Photo Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Flames 4, Hurricanes 3 post-game embers: Revenge game for everyone

It’s honestly so great that all seven goals involved players who had been a part of the other team the previous year. It’s just a shame Bill Peters couldn’t somehow find a way to score, too.

Feel of the game

The Hurricanes definitely had the better first period, and not just because they were able to capitalize off of a brutal TJ Brodie giveaway. The Flames just had no answer for them to start, David Rittich was their only real line of defence – at least until the Flames were able to get on the board, and then things calmed down a bit for them.

They were significantly better in the second period, though – especially Derek Ryan. While both Rittich and Petr Mrazek continued to be the main stars of the game, denying several high quality chances, Ryan had his own chance to shine with two points of his own: a gorgeous wraparound goal and a great setup for yet another Flames shorthanded marker. The end of the period was somewhat marred by the Hurricanes scoring to bring it back within one, but the second frame gave us a look at the high-end Flames team that shows up every now and then – the one you watch and figure, ah, yes, this is why they’re second overall in the NHL. They really are that good.

Rittich had to be big in the third period as the Hurricanes once again threatened to take the game over, but eventually, the Flames took back control, restoring their multi-goal lead. The Hurricanes almost made a game of it when they were able to make it a one-goal game with just under a minute to go, but the Flames were able to hold on – much to Elias Lindholm’s delight.

The good news

Seriously, Rittich was great, and the Flames maybe don’t win without him in net. He’s much calmer, he has a better idea of where the puck is going (his early save when he caught sight of the puck at the last possible moment helped set a tone for him – and helped ensure the Flames would be able to weather the storm that was the first period), and he’s easily the Flames’ starter. That it’s February and he’s still playing so well is definitely a testament to how far he’s come. This time about a year ago is when everything fell apart, but things are still looking good for 2019.

Forward depth. The top line had some good puck movement, even if they could only score on the powerplay. Mikael Backlund had his point streak snapped, but he had two absolutely golden, high skill chances in the second period; he’s still feeling it offensively. And then you’ve got the third line fighting hard to create the eventual game winner, plus Ryan – who, mind, centres the fourth line – going nuts and picking up two points in high-effort moments (with each of his linemates picking up points, as well). The fourth line, led by Ryan, really feels like it’s gotten another gear over the past few weeks; games like this are tangible evidence of that.

The Flames and Hurricanes made a legitimately good trade in the offseason. Things aren’t going quite the way the Canes would have hoped for, but you can’t deny Dougie Hamilton and Micheal Ferland are both good players; the Flames have just seriously lucked out with who they got back, in part by giving Lindholm the best linemates he’s ever played with in his life. It’s fun to see everyone who swapped teams involved in all of the goals. Fleecing other teams is all well and good, but I’ve forever got a soft spot for the Hurricanes after they helped out so much in 2006. It’s easy to wish them the best… especially when Lindholm was, evidently, the best player involved in the trade.

Seriously, I never knew Lindholm had that level of pettiness in him to mock the Hurricanes’ celebration. Hockey is supposed to be fun. That was so much fun.

Sometimes, there’s just a shift in how the Flames play. It can happen with any line, any defence pairing. There are these flashes in watching them in which it’s like a switch goes off and they just take complete control of the game, and there’s absolutely nothing the other team can do about it. And when you see them like that, it makes complete sense why they’re so high up in the standings: they have it in them to be genuinely amazing.

The bad news

Of course, the flip side to that is wondering why don’t they play like that all the time. It’s certainly not possible – and we have to remember that the Hurricanes are still a pretty good team, too. Even if they don’t have the raw scoring power the Flames do, they work hard enough and have a pretty good collection of players that you can’t rule them out. But it is frustrating to watch the Flames have moments in which they just dummy the other team, and then follow them up with moments during which they completely forget how to play in their own zone and turn the puck over and give their opponents a free goal. Still waiting for these guys to reconcile just who they are; hopefully they’ve got it figured out in two months.

The Flames truly had a brutal first period. They weren’t ready at all, and were lucky to leave that frame tied. It’s kind of weird how sometimes they only start to play better after they’ve scored – like they have to get that goal first to remember that no, they’re good, they can compete.

And there’s definitely a need to tighten up on defensive zone play. Some of that is likely due to Travis Hamonic’s absence, but it happens with him in the lineup, as well. It’s wild that Brodie can have such a good game one day and immediately follow it up with an extremely high-danger pass in his own end that easily results in a goal against. The second goal against wasn’t exactly a show of competent defensive zone play, either – a complete inability to get a handle on the puck, not to mention leaving someone as dangerous as Hamilton (they remember he’s dangerous, right?) wide open was a bad look. They’ve been doing this a lot lately, too. It seemed to slow down during their lengthy homestand in January, but it keeps creeping back into their games.

Numbers of note

44.83% – The Flames’ 5v5 corsi on the day. They had a 35.48% first period, but 50% second and third periods thereafter. Good thing Rittich held them in it at the start.

60+ – Lindholm’s goal was his 60th point of the season. Reminder that his career high before coming to Calgary was 45 points in 72 games. He has 60 in 53. He’s on pace for 93. And yup, you guessed it – the Flames are the only team with three 60+ point scorers. Colorado has two 70+ guys (Calgary only has Johnny Gaudreau), while Edmonton, Tampa, and Winnipeg also have two guys with at least 60 points. Next up will be Matthew Tkachuk – he’s only three points away from his first ever 60-point season, too.

6 – Backlund didn’t score, but he did lead the way with six shots on net. He’s been in an offensive groove since just before the All-Star break and it’s carrying over. It makes me think of their latest against Edmonton: the Oilers line matched Connor McDavid against Sean Monahan, leaving Backlund free to do whatever he wanted, and he got a goal and an assist out of that. The non-50-point scorers on this team can also be plenty dangerous.

20+ – The Flames currently have 10 players with at least 20 points, but that’ll probably change shortly, too: Ryan is sitting at 19. Michael Frolik is at 18, and he missed a bunch of time. James Neal is only at 13, but he’s still starting to come to life.

17 – The Flames scored their league-leading 16th shorthanded goal of the season, because of course they did. Their franchise record is 23, from 1987-88. Can they score another seven shorthanded goals in just under 30 games? … Maybe?

4 – Ryan has jumped into a tie for third overall in league-wide shorthanded scoring with four points. Mark Jankowski is, of course, first. Mark Giordano is one of four other guys Ryan is tied with for third. Arizona and Carolina are the only other teams with players that have that many shorthanded points; they have two each. Expand the range to a minimum of three shorthanded points and a couple of teams – the Coyotes, the Canes, the Devils and Rangers – have two players each in that category. The Flames have five. Unreal.

Final thought

The Flames are a really good team who have two months until the postseason to work out their kinks to become properly elite. Can they do it? Maybe – they keep showing they’re up to the task, it’s just a matter of consistently getting there, probably with the help of a deadline acquisition or two and a whole lot of luck in avoiding further injuries.

And Rittich is the starting goaltender. There hasn’t been any disputing that for months now, and over these past two games, that certainly hasn’t changed.

  • TheGrimRipper

    Can we have a new article on potential back up goalies to trade for? I’m guessing Carolina and NY Islanders won’t be shipping out a goalie………….

  • freethe flames

    Today is likely an off day for the players but I suspect everyone else will be busy. The first order of business will be based upon the Hammer update. Once BT gets that news he and BP will bee busy discussing what to do next. I fully expect that BT will be intensifying his search another D.

  • Rudy27

    Can’t believe those two give aways by Brodie. He is so skilled and can do so many good things out there, then out of nowhere makes rookie mistakes with bonehead passes like that.

    • freethe flames

      There are plenty of bonehead plays out there. Why did Gio leave the zone? Is that not a bonehead play? Where was the support winger as part of the system? Another bonehead play. Yes they were terrible decisions made by TJ but he was not alone. Rittich negating an icing and not properly playing the puck putting his defenceman in an awkward position.

      • Rudy27

        Can’t argue there. Re Rittich – Classic mistake by many…indecisiveness! Once he committed to moving toward the puck, he should have corralled it and froze it for a whistle.

      • Lazarus

        No he’s not alone but he pulls the stupidest glaringest boners with regularity. Pick it up, you’re not a rookie anymore. Needs to be dealt at next deadline. Soft, stupid mistakes, will be er have higher value than playing alongside Gio now. When Gio declines, Brodies value will plummet as he has struggled away from Gio, pretty much universally

    • Harley Hotchkiss’s Ghost

      Brodie is a swift free skating defender that is constantly in motion. Those type of defenders make more mistakes, it’s a high risk high reward kind of thing. Brodie is +29 so there has been way more good than bad this year. You have to live with those mistakes, because the positives are worth it. Brodie is great at driving the puck up ice Even Strength, which is huge for us.

      Paul Coffey was the same way in Edmonton, Kris Letang in Pittsburg, even Duncan Keith in Chicago to an extent. Defenders who can effortlessly join the rush are so valuable, even if they take the odd lump.

  • buts

    If Rittich started against the caps it would have been a 4 point trip. BSD made saves yesterday that Smith can’t. Time to get insurance goaltending onto Stocktons roster before the TDL or be smart and package Smith for McElheeney.

      • Avalain

        You misunderstood him. He has an “or” in the middle there. Get insurance goaltending in Stockton OR package Smith for McElheeney. I’m not completely convinced, but his idea isn’t as bad as “trade Smith for McElheeney and then waive McElheeney and leave 1 goalie in Calgary”.

      • L.Kolkind

        He said or, which means do one of the 2, but not both. So either trade Gilles along with a pick/prospect for a goalie in a similiar sitation age wise as Gilles, but actually tracking to be in the NHL. Or trade Smith along with whatever necassary to just upgrade the backup.

        I like trading Smith as this would be an immediate upgrade to our NHL roster. Best options seem to be Howard or McBackup.

  • WildfireOne

    The 3rd line got their heads bashed in yesterday, seemed like they were running a fire drill in their own zone whenever they were on the ice. Which is weird because a couple weeks ago, they were the most consistent group pushing north. Hope they bounce back!

    • Brian McGrattan's Salute

      I mean, I think the third line has really been a weak spot of ours all season, unfortunately. If not, it definitely is now. The second and forth lines are playing really well lately, and yes, the third is chipping in lots. But with a guy like Neal on that line, it should be a lot more threatening of a line.

      This seems to be BPs way of thinking–he wants four solid lines able to score and drive play. Sometimes the third line can do one of those, but rarely both.

      I like all those players a lot on that line (even Neal I think is working hard…lately), but they all have more potential. I’m hoping they can all kind of kick it into gear these last few months.

      Or maybe that’s where we put Zuccerelo??

        • Brian McGrattan's Salute

          Yes, agreed to a certain extent. Janks and Benny still need to find someone that can either (a) finish plays for them, or (b) help them finish plays. I guess they just need a competent third player on that line. Would be nice if they could drive plays better on their own, but that’s expecting too much. They’re young, and need a leader on that line who can play and keep up with them.

          • Luter 1

            I’m sure exactly what they thought they were getting when they signed Neal. Unfortunately we didn’t get what we thought, I see no leadership from this guy and his work ethic is more than questionable. Skating is obviously not on par with the rest of our forwards.

          • Jumping Jack Flash

            I have been a big defender of Janko and still believe in him but something seems off. He is one of the best PKers on the team yet his defensive play on the 3rd line can be scarey. When he is on the PK he looks like he can take anyone on 1v1 but you don’t see it as much at 5v5. He has really improved his FO but appears indecisive as a center. I would like to see him on the wing receiving passes to see if this would open up his game.

          • Brian McGrattan's Salute

            In my opinion, Janko has another gear offensively, and in terms of driving play. But for some reason he has plateaued a bit this season in those areas. He has become much, much better defensively and of course on the PK, but still lacks the drive to the net, the ferocity, and the puck possession skills (including using his body to evade defenders, his slick hands, etc). Add this to the fact that he can do all of this on the PK, and I’ll wager he’s got it in his head that he needs to “play a good 200ft game to be successful”, which in his mind might mean “play good defensively”. This is just my speculation, but I do wonder if he is sidelining his offensive development for the defensive and specialty teams development. Any thoughts?

            He has a great shot, underutilized size and strength, and soft hands. It boggles my mind that he has, if anything, maybe even taken a bit of a step back in terms of his offensive play–he still has the skills to score some really nice goals, but I could still see him potting 20 in a season and being a solid 40-50 point guy. But this season has been a very interesting one in his developmental path, and leaves a bit to be desired from him.

    • Chucky

      It looks to me like a chemistry thing. Even though Neal is looking slow and awkward he does bring some abilities and useful talent. But so do Bennett and Jankowski, what we are not seeing is the cohesion that makes a line. They need to decide what that line is supposed to do and then staff it appropriately. I could see Hathaway and Bennett playing Cashman and Hodge to Jankowski’s Esposito if they want a scoring line but Neal does not fit that role. If they are hoping for a Mahovlich, Shutt Lafleur type line then Neal has to pick up his skating and shooting. The thing is it is possible for Jankowski to take that big body and soft hands and go stand in front of the net or be the play-maker and Bennett will go get the puck from anybody but what is the other piece and how does Neal get there if it is him.

      • Brian McGrattan's Salute

        Very good points. What do you think of BP doing the Fro-Backs-Neal line, and the Chucky-Janko-Benny line? We’ve only seen it a few times, but maybe we shall see it again?

  • Score When I like Nieuwendyk

    The “gear” the fourth line has found Ari is built up confidence from proper “slotting” and developing chemistry based on consistent lines for several games now.

  • MDG1600

    Rittich was real good yesterday. That said I would like the goaltending tandem to dial back the puckhandling a bit. I know BSD is emulating Smith but it seems that the pattern developing is that they are both causing more problems than solutions with their aggresive puck handling. I think one of the writers said it well the other day when they commented that handling the puck a lot is not the same as handling it well.

    • Retire#14

      I can deal with the gaffes from any goalie playing the puck. Have you ever been run into the boards by a 6’5 240 lbs forechechecker while retrieving the puck? When I was playing jr I had a goalie that refused to play the puck. After being run numerous times into the boards, I refused to clear the front of the net. It makes the defensemans job easier and safer.

    • Cfan in Van

      Good observation. They’re quite good at the pressure part, and get their fair share of opportunities for it. It’s definitely nice to be on the more skilled side though.

  • thepharmacist

    Last night the game changer could have been an early 3rd period goal by Carolina. But BSD made the big save. Backup: Does anyone remember without googling, who was the backups for the 86, 89 and 04 runs? Neal is going to be an impact player leading to and in the playoffs. Neal: it’s not a curse or the sticks. Just do what you have been doing all your hockey career: score goals. For you it’s as natural as breathing, swallowing and peddling a bike. Don’t think about. My prescription for Neal: Shoot the puck, score goals. You got that in you.

    • Quinteco

      I’ll say it again, too, getting a better backup is not so he can play in the playoffs, it’s so he can spell the starter off in the regular season and keep him fresh for the playoffs. Each of the three goalies above played in the playoffs those years, none of the starting a game (though maybe Lemelin got one start in ’86), but they were there in the regular season to get wins and keep the starter rested (again, though, Lemelin was actually ’85-’86 starter for most of the regular season).

      • Jumping Jack Flash

        The one thing that people tend to overlook when measuring the goalkeeping is that Rittich is showing that he is comfortable being a starter unlike last year. If Smith finds his game Rittich can accept a lesser role but if a new goalie came in what does that do to a goalie that is in a groove.

  • Avalain

    I really love that everyone who was with the other team last year got involved in the scoring. So much so that I actually wanted Ferly to score in the last minute of the game (only because we were up by 2, of course).

    • The Sultan

      Please don’t hope for other teams to score on us with time winding down in the period. The Flames have been way too good at doing that over the last couple weeks.

    • Uncle Iroh

      So dump him in the minors and be done with it. He’s done at the end of the season anyways, who gives an eff if he throws a tantrum, his play is ECHL level.