Feel of the game
The Flames got off to an absolutely fantastic start. They controlled play, and their first powerplay was full of chances – a total 180 from how they performed the previous night against the Golden Knights. But they couldn’t score, and the Coyotes struck first on a two-on-one, and after that, the Flames just didn’t look anywhere near as dominant. They still looked like the better team, but nothing was going for them the entire game. Combine that with the Coyotes getting back into it after their first goal, looking a lot more like equal participants than objects to be run over, and… yeah.
Ryan and I were talking around the end of the second period, and I think it helped me figure out what I’m feeling when watching the Flames as of late: they’re going through the motions. They’re a legitimately good team, so they rarely get full on dominated, and always set themselves up for one chance or another, whether it be through the fourth line’s hustle or the top players simply knowing where they need to be, but they don’t get much beyond that. The fourth line is the fourth line because, for as much respect they deserve for going for it, they aren’t as talented. And the fire seems to be gone from the top guys.
They look good, but they just aren’t doing anything with it.
Once the Coyotes scored their second goal, that seemed to be it. And it was. If you wanted one moral victory out of this game, though, the Flames not giving up an empty net goal despite pulling their goalie with 4:30 to go was kind of impressive. Not as impressive when you take the Coyotes’ ineptitude at scoring on the empty net into account, though – and then remember that the Flames got shut out by those guys.
The good news
The fourth line did that thing again in which they have an awesome shift trying to create chances, Matthew Tkachuk has seemed a little more engaged than before these past couple of games (though still paling compared to his linemates), and I’m still enjoying Oscar Fantenberg as a depth option.
Not giving up an empty net goal despite the amount of time the Coyotes had to do something with it was legitimately cool. It became a game-within-the-game for me, watching, since I’d already conceded the Flames were going to lose: how impressive an effort at keepaway was that? It’d be like if the Flames were protecting a one-goal lead, but on hard mode. Except for the part in which they got shut out. But seriously, that was nice.
The bad news
Not that anybody really had a banner night, but Noah Hanifin had a pretty rough game in particular: failing to block the pass on the two-on-one that led to the Coyotes’ first goal, and both falling on and being a little pushed into his goalie on the second goal. He’s still only 22, but he’s a 22-year-old with over 300 games of NHL experience. It was almost kind of like those moments at the start of the season when the Valimaki-Andersson pairing had its struggles, except not, because this is his fourth season in the NHL. Not that he caused the two-on-one himself or was solely responsible for the puck staying in his own zone, but as a line of defence, he wasn’t good enough on those plays.
The Sharks are now a point back of the Flames with a game in hand. That’s bad. The Flames went from this close to having a +50 goal differential to following back below +40. Also bad. Their substantial lead is gone, and with it, so, apparently, is their enthusiasm? Against the Wild, they were trying pretty hard to tie the game back up; in the three games since then, they’ve, well, skated through the motions.
Numbers of note
58% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF on the night, including a 71.43% third period. It’s probably worth noting that for all the Flames’ struggles, Darcy Kuemper did have a legitimately good game. That’s just getting overshadowed because the Flames don’t look as dangerous as they should have been. At all.
42.86% – Case in point, the Flames’ 5v5 HDCF. They had an overall dominant game but paled in comparison when it came to high danger chances. Cycling the puck is great and all but way more is needed. In the third period, the Flames’ 5v5 corsi events for were 20-8. High-danger, they were outchanced 3-4. How does that happen?
80% – Rasmus Andersson had an impressive individual performance, though, with an 80% 5v5 CF. And no, I wouldn’t be bringing this up if his HDCF wasn’t just as impressive: 100%.
20+ minutes – Four Flames got over 20 minutes in ice time: the top line, plus Mark Giordano. Tkachuk got 19:39. all of the other forwards were relatively low on the ice time scale, but it still does, in part, beg the question: when’s the top line gonna start doing something meaningful again with all those minutes?
I know there’s a fair bit of talk from all sides – the players themselves, the fandom, probably everybody – that at least they’re getting this level of play out of the way now, and not in April. But… what if they aren’t? We saw in December, January, and parts of February, the Flames were winning games they didn’t deserve to win. The motto then was similar: “at least they’re playing poorly now, maybe by March they won’t be.” Well, it’s March. And, uh. It looks like their continuing weaker play has caught up with them.
There’s still a lot of hope for the future, but maybe it’s time to start considering said weaker play was who they were all along, at least for this year. I think we all knew, deep down, they weren’t as good as they looked – but it’d be really nice to be proven wrong any time now.