When the Flames are at their best, they’re really something else.
Feel of the game
The Flames looked to be in control early on, but at a certain point – shortly before they scored their second goal of the game – something shifted, and they just completely took over all facets of the ice. Thomas Greiss did everything he possibly could to keep the Islanders in it, including thwarting multiple chances by the Flames’ top line, but there’s only so much one can ask of one’s goalie. The errant pass that led to Mikael Backlund opening the scoring was brutal; the sustained offensive zone pressure before Travis Hamonic was able to score off of a faceoff a theme of the night.
The Islanders just didn’t have an answer, a TJ Brodie turnover and Mike Smith falling forwards aside. The extent to which the Flames outplayed the Islanders was comical, and Greiss was the entire reason the Flames only had a one-goal lead going into the third.
One that was erased early on as the entire team – top line, top defence pairing, and goalie alike – all somehow had no idea Anders Lee was wide open in the slot. Suddenly, for as much as the Flames dominated the 40 minutes prior to that moment, the game was in jeopardy – at least, until the team turned it back on in the form of yet another Austin Czarnik goal and an extremely quick Johnny Gaudreau powerplay marker for the insurance tally.
It was pretty much over from there on out – which apparently gave the Islanders licence to throw their weight around the ice, whether in legal circumstances or not, as the officials somehow not only refused to penalize them, but gave further punishment to the Flames by kicking out Backlund. It was a completely unnecessary end to what had been one of the Flames’ best games of the season – but in the end, two points were obtained, and the Flames continue to look like a team that might just make some noise in the spring, recent losing streak apparently completely behind them.
The good news
The Flames held the Islanders to just seven shots through the first two periods. Greiss is having one of the best seasons of any goalie this year, and he lived up to it; there was just only so much he could do, and he’d already done a lot. The Flames played a near-perfect game, with every single forward line rolling and generating scoring chances, all the while forcing extended play in the offensive zone. They didn’t have to do much defensively until the third period, really; it was an impressive effort.
The top line has had its well-documented struggles as of late, and it took a powerplay for any of their members to score. But they really did have a lot of good chances – it’s just that, well, Greiss was better. It does look like they’re continuing to work their way out of their funk, though. It was an encouraging game for them. (That’s not to say anything about how they were defensively – which was less than great – but they’re here to score, so if it looks like they’re going to start doing that again, that’s something to celebrate.)
So, what’s Bill Peters’ reaction going to be when Austin Czarnik doesn’t score? As long as Czarnik keeps playing the way he has been since getting back into the lineup – three games now – it’s going to be difficult to find an excuse to sit him. The Flames have some great forward depth; he’s yet another part of it that’s showing off as of late, and he’s proving very fun to watch all while doing it. Great game by his line – but great game by him in particular.
There’s still so much to love about Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington. I genuinely can’t recall the last time the Flames had such young defencemen that not only looked like they belonged early on, but looked like they had a lot more to offer as well. Andersson is stepping up into players and is so solid he seems to be unfazed (illegal, goon-ish hits aside); Kylington skates so well he can cover for himself, his partner, and create chances all the while. It’s really something to watch. You look back on all the slow third pairing defencemen the Flames had earlier in the decade, then you see these two, and you just have to wonder how they managed before.
The bad news
The way the Flames played through the first 40 minutes, the game never should have been tied at any point. Credit to Greiss for sure, but both of the Islanders’ goals were so easily avoidable – don’t turn the puck over in your own zone, stay upright; don’t have six players – including five of your supposedly best skaters – be completely unaware of a guy standing all alone in the slot. It turned out fine in the end – two quick goals will do that – but it was a disappointing moment.
With Juuso Valimaki likely to establish himself as an NHL regular sooner rather than later, and both Andersson and Kylington looking like they’ve played themselves into “don’t you dare trade me” status, who’s the odd man out? You have to think, at this stage, it’s Brodie: Mark Giordano is having an unfathomable season, Hamonic has been a defensive rock all year, and Noah Hanifin is the same age as some of the Flames’ rookies, only with a couple hundred games already under his belt. It’s a shame, since Brodie is one of the Flames’ original draft success stories: the third longest-tenured member of the team, after Giordano and Backlund. He was the last defenceman they really properly developed before the current bottom pairing kids. Sucks to see games like this from him. You’d think maybe it could, in part, be the injury that held him out last game, but this isn’t the first time we’ve seen giveaways of that nature from him this season.
I really can’t, for the life of me, understand how the risk/reward on Smith playing the puck is worth it. Two instances stood out to me early in the game: Smith trying to play the puck with an Islander bearing down right on top of him trying to steal it directly from him, and a pass to a Flames player in front of his wide open net while said Flame had an Islander right on top of him as well. Both could have so easily resulted in goals against. Is it really worth it?
Hoping David Rittich gets some games in before the Flames play back-to-back games next week. Yeah, Smith is winning, but getting Rittich’s confidence back up and his feet back under him before the playoffs should be a priority, too.
Well that officiating was a nightmare, particularly at the end of the game. Isn’t it cool and fun watching games and knowing the people who are ejecting Backlund are allowed to have their own MLB-umpires-throwing-a-tantrum moment with no consequences?
Numbers of note
60.4% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF. They were well over 60% through the first two periods, and controlled 5v5 high-danger corsi events at 70% through the entire game. Just an absolute show.
81.25% – I don’t really like to look at single-game player corsis, except when it’s a really notable number. Czarnik didn’t have that much ice time, but hitting 81.25% at 5v5 is definitely eye-catching.
38.89% – On the opposite end of things, it looks like someone finally figured out how to shut down Derek Ryan. He was the only Flame to have a 5v5 CF below 50%.
3 – The number of goals Czarnik has scored in the number of games he’s played after being a healthy scratch for a month. He has nine points in 32 games, a third of his scoring coming from just now. It’s probably not going to last, of course, but if one needs bottom six scoring in a pinch, well, why not Czarnik?
11:00 – Czarnik got double digits in ice time for the first time since Jan. 7.
30 – Gaudreau tied his career high in goals with his 30th of the year, and is the first 30-goal scorer the Flames have this season, putting him in a tie for 14th league-wide. With 79 points, he’s also fourth in NHL scoring. And he hasn’t even been that great these past few games.
7 – Gaudreau had seven shots on the night. He really wanted that 30th goal.
18:39 – Brodie’s ice time, while the rest of the regular top four were all at about 23 minutes. He had seven shifts each in the first two periods, which aligns with the rest; in the third period, though, he only had six, while Giordano had 10, and Hamonic and Hanifin had 12.
80 – The Flames are the second NHL team to cross the 80-point threshold this season. They sit at 81, 20 points up from the last wild card spot in the West.
Players keep oscillating. Backlund’s line has been mostly consistent at providing offence as of late, but the third line has really stepped it up, as well. The fourth line was finally held off the scoreboard. The top line, which has carried the team through most of the 60 games they’ve played, is trying, but they aren’t quite back yet. The Flames are unquestionably a team that can roll four lines, though. And three defence pairings. And it’s leading to some great hockey.
Two games until the trade deadline. You have to think they aren’t stressed about goaltending anymore. With Valimaki and Michael Stone, they have some resources on defence. And they have so many contributing forwards. If there’s a deal to be had – that doesn’t involve giving up a roster player – you have to think they take it. The losing streak is behind them, a new winning streak is in its place, and they’ve been winning most of the season. At the very least, they could make some noise this spring. It’s starting to get real.