Winning games is going to be tough if that’s how they’re going to play.
Feel of the game
Early on, it was evident that David Rittich was ready for this one. He was tested throughout the game, and answered to the challenge just about every time. There was only so much he could do on the Golden Knights’ first goal – the Flames’ second penalty kill of the period in which they were completely unable to get a handle on the puck, allowing Vegas a great shot that beat him. The Flames looked to tie the game soon after, but for a goaltending interference ruling on a coach’s challenge; otherwise, the first penalty seemed to be a set up for what the game would be: sluggish, uncoordinated, and rarely dangerous.
The Flames did, occasionally, try to counter, though. And after two absolutely abhorrent powerplays of their own, a Travis Hamonic bullet tied the game. But otherwise, the Flames didn’t really do much of note; the Golden Knights seemed to have little to no trouble in picking the Flames’ pockets or intercepting their passes. One team appeared to be paying attention, and other than Rittich, the other team looked completely disinterested. A brief four-on-four and some additional Matthew Tkachuk shenanigans livened things up heading into the third, at least.
Where the Flames looked a little better, but still didn’t do enough. Rittich got too bold with the puck, but continued making saves – at least until a tough Deryk Engelland shot, which gave the Golden Knights the lead. The Flames tried to respond, but couldn’t get anything dangerous going; it was clear the game was over once Vegas scored, though at least they didn’t give up the empty netter, and were able to apply some sustained pressure.
Also, not that the Flames are at fault for not picking up Mark Stone, since the asking price was rather expensive, but… uh, wow. He’s really rather good.
The good news
Sometimes goalies have good games, sometimes goalies have bad games. Rittich has had some poor games in his latest stretch, but he was easily the best Flame of the night. He wasn’t panic-inducing – at least not until the third period when he started aggressively trying to play the puck, setting up Vegas for some prime scoring chances, passing the puck across his own net for some reason, and coming that close to taking a delay of game penalty – and he looked up to the task. He wasn’t at fault on either of the goals that made their way past him. The Flames were rewarded for showing further faith in him with a good goaltending performance, so here’s to hoping that carries forward.
The fourth line had a pretty monstrous shift in the first period. You’re really not in that bad of a spot when that particular trio of players can cycle the puck so well. The Flames did have their occasional moments of completely tiring the Golden Knights out, even if they didn’t exactly result in anything.
Hamonic wasn’t great on the first goal against, but it is cool to see him have a career year in goalscoring. He’s probably not going to have a 30-point season again like he did in 2014-15, but a 20-point season is certainly possible. And it’s nice to see him get rewarded for that shot of his – he’s been breaking it out more often as of late.
The bad news
The only Flames goal that counted came at the very end of the powerplay, but still – the Flames’ first two powerplays were atrocious. Just absolutely horrible. They’re tied for the 10th best man advantage in the NHL, but you would not have known that watching this game: the Flames could barely enter the zone and seemed to give up more chances than they created. It was painful to watch. Not that they really had a great night overall, but the powerplays were a special level of awful.
What’s worse: standing out so poorly, or appearing so lackadaisical that you barely register at all? The Flames’ powerplay was the former, but most of the rest of their play was the latter. The Golden Knights had way too easy a time disrupting their attack or outright taking the puck from them. They had their dangerous moments here and there, but they completely fell off as the game proceeded, like they just weren’t interested in trying to win this one. And unlike the game against Toronto in which every bounce possible went against them, this was a completely winnable game – and they threw it away.
What is goaltender interference? Kudos to Rittich for picking up on the apparent fact that if the Flames score and the other goalie throws a fit the goal will get called back; too bad it didn’t work for him since there was no possible way a Golden Knight could have interfered with him, unlike the challenges Devan Dubnyk and Marc-Andre Fleury threw out there in the past three games. But seriously… what was Tkachuk supposed to do there? Is he responsible for Fleury’s stick now? Are players not allowed at the top of the crease anymore? It made absolutely no sense – he didn’t do anything. And between these past couple of instances, it’s absurd how long the officials have to take to try to find something to call back. I like FP Santangelo’s take for baseball, and see no reason why it shouldn’t apply to hockey, or all forms of sports video review: there should be a time limit on reviewing plays. If you can’t find good reason to overturn a call within a set amount of time, then the play was close enough to whatever the original call was that it should stand. It’s like the officials are deliberately hunting to justify the goalie’s outrage, that the goalie absolutely has to be right, and it’s stupid.
Numbers of note
50.54% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF on the night. More telling, though? The Golden Knights had CFs over 60% in the final two periods. The Flames had five high-danger corsi events for at 5v5 in the first period, and only one each in the final two periods. That’s a really tough way to win.
6, 5 – Mark Giordano and Tkachuk led the Flames in shots by a fair margin. Tkachuk actually looked more involved in the game than he has in some time, although a lot of that was due to extra curricular activities than anything else. Still, offensive involvement is good.
7 minutes – Roughly the time Andrew Mangiapane played with Elias Lindholm and Mikael Backlund at 5v5. Of the three, he was definitely the least noticeable. He eventually rejoined his usual linemates for the rest of the game. It’s not a bad experiment in theory, though – the team as a whole just looked pretty off, which is hardly on him.
The Flames were not as good as their seven-game winning streak and they are not as bad their current three-game losing streak. They still have a lead on the Sharks for top spot in the division, though it is precarious. If they falter further, they play Vegas in the playoffs – so let’s see how they respond when they see them again on Sunday.
Remember that the Sharks were the ones projected to win the division from early on. The Flames have kept the title for most of the season. Don’t let the unexpected shift your expectations; this is only the beginning.