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.
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.