take stock into single-game corsi results, but it was at least a little illuminating: they had good games overall, and the numbers matched their play.
4 – Rasmus Andersson led the way for the Flames with four shots on net. He also seems to have near-singlehandedly fixed the second powerplay unit, which looks much more threatening with him manning the point.
0.943% – Rittich’s save percentage, one of his best games since he stole a game for the Flames against the Jets back on Dec. 27, then stopping 35 of 36 shots. He has a 0.918 save percentage on the season now, good for 10th in the NHL among goalies with at least 1,000 minutes played. Switch to even strength, and he’s at 0.930% – tied for fourth.
11 – Gaudreau’s point streak ended after 11 games. He scored 22 points in that time frame. He currently has 361 career points in 363 career games.
19 – The Flames earned 19 total points in the standings through the month of January. The most they could have earned was 22.
The Flames just haven’t been able to stop rolling. What happens when they go into a slump? I might even argue they’ve been in a slump much of this time – a number of the games they’ve played for the past month they haven’t been at their best, but they’ve been winning anyway. We’ve seen how dangerous this team can be when firing on all cylinders, though. If they’re able to consistently reach that level over the next couple of months, well, it’s going to be an interesting spring in Calgary.
In the meantime, hopefully the extended time off from games does everyone some good. Eleven games to go until the trade deadline!