Some teams are just better than others. The game the Flames played against the Coyotes was expected – and it’s nice to see they’ve still got it.
Feel of the game
The Flames got off to a good start and pretty much never looked back. The fourth line created a goal in the first 94 seconds, and the team just dominated the game thereafter. Eventually, things started to even out – the Coyotes got some chances, too, and were the only team getting powerplays initially – but the Flames were easily better to start.
And that continued, but for the misfortune of giving up goals to allow the Coyotes to tie the game twice in the second period. Austin Czarnik quick on Conor Garland’s first goal, and while Mark Giordano had a splendid individual effort to take back the lead, yet another Coyotes powerplay saw the game tied once again just three minutes later. It wasn’t ideal, especially considering how the Flames had largely been outplaying the Coyotes – but then Czarnik redeemed himself to retake the lead, and that set up the Flames, a team that’s typically been excellent during third periods this season, for a win.
They didn’t disappoint. They stopped taking penalties, and the second line created an insurance goal early into the third. From there, it was a matter of things just playing out: the Flames limited the Coyotes’ attack while getting a couple more chances of their own, including their first powerplays of the game (all the while no longer taking penalties). An empty netter sealed it, and a game that should have ended with a comfortable win did just that.
The good news
The Flames got off to a good start and never looked back. For all the angst they’ve had since returning from the All-Star break, that was important; they’ve let games get away from them too easily. This time they scored early, scored often, and locked things down. It wasn’t a perfect 60 minutes – few games are – but it was a solid game from start to finish, which is exactly what this team has needed lately.
I feel like I’m going off about the fourth line every game now, but they deserve it. They seem to fade a bit as the game goes on, but when they keep scoring early on, who’s complaining? Derek Ryan has seriously come into his own over the past couple of months, and Andrew Mangiapane was getting chances throughout. There’s so much to like here – and this is a lot better than wasting a roster spot on someone who can’t at least try to create offensively, like these guys can (and have been).
Czarnik redeemed himself on the Coyotes’ first goal by scoring a goal of his own – his second in as many games. He sat for exactly a month before dressing against Pittsburgh – his last game before that was Jan. 16 – but, even with his earlier gaffe, he has been making the case to stay in the lineup. It’s easy when you score goals, but he’s been looking good just in general, too. Not bad for a 13th forward, and hopefully he’ll be able to keep it up so he can stay in the lineup, even when he isn’t necessarily scoring. The more options the Flames have, the better. He’s helping with that.
Giordano is a 35-year-old man who just embarrassed the Coyotes with a phenomenal goal to set a new career high in points; the season he’s having is unreal. Rasmus Andersson is a 22-year-old rookie who just played his 67th career game and slid seamlessly onto the top pairing, and with an absolutely wicked one-timer to give the powerplay that much more of a threat as well. What a duo; the Flames have options up and down their lineup, but those two really highlighted it.
It doesn’t seem to matter who Elias Lindholm plays with – he’s good no matter what. He slid right onto a line with Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik and they just kept creating chances, resulting in two goals in the third period. It does add that little bit more flexibility to the Flames’ lineup – you can separate Lindholm from Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan and he’ll still produce. So if, say, the Flames wanted to add another high-end forward, well, even if you bump Lindholm down to the second line things will be fine – he’s going to keep playing a hard, offensively-savvy game no matter what. He really has been a miracle worker for the Flames this season; it begs the question as to just what really went wrong in Carolina, because he’s so much better here than he was there. Like oh yeah – that’s why this guy went fifth overall.
The bad news
We talk about Lindholm, though, then we have to talk about Gaudreau and Monahan. They’re still able to create chances, but they just seem completely out of sync as of late; plays that should be more dangerous than they end up being die on their sticks. Is it fatigue? Is there some mysterious ailment? They’re still having exceptionally good years – Monahan the best of his career, Gaudreau en route to a career year of his own – and there’s still plenty of time for them to get back to the standards they set earlier in the season. Hopefully the depth will continue picking up the slack in the meantime.
The Flames took three straight penalties before they shut things down in the third period, giving up a powerplay goal. They took four penalties against the Penguins, giving up three powerplay goals (five seconds off from it being four). Please stop taking penalties.
Numbers of note
55.56% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF on the day. They controlled the entire game.
57 – Giordano has a new career high in points: 57 points in 57 games played. His previous best came in 2015-16, with 56 points in 80 games played. What he’s been doing this year has been nothing short of amazing, and there hasn’t been much sign of him slowing down. He’s tied for second in league-wide defenceman scoring and still has a chance at having one of the best seasons of all time by a 35-year-old defenceman.
18:32 – In TJ Brodie’s absence, Andersson played 18:32, which is actually not a career high for him by a long shot. Still looked good, though.
5 – Lindholm led the team with five shots. Giordano had four. Garnet Hathaway, Mangiapane, and Czarnik had three each, even with limited ice time.
70%+ – Lindholm, playing alongside Backlund, had a 5v5 CF of 70%. Alongside Frolik, it was 76.47%. He’s exceptionally good, maybe? They all fed off of one another.
54.17% – Matthew Tkachuk’s 5v5 CF with Gaudreau and Monahan, which saw all three players improved. Maybe this is a line combination worth looking at for the next little while, assuming nobody else comes along? It probably couldn’t hurt to at least try.
68 – Lindholm is now second only to Gaudreau in points on the team, already at 68 (on pace for 95 – please recall his career high in Carolina was 45). Monahan’s fallen back to third with just 66. “Just” – but Lindholm really has been a revelation this year.
10 – Ever notice how Ryan has 10 points in his last 11 games? He’s ninth in team scoring.
+41 – During their losing streak, the Flames’ goal differential fell under +40. It’s back up there now.
10-6-2 – The Flames’ record against Pacific Division teams this year. Eleven games to go.
There are three games left until the trade deadline, and the Flames are still right at the top of the NHL, even with their recent losing streak.
In their past two games, they appear to have gotten back on track, albeit with plenty of room for improvement. It’s their top guys – outside of Lindholm and Giordano – who have been struggling, but the depth is looking increasingly up to the task with every game (though they should be wary of relying on it; they’re depth in part because they don’t do this every game, and aren’t talented enough to). And then there’s also whatever’s going on with James Neal, who could potentially be a big add on his own – or at least keep treading water, which is also acceptable when you ignore cap hits.
Really interesting week ahead, but regardless of what they do, it’s still reassuring to see them play like a top team – even though it’s been made very clear as of late they won’t always be at that level.