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Photo Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Flames 2, Devils 1 post-game embers: Oh look, another win

The Flames would appear to be a good team, since they keep winning games and all. February is just about over. They’ll finish the month second in the NHL.

Feel of the game

While the Flames were undoubtedly the better team at the start of the game, it was kind of a sleepy first period. They got more chances than the Devils, absolutely – they’re the team that actually looked dangerous at times – but play was kind of scattered. At least, until the end of the first period, when the Flames found themselves with a 90-second five-on-three… and forgot the clock existed, killing off a chunk of time themselves by forgetting the first period was about to end.

They still had just over a minute of five-on-three time to start the second, though. While just like against the Islanders it was a lot of passing and limited shooting, they did score – just as the first penalty had expired, leaving them without further powerplay time, off of a botched Elias Lindholm pass (of course) that ended up in the back of the Devils’ net. Play picked up from there, though, mostly for the Flames, but the Devils showed moments of life here and there, as well. It seemed like that was game once Mark Giordano did his best impression of Mark Giordano-but-from-a-week-earlier-against-the-Coyotes and scored another highlight reel goal to give the Flames a multi-goal lead. Things were going great… until the Flames got another powerplay, Johnny Gaudreau coughed up the puck in his own zone, and David Rittich was left helpless as the Devils made it a one-goal game.

It could have gotten precarious to close things out. The Flames stopped playing as strongly as they had before, forcing Rittich to really be on his game and make sure the team kept its lead. Fair enough, because it was the third period on the second of a back-to-back in what’s been a weird month of travel for the Flames, and the Devils just didn’t have the talent to score again. The Flames were passive, but it worked out, a second team win in as many days.

The good news

Once again, you have to ask: who was the weak link in the lineup? Maybe Gaudreau for his giveaway resulting in the Devils’ lone goal, but he also did quite a bit to try to score himself – and got two assists – so these things balance each other out. The entire team is just a really cohesive unit at the moment, and there doesn’t seem to be any signs of them slowing down as a collective whole. It’s a likeable, well-constructed group. Oscar Fantenberg added to it, as well – he wasn’t flashy or amazing, but he’s a good additional player for the defence in what could be a gruelling postseason. There are just so many good options for this team.

Whereas Giordano is ageless, Rasmus Andersson keeps showing just how much potential he has. I keep thinking back on the first Flames powerplay, in particular, before he drew the five-on-three call. He’s got a big shot, and we’re seeing him use it more. He’s great at keeping the puck in the zone, which we’ve been seeing since October. It took Giordano years to show off how good he could be. Andersson isn’t there yet, of course – may never be – but it feels like we’re watching the beginnings of a star in the making.

Rittich didn’t have to do much in the first two periods, but he had to do a fair bit more in the third. No matter the game situation, though, he was up to the task. The Devils don’t exactly boast a strong lineup, but they did have a couple of chances here and there, and Rittich did well in thwarting them. It’s much easier when a team has two goalies it can trust. That might just be the Flames nowadays.

The bad news

I guess we can complain about the powerplay some more. Watching the Flames just pass the puck around in the dying seconds of a period when they had a five-on-three was brutal; how was there no communication there? If this game had been in Calgary there would have been a chorus of fans all yelling “shooooot” and for once, they would have been right. Spending a lot of time on the man advantage chasing and getting your pocket picked to give up a shorthanded goal was pretty brutal, too. So there’s room for improvement there. And… that’s about it?

Sincerely hoping Mirco Mueller is okay. Freak accidents will always happen – especially when it’s a sport played on ice – but that was rough to watch.

Numbers of note

59.72% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF on the night. They controlled the first period, and most of the second, as well. Their worst period was the third, in which the travel and second game in as many nights seemed to catch up to them, but they were still at 50% then. They’re a good team.

8-2 – According to Natural Stat Trick, the Flames had eight high-danger corsi events in this game at 5v5. The Devils managed all of two. Scoring chances were also registered at a 17-10 in the Flames’ favour. The Devils only managed five shots a frame in the first two periods each, but were at least able to ramp it up to 10 for the third. Kind of taking a break for one period aside, the Flames were just better.

60 – And with that goal, Giordano became the fourth ever defenceman 35 or older to score 60 points in a single season. He’s on pace for 77 points. The Flames also now have five players on their team with at least 60 points this season. No other team has more than three.

14:19 – Fantenberg played the least out of all Flames defencemen in his first game with his new team, but that’s still a pretty respectable set of minutes. He threw five hits, tied with Noah Hanifin for the most on the Flames, as well as one shot on net. Looking forward to seeing how much responsibility he’s allocated in his next game; the only bad thing, really, was the penalty he took, but these things happen.

100% – Derek Ryan’s 5v5 CF. Okay, so he only played 7:34 at 5v5 in the game, but still, that’s 11 corsi events for when he was on the ice for and absolutely nothing against. That’s… good? Let’s go with good. That’s really, really good. This really is just a well-constructed team, with everyone able to contribute.

Final thought

This team responded to a four-game losing streak with a seven-game (and counting) winning streak. They’ve separated themselves from the pack of good-but-not-the-Lightning teams. Not so much so that it’s smooth sailing from here on out, but enough that if they can keep up this level of play… it might be.

There are 18 games left. Eleven are at home. The Flames survived their February travel, and have just four road trips left: Vegas and Arizona, one-offs in Winnipeg and Vancouver, and then a California swing. They might be in a really, really good position here.

  • Lazarus

    Rittich did well. Let’s keep in mind he is facing cream puff offenses in Ott and NJ to get his confidence back. He has passed these tests but received minimal shots in both.
    Smith is 5-0-1 last 6 with only 1 game below 26 shots. You keep playing Smitty and spelling him with Rittich as Peter’s has done. Can’t say enough about Bill Peters with his finger always on the pulse of the team

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      Or, you give Rittich a break when he and the team were struggling. Bring in Smith to see if he still had game. Take the wins (dubious puck handling included) and go back to the guy that got you to the top of the Pacific in the first place.

      • Lazarus

        Respectfully disagree. I know Rittich is the sexy underdog, charming, aloof Euro cat..but I am enjoying how Peters has done all of this. He has built Smith back up and Smitty has worked his ass off. Even Rittich had said it doesn’t bother him. He came into the year hoping to be backup.
        He has exceeded that and the even split amongst the 2 has been great. I am rooting for Smith and you should be too

        • FlamesFanOtherCity

          You can’t argue with results. 22-5-5 vs 19-11-2.
          It’s a good story that Smith has worked his but off to get back in nets. You need a capable backup, whomever that may be. BP may end up using Smith as the starter, but that may just be a huge mistake. Who knows. Go with the guys that got you to this point is what I say.

        • Cheeky

          I’m rooting for Smith but I also know he is not the answer to playoff success. While he has gained confidence and looks much better, I still cringe whenever someone shoots at him. Ritter is our guy, we still need to build him up and get him ready to start the playoffs…#InRitterWeTrust…

    • Girouxalem

      Frankly find it hard to believe this is such a debate among flames fans. Yes Smith has been much better his last 5-10 starts, but its hard not to be better than league worst goaltending. Even some of his “good” games, he has still looked shaky, is reacting to the puck late, and giving up tons of rebounds.

      I think we can all agree not all goals are created equal. A bad goal against is more demoralizing than a good goal against for the whole team. You can see it in their body language. How many absolute ten bell howlers has Smith let in this year? 10? 15? Its a big number, and I will bet no starting goalie has ever let in more in a season. Some of them have been downright embarrassing. I for one have never recovered from some of these goals and the games we lost due to them being let in. The San Jose game aside Rittich has always been solid, and at times spectacular. Looking at the body of work over the season the answer is painfully obvious to me and I think the whole team has more confidence in him. If Peters gets stubborn and roles with Smith in the playoffs I think he costs us a game or two in the first round. I trust Peters to adjust I just hope it doesn’t cost us a series.

    • Uncle Iroh

      Smith has played creampuff teams in Anaheim, Arizona, and Florida since the All Star Break. Starting in February, he has a .900 sv % or below in every game he has played against a playoff team (@ WSH, vs SJ, @ PIT, vs NYI) except the most recent game against New York on Tuesday.

      But please, don’t let that dispel your narrative that Mike Smith has found his mojo.

  • scottso

    I’m surprised no one mentioned the ice conditions. The puck was bouncing all over the place last night. For both teams. Johnny’s “would-have-been” breakaway. Behind his own net before he coughed it up. I imagine both teams would have had cleaner looks. Perhaps Mueller wouldn’t have caught his skate either (hard to say).
    Yay another win, though.

  • withachance

    This is what a winning team looks like. They can win different ways, and not limited to blowing out teams. Excited to see the lineup when Neal comes back.

    I dream of a day when the left side of the defence is going to be Valimaki – Hanifin – Kylington

      • Lazarus

        Neal looked fine to me the 10 or so games before he got hurt. Guy had been getting chances and had been snakebit. That happens. Not a fan of everyone dumping all over him. And that goes for the team. We all have our faces but a lot of you are too quick to piss on guys. Neal, Smith, Czarnik, Prout, Fantenburg..let it play out. Jesus. We are a 1st Place club

        • Heeeeere’s Johnny

          I’m with both you guys on this. On the one hand the current line up is playing really well and nobody deserves to be taken out. On the other hand, this team gets more dangerous if Neal finds his touch again. He only can do that if he is playing. My thought is that there will be a rotation of guys that come in and out for him. Czar, Mang, Fro, etc. If I’m BP I tell Neal to find his snarl first … it never came to Calgary with him. If he finds that maybe the scoring is with it.

          • Jessemadnote

            Neal’s calling card was pissing people off, I haven’t seen him do it once this year. That said he is the big experienced power forward that teams love to have come playoff time and he had 7 points in 12 games before his injury. He was coming around.

          • Justthateasy

            This next go-round whether it is playoffs or not is Neal’s last chance. He has had all season to get it together and it looks like he just does not have it. You got to get your shot off quick. His shot gets off too slow and gets deflected. So if you can’t shoot you better protect the puck and you better get the puck to somebody who can. And if you can’t do that you better be tough. You better hit somebody and make your breaks. Last Chance Neal; these are the facts.

      • withachance

        Good thing we are not the one that has to make that decision and its the NHL coach who has lots of experience managing players in a squad! In Tre and BP we trust

      • Cheeky

        Absolutely free, as much as I would love to see “the real deal” come to play, he has been awol most of the season. If someone currently playing wasn’t playing well, sure, but even the usual suspects are contributing. I don’t think Neal should be getting a pass here, and automatically get a spot back, someone needs to lose their spot first…

    • cjc

      We are in good shape on the left side, but it’s too early to say that any of those 3 will be better than Gio. My dream includes Gio staying effective until he’s 40 and completing a late career push for the HoF. A couple cups will go a long way in that regard.

  • freethe flames

    I only caught the first period.It’s good to see we have added more depth at D hopefully over the course of the remainder of the season guys get to rest up their bumps and bruises. Here’s hoping that Stone and Valimaki ar e able to join the depth parade. The magic number for clinching the Pacific is 15 a combination of 15 Flames wins and SJ losses. The Flames have 10 games left against non play off or low chance bubble teams take care of these games(and as we have seen that is harder than we think), win 50% of the remaining games and we take care of our own business. SJ has a much more difficult schedule down the stretch. Control what you can control.

  • CalgaryBornandRaised

    Is it finally time, with March around the corner, to start talking about this team as a juggernaut?

    I’ve seen them win any kind of game, and outside of the 9-1 loss to Pittsburgh and maybe against Tampa in TB, this team has looked good against every other team we’ve played

    Thoughts?

    • Lazarus

      I like it. You have to be able to win games in multiple ways..I’m borderline on the fence to bet an Oiler fan a grand we don’t win 2 cups in the next 5 years…have held off to this point but am torn. I can see it..

    • cjc

      Wellll Tampa has won 10 straight and outscored their competition by 23 in that time, including Calgary. Haven’t lost in regulation since Jan. 30, that was also their last multi-goal loss.

      Calgary has won 7 straight and outscored their competition by 11.

      Boston hasn’t lost in regulation since the all-star break. They haven’t lost a game by more than one goal since Jan. 10, that was because of an empty netter. They need to go all the way back to Dec. 27 for a true multi-goal loss.

      Then again, Tampa’s last 3 W have come in OT/SO against soft competition.
      But Calgary has only eked out wins against New Jersey, Ottawa and Anaheim.
      Boston has been knocking off good teams (inc. San Jose twice).

      Calgary didn’t look great against San Jose last time either.

      So are they a juggernaut? I’d say no, even though they’ve been winning, it has been against weaker teams and they haven’t generally been as dominant as Tampa and Boston have looked. Rittich and Smith aren’t on the same plane as Vasilievskiy and Rask/Halak.

      • Jessemadnote

        Flames are 18-4-3 since Dec 31 with a +24 goal differential, Tampa is 19-4-2 with a +31 goal differential, Boston is 16-3-5 with a + 24 goal differential. Flames are 100% in the conversation with those teams. Juggernaught.

        • cjc

          Sure. It totally depends on where one sticks the goalposts. I’m not saying they are not a good team – they have the second best record in the league, so they must be doing something right.

          • Jessemadnote

            Ya it depends on how you define ‘Juggernaught’. But with the 2nd best record and 3rd best goal differential in the league it’s hard to argue they’re not a juggernaught. If they aren’t then only one team in the league is.

  • DoubleDIon

    At a certain point you have to earn your minutes. Neal is clearly to anyone with eyes the worst roster forward. You can make a good argument that players like Dube, Quine and Rychel have been better than him as well when they have been up. Any line you put Neal on instantly struggles. I get that he has been a perennial 20 goal guy, but he is a black hole defensively and doesn’t generate any offense.

  • aye

    Great to be winning tight games, but the lack of offense from the top line is somewhat concerning now. Yeah, they got their points last night, but aside from JG flying around and looking more engaged, didn’t really generate that much. And the team had EN to shoot at every single game during this 7-game win streak, but has only 1 goal. It was almost comical watching them take shots at the EN and missing or getting blocked.
    I expect a lull game coming up, but just hope it’s not on Iggy night, although I am a little worried as games against the Wild always tend to be boring.

    • Cheeky

      I’m a bit worried about lack of EN too. Yes they are meaningless unless the other team scores, hence being insurance. My point is regardless we look too scrambley at end of games, rather than that lethal “in the jugular” calmness we can show at times…

    • Jessemadnote

      Summary: 7 regulation wins in a row, 7 games since we last trailed, we’ve done it without the top line at 100% though they have combined for 8 points in the last two games, both goalies playing fantastic, commitment to team defence and a 7 point lead in the West. Ya I’m not to concerned about a lack of empty net goals.

  • Orrwasbest

    The phantom looked solid in his debut but when would you ever play him again? Hard to justify playing him over Kyl or Val on left D. Great depth but we already have 4 NHL quality LD in my opinion above him. Does Val not come back up now? Yes you always want lots of D for the playoffs but will the phantom be rusty from the pressbox come playoffs? How do you justify not giving Kyl and Val all the reps possible as their upside is surely greater.

  • Off the wall

    Lindholm has been so consistent throughout the season. I’m really grateful Mrs Otw bought me his jersey.

    We’re 4-0 since I’ve worn it.
    Coincidence, maybe- but I consider it more than that.

    I’m not superstitious at all …😉

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    I thought our D had some ill-advised reads that led to too many odd man rushes. This was not happening as mich in previous games. I thought Fantenberg would be better but it was his first game learning the system. I am wondering if a 4 th rounder is an over payment. I think Prout is much better and Kjillington is miles better. Johnny had a rough game… trying to hard to score for his nieces.

  • Derzie

    The really good news here is that coaching is so good, people are arguing over fringe stuff. Smith or Rittich, Neal or Tzarnik. Beats the heck out of the angst of the Brouwerplay, or not calling timeouts, or playing for ties.

  • Mickey O'Reaves

    You are sitting watching the game with some hockey folks over from let’s say Russia. They all know the game, the rules, and how it’s played…but they don’t know the players, their ages, where they were drafted, contract status, all that stuff.

    After the game, you are BSing and ask them what they thought of defence. Then you ask who the rookie is.
    “They guy with the beard”, they might reply.
    “More specific”, could be your response. “The tall, gangly guy — or the stocky dude built like a tank?”

    “Oh no, that guy is solid. Probably been in the league 4 years.”
    “Really? That’s our rookie.”

    It is the same overall effect for Rasmus Andersson that I had for Tkachuk after watching him play a few times to start his career. They both look liked season pro’s out there.