The Flames were the better team throughout the majority of the game, but a powerplay that couldn’t score and otherworldly goaltending from the opponent meant that they got fewer points than they deserved. It sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Feel of the game
The Flames came out slow to start, which has been their nasty habit of this season. The Canucks took an early lead just 44 seconds in with some fine passing. The team didn’t look like they knew what time the game started. Not really anything new.
As is usual, they woke up about 10 minutes into the game. The first line did what they do best, but the Canucks answered back. The Flames managed to escape the period tied, but seemed to have momentum heading into the next period.
Things really started to take off in the second. The Flames had the first 13 shots of the period and frustrated the Canucks at every opportunity. They battled to keep the puck in, broke up exit attempts, and generally did not allow the Canucks to get much further than the blue line.
But Jacob Markstrom came to play. No matter what the Flames threw at him, Markstrom saved damn near everything. They tried everything they could to put one past him, but the only guy on the Flames without a single NHL goal to his name managed to solve him on a pretty wicked shot. The team showed off why they’re one of the best goalscoring outfits in the league, but simply didn’t get the results they usually do when they play like this. They had plenty of chances to end it, but couldn’t.
The good news
I think I have to give a stick tap to the fourth line tonight. They didn’t play much, which is expected in close games like this, but they gave the team their only lead with a pretty tough shift, absolutely refusing to let the Canucks get the puck out of their zone. Extra kudos to Garnet Hathaway for forcing a turnover without a stick. The fourth line is certainly the Flames’ weakest offensive options, but they have done a great job in the past few games generating chances. Derek Ryan in particular has looked more confident and creative in the offensive zone. The Flames (usually) aren’t hurting for scoring, but to know that the fourth line can step up in close games is relieving. Andrew Mangiapane scored his first goal of his career, and it’s well deserved. His stints in the NHL have been somewhere between “amazing” and “invisible,” but have mostly leaned to the former in recent weeks. It’s nice to see him finally get rewarded for all the effort.
The penalty kill was excellent, as always. The team did a disservice to themselves by taking five penalties but they did well in making sure none of them came back to bite them. The Flames did a great job neutralizing the Canucks’ most dangerous weapons, especially during a tense 4v3 kill at the end of OT. Travis Hamonic, who is either unaware of or unfazed by the number of injuries he’s suffered this year due to pucks hitting him, put it all on the line to block shots.
Even in a loss like this, it’s great to see the team never folding. This was a frustrating one, and, even though it’s been said a million times, the 2017-18 version of this team would’ve probably been demoralized and eventually found a way to lose 6-3. This felt like a 2017-18 game in many respects, but it certainly didn’t look that way on the ice. The second period was pretty much perfect except for the fact that they emerged from it still tied. The Canucks just didn’t have any answers for the Flames besides the one named Jacob Markstrom.
The bad news
The powerplay was, once again, ineffective despite many opportunities against an opponent that was giving them a lot to work with. Part of that wasn’t their fault. They were generating chances (nine shots in five opportunities) and there’s not much you can do about a goalie that’s completely on his game, but they have to bury some of those shots. Going 0/5 on the powerplay is just sad, especially with a double minor, and it really kept the game closer than it should’ve been. This is the ninth – was the eighth – best powerplay in the league. It certainly hasn’t looked that way the past two games.
They were not great in the defensive zone, and even that feels like an understatement. The Flames gave the Canucks more grief than they could handle, but when they allow their opponent to do the same to them, it kind of undermines the good they’re doing in the offensive zone. The disparity between final shots was 45-27, but scoring chances were a closer 51-36, and in terms of high danger chances allowed, the margin is a closer 19-12. The Flames allowed the Canucks to take better chances than they deserved. You can’t fault the Canucks for being opportunistic, but you can certainly be disappointed with the Flames for giving them those opportunities.
Which is super weird given how good they are shorthanded. The Flames limited a Canucks powerplay loaded with dangerous weapons to just five shots in five powerplays. It’s baffling that this team can absolutely shut down (and sometimes even score against) their opponents when they’re outnumbered, but they look lost when they have to do the same thing at 5v5. This is a team that has made their name off of being able to routinely outscore their opponents, and you feel that they sometimes play like they can always do that. When they run into a hot goalie (ex. versus San Jose), they don’t have any answers.
David Rittich was not at his finest. The Josh Leivo goal was pretty weak, and so was the Brock Boeser goal. The defensive zone mismanagement certainly plays into this – they probably could’ve challenged Leivo a bit more, and certainly could’ve remembered that Boeser also exists – but those are shots that Rittich has saved all year. He certainly made his characteristic great stops, but the goals against were just weak. He’s proven time and time again that he deserves the net more often than Smith, but performances like his last two games give you goalie anxiety all over again.
And the Flames need to figure that out. This is probably the worst stretch of hockey we’ve seen from Rittich, which is silly considering it’s two bad games. But just as the team doesn’t seem to have an answer for a good goalie, they also don’t seem to have one when their own perform below expectations. I think it’s a safe bet to think that the real Rittich re-emerges sometime soon. But do the Flames have a plan in case he doesn’t?
I don’t really care about the shootout, but James Neal? Really?
Numbers of note
59.34% – The Flames’ final 5v5 corsi. That includes a weak 41.18% in the first period, followed by a dominant 76.47% second period and a tamer 60.87% in the third.
74.29% – TJ Brodie’s 5v5 CF%. He was a low-key monster in the 26:22 he logged on the ice.
0.880 – Rittich’s save percentage. It’s his sixth worst start of the season.
5 – Shots by Mangiapane, good for third on the team (Johnny Gaudreau had seven, Sam Bennett six, and Matthew Tkachuk also had five), but he managed to accomplish that with only 7:45 in ice time, the least on the team. I can understand why Bill Peters doesn’t ice his fourth line in close games, and also why he may not bump up a rookie playing his 27th total NHL game, but he was feeling it and probably should’ve seen the ice a bit more. He’s been all about the offence dating back to his junior hockey days. Maybe it’s time to unleash it.
7 – Shots by the Canucks’ Boeser. The next closest on the Canucks was five players with two shots each. The Flames had five players with three shots apiece. It’s amazing how one sided this game was.
4 – Number of teeth lost by James Neal.
The Flames have finally lost two games in a row, their first time since December (though they still haven’t lost two games in a row in regulation since November). They’re only up one point on the Sharks now, a team that has really started rolling as of late.
Albeit the Flames have a game in hand on their Californian rival, but they have to make good use of it. It’s certainly not getting easier, as next up is the only team better than the Flames, the Tampa Bay Lightning. The room for error is shrinking. Whatever the Flames have been since the All-Star/CBA mandated break is certainly not reflective of the team they’ve been all season. They need to snap out of it soon.