Photo Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Flames 5, Penguins 4 post-game embers: Back on the right track

The Flames have had an underwhelming road trip. In some fairness to them, their schedule has been physically all over the place since they returned from the break. In more fairness to them, though, they looked like they were ready to win this one, and that goes a long way.

Feel of the game

Both the Flames and Penguins played well pretty much throughout the entire game. What was refreshing for the Flames, though, was seeing them create scoring chances once again, and on a regular basis at that. They didn’t necessarily take it to the Penguins, but they didn’t let the Penguins dominate them, either – it was just a regular good ol’ game, with some extra chippiness involved.

Three of four Flames lines were going hard, and that gave them goals. However, it was also taking a lot of penalties that got the Penguins in the game, too, as they were only five seconds off from being a perfect four-for-four on the powerplay.

Things just felt different, though, once the Flames got quick back-to-back goals to make it 3-1 early in the second, and back-to-back goals late in that same period to make it 5-2 seemed to cement a win. That, of course, wasn’t exactly the case – they still had to hold on for another 20 minutes, including a particularly precarious end of regulation, and they did seem to take a step back – but they scored just enough goals to give themselves a win.

Could they have played better? Sure. Are there still some holes? Absolutely. But after two very lacklustre games in Florida, the Flames we’ve gotten used to over the course of the past couple of months showed signs of coming back. And that team wins.

The good news

The depth. The depth the depth the depth the depth the depth. Does the depth always win games? No. But every now and then they have games like this in which the less-heralded players step up and collectively drag the team to a victory, through sheer force of will, with just enough talent mixed in to make it all possible. Derek Ryan has been going hard for a couple of months now, and he really showed it with a three-assist game (to say nothing of the shorthanded chances he yet again created). Sam Bennett was extremely engaged in all facets, and he got a goal out of it. Austin Czarnik played for the first time in a month and he’s already made a case to not come out of the lineup. The Flames could stand to be deeper, but the group they have right now can get it done – and maybe is just the right mix of tenacity and talent to help the team in the spring.

We really, truly aren’t talking enough about Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington. I just think it’s absolutely phenomenal that we had these two unknowns, neither of whom started the season in the NHL, and they just look so good. One of the top teams in the entire league has an all-rookie pairing and they are actively contributing. Yeah, they don’t play that many minutes, but when they do they’re often noticeable for the right reasons. Andersson has gone from looking like a regular NHLer to being regularly trusted in key game situations. Kylington has gone from looking shaky and the lesser of the Flames’ big three defensive prospects to an outright regular that, even if this is his ceiling, is still really, really good. Both still have another year left on their entry-level deals. It’s embarrassing how much the Flames have going for themselves on defence. Remember when Mark Giordano got hurt and Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman had to be the Flames’ top pairing? We probably won’t be seeing days like that again for a really long time.

Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik haven’t had the prettiest stretch of games, but this one showed just how they can be so valuable as a forward duo. They’re excellent defensively most nights and do have the talent to threaten to score, it just gets overshadowed because there are guys on the team who are regularly better at it than them. They stared down Evgeni Malkin and didn’t let him do much of anything. Great outing.

The bad news

Of course, then there’s the flip side: the top guys have gone quiet. I don’t think it’s fair to outright criticize them – did anybody really think the Flames were going to have an entire line of 100-point players? They were bound to slow down eventually – but the team will need them to get going again. You do have to wonder if anyone’s banged up – it is much later in the season – but regardless they’ll need to be back at peak form within a month or so. It’s one thing for the Flames’ depth to step up the way they did in this game, but this team is dead in the water when it really counts if their top guys aren’t going.

Technically, the Flames killed off one penalty of the four they took, but it’s a five-second technicality. The kill really did not have a good day. And it makes sense on one level – the Penguins can throw out Sidney Crosby, Malkin, and Phil Kessel all at once, and that’s pretty difficult to compete with – but two of those goals coming right at the end of a kill was disheartening. They had it, then they lost it.

I’m sure this is just me being bitter because the Penguins needed the powerplay to make it a game, but the officiating seemed to set a tone for itself from the moment Bennett got a penalty for defending Czarnik’s honour, but Marcus Pettersson didn’t get a call for interfering with Czarnik to begin with. Doesn’t matter, because the Flames won, but it didn’t sit right watching from home at least.

(This isn’t bad news, I just have nowhere else to note it – how bizarre was it watching the Flames on the powerplay but without Johnny Gaudreau because he was serving a penalty of his own? So strange.)

Numbers of note

46.94% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF. They were under 50% in every period.

12-11 – More heartening, though? Via Natural Stat Track, the Flames got back on track in regards to high-danger corsi events, out-chancing the Penguins 12-11 at 5v5. It felt like an evenly played game, and the Flames’ willingness to go for it was reflected in that.

72.73% – Crosby’s 5v5 CF against Sean Monahan and friends. The Flames’ top line had a tough time answering one of the best players in the world, which, fair enough. The greater concern surrounding them comes from the fact they haven’t looked great the past couple of games, but maybe them being matched up against Crosby helps explain some of their struggles in this one.

38.89% – Malkin’s 5v5 CF against Frolik. And mind that Malkin has Kessel on his line, too. He needed the powerplay to score; the Flames’ shutdown line did its job.

22:17, 18:43 – With special times or without, Matthew Tkachuk was the Flames’ leader in ice time (first number all situations, second number 5v5). He and Backlund were the top minute-getters for forwards, while Frolik played just a little less than Monahan. The second line was the one that was counted on in this game.

5 – Frolik led the Flames with five shots. When he’s feeling it, he’s feeling it.

>10 minutes – Three Flames forwards – Bennett, Andrew Mangiapane, and Czarnik – all played under 10 minutes. They also all had a goal each.

3 – Every Flames player who got on the board did so with just one point… except for Ryan, who went off on a three-assist game, which ties a career high for him (Dec. 13, 2016 against the Canucks in an 8-6 win). He has 23 points in 57 games. The Flames’ fourth line centre who plays all facets of special teams. It took him a bit to get going, but he’s here now.

Final thought

There’s a lot to like about this one, especially after the road trip the Flames have had. The trade deadline is just over a week away, and though so far this month the Flames haven’t looked quite like the world beaters they did earlier in the year, there’s still a lot about this team to like – and this was the perfect game to show it. The score ended up a little too close for comfort, but they looked much better and much more engaged as a collective group – and that’s exactly the kind of hockey you can, at the very least, appreciate and enjoy.

  • freethe flames

    It was an interesting game to watch, some of the nastiness reminded me of a playoff game but other parts of it not so much. The Pen’s are currently outside of a playoff position which sound weird to say. I have been critical of the Czarnik signing but if he plays like he did yesterday then it will be hard to take him out of the lineup. His speed helps this team big time. I liked the fact that many of the players finished checks; even Johnny finished a check. I said yesterday that even though the PK gave up 3 goals it did not seem that bad a lot of it had to with the fact that the Pens PP was looking to break out and with the talent they have it was bound to happen.

    A 4 game road trip where they struggled yet they get 4/8 points. Two of the games the other teams goalie stole the win; Vancouver and Florida 2 shoot out loses. Lot’s of work to do. But we are still in first place in the west with a game in hand and 9 points up on Vegas with 2 games in hand. I think we all should be happy with that.

    4 games till the TDL; 3 non playoff teams and the Islanders. The boys need to be focused.

  • freethe flames

    I wonder which of the true rental forwards will be the first to be moved and what the price will be. Just read an article that says BT is reluctant to use his 1st rounder on a rental; which I agree with. Time will tell.

    • fumanchu1968

      I won’t be disappointed if we don’t make any significant moves this year. We need to gain experience as a team in the playoffs, so why not go to war with the guys who have brought us to this point? That being said, what an exciting time it is to be a Flames fan. 30 years we’ve been waiting for a team like this, no?

        • fumanchu1968

          Sorry for you if you want to see my comment with such negativity. Your problem not mine. But yes, I’m super stoked that we have a real team with real depth. And I’d rather continue to develop this team into a year-in-year-out winner, not just a once in 2019 rush to try to prematurely win the Stanley Cup.

        • RealMcHockeyReturns

          Ummm better than copious first round picks, having Donner McBlavin and completely missing the playoffs. Go back to Edmonton and get out of your Mom’s basement!

    • slapshot444

      I’d like to see an article on the recent history of TDL Rentals. I know in Flames history our rentals have been dismal producers. I’m sure there have been good ones but they just don’t seem to come to mind.

      • Albertabeef

        Ville Nieminen and Marcus Nilson were great additions to our team in 03-04. Ray Bourque to tha Avs comes to mind. Not many “star” TDL acquisitions have been “The missing piece” to acquire a cup. I’d tend to stay away from the big moves at this point in the season.

  • fumanchu1968

    I’m not worried about our 1st line production. This showing from the rest of the forwards will get them going. Bennett is a monster and I love that Anderson can fight. Happy Sunday, folks.

  • Puck Head

    Wasn’t Lazar one of our top players on the PK last year? Might be worthwhile trying him in the lineup just for this reason.

    JG has been seeing a lot more attention lately and it will only see more in the playoffs. Sure would be nice if he was sandwiched between some functional muscle.

    • freethe flames

      So who would this functional muscle be? Who would you take off of the current first line to provide the functional muscle?
      Who would you take out of the line up to play Lazar?

      • Puck Head

        Obviously, we know the first line will not change this season. I hope I’m wrong but the playoffs will be the ultimate litmus test. Just a nagging concern based on my observations.

        With the trade deadline looming I would slot Lazar in right away to see what’s there. It could open up potential trade options or possibly prevent BT from pulling the trigger on an unnecessary trade. BP might have to pick straws to see which of the bottom six players sit. They’ve all be playing well recently.

    • Heeeeere’s Johnny

      Puck I also am curious to see if Lazar has metamorphosed into something more. But I also agree with FTF … who do you take out? Logic says Hathaway but he is playing his a$$ off right now and it would be an insult to him (and other players watching) to take him out. Maybe somebody (Johnny?) is hurting and would benefit from a day off…

      • Luter 1

        Do not even think about taking Hathaway out of the lineup, one of the very few (Bennett, Gio) that keep the other team on their toes from a physical standpoint. Schultz gave the puck away a number of times because he’s scared to take a hit. On the other hand our Brodie did the same thing a couple of times and one reason why he should be trade bait.
        What in the world would Peters have Frolik out there in the last minute when he plays the wrong wing and cannot get the puck out 6 on 5 because he is on his wrong wing and on the backhand? I’ve seen this a number of times now and it is obvious when pressured being on the wrong wing limits your ability to get the puck out of your own end. Get Lindholm out there, way tougher on the puck than Frolik or Backlund.

  • Jimmyhaggis

    Forgot to mention Smith let in 4 goals, again. You shouldn’t have to score 5 or more goals to win a hockey game. Don’t get wrong, it was an entertaining game, 9 goals, but come playoffs the defensive game win series.

      • Luter 1

        Smith was very fortunate they only scored four and by that I mean he was more lucky than good, many missed opportunities and down and out a few times in the last minute only for Pitts to miss the net. I would rate his game OK.

      • Luter 1

        We have stopped being aggressive at the bliueline and are now also standing around playing the box, totally different attitude on the PK compared to when it was clicking. Play aggressive, sure they still are going to score a few but we will get a few shortys and at least frustrate the other team at times. Way to passive, talent like that will always beat a system.

  • Orrwasbest

    The only reason we are not talking about an epic collapse in this game is that the Penguins missed a half dozen or so glorious chances in the last two minutes of this game. Way to much sugar coating going on here the Flames did not play well, scored some very lucky goals (Murray was hgorrid) and have not played well since the break!

  • Off the wall

    Good grief. We win in one of the hardest buildings to play in and we still have some negativity on our site ?

    We registered a season high of 36 hits! Even Johnny getting in a good one.

    Bennett was incredible sticking up for Czarnik the way he did. And Andersson for defending his Captain. I guess we are tough enough for playoff hockey. I think the boys showed us yesterday, they will not back down!

    We received the secondary scoring we have been talking about. Did you see how banged up Czarnik was from that hit? It was a high elbow from Pettersson.
    The kid looked like he was run over by a Mack truck, yet made a strong game of it.

    And sure let’s beat up Smith, cuz he gave us a chance to win in his last two back-to- back starts.

    Can you let me know when you’re done whining, so we can get back to crediting the Flames for a positive showing?!

    • Luter 1

      So we registered 36 hits which is great, can we play that way for 4 – 7 game series? Don’t think so as 50 plus games have indicated we aren’t probably big or tough enough right now, so no, one game doesn’t prove we’re tough enough for the playoffs as indicative of our 1st line. Not whining, just pointing out the facts – as the season ends and playoffs start the Bennett’s and Hathaway’s have become valuable and the Monahans, Backlund, Brodie’s become less visible. We are at minimum one physical player away from becoming dangerous come playoff time.

  • KeepitReal

    Raz & Klinger don’t have any significant flaws to their game & are gaining valuable experience with every game. Hamonic & Hanny are good but seem to struggle the most when it comes to breaking up a strong ozone cycle. Hamonic is a blood and guts guy who shows up every game but his weakness is getting beat to the outside due to foot speed.

    Fave moment was Hathman finishing a 2 on 1 and hovering over the Pens goalie in the 3rd. Hornquist comes charging in and Garnet flattens him with a shoulder shrug. He must be built like a bread truck.