At long last, we can step back from the ledge. The Flames, as it turns out, aren’t dead yet.
Feel of the game
Going into this game, you were just hoping for something different; early on, you were rewarded. For the first time since Feb. 27, the Flames scored the first goal and had an actual lead in a game, courtesy of a great Andrew Mangiapane move, and they only built on that as the period proceeded thanks to the 3M line. A defensive miscue took some wind out of the Flames’ sails, but still – that first period was a sign of the tide turning, a reason to hope the ship was being righted.
And then the second period happened, and it was all undone with two quick goals as Vegas tied the game, lack of awareness and poor positioning their undoing. The optimism stopped; the “here we go again” vibes set back in – the Flames were on their heels, they can’t do anything right, they were going to bring their fifth straight loss on themselves and give up ground to the third-place Golden Knights. Except… that didn’t quite happen. The period evened out, and by its second half, the Flames had actually started playing again; a late Mikael Backlund goal gave some hope.
That didn’t make the third period any less precarious, though; down a goal and with the game in reach, the Golden Knights worked to try to tie it up. And worked. And worked some more. But David Rittich held firm, and some late insurance goals allowed for a major sigh of relief – they did it. They won a game they absolutely had to win against one of the toughest opponents remaining on their schedule. It’s a step in the right direction, and they finally took it.
The good news
Beating Vegas in regulation. Instead of the Golden Knights being six points back with an extra game played, they’re now 10 points back in the same scenario. Can they still catch the Flames? Sure, but it’ll be much more difficult now. It also springs for a bit of additional hope: this could be a first round matchup, and the Flames proved they could beat them.
The 3M line came to play, with pristine passing on display all night, and consistently paying off. Michael Frolik had himself a night, Backlund was timely as ever, and Matthew Tkachuk broke out for his first ever hat trick – and it was all absolutely beautiful. Backlund’s first goal Malcolm Subban probably should have had, but the rest? High skilled and gorgeous, especially the first two Tkachuk goals.
Mangiapane had himself a night, as well. The only non-3M member to score a goal – though his last name starts with an M, so he can be an honorary member – Mangiapane shown other than his highlight reel goal. Outside of Backlund’s line and Johnny Gaudreau, he was probably the Flame most consistently trying to score, and he was a delight to watch.
Rittich wasn’t a magician, but he was hung out to dry on the goals he faced, for the most part – but he proved a capable starter who didn’t take any unnecessary risks and held firm when the Golden Knights were pressing. He’s needed to get his confidence back. Turning back to him should do it; he held off a talented team, especially in a dangerous, one-goal situation through most of the third.
A goaltender interference call didn’t go against the Flames? And it was real life, I wasn’t dreaming?? What a world.
The bad news
Gaudreau was awesome, but he didn’t have as much to work with as you would’ve liked. His best chance of the night came from Tkachuk, not his linemates; Sean Monahan missed some gimmes, and Elias Lindholm, who has often looked like the picture of consistency playing for this team, didn’t seem to have it in him. It’s great that Gaudreau was so noticeable, largely in a positive way (uh, those turnovers right in front of his own net should probably stop though), but if the top line could get back into sync any time now, that’d be great.
Defensive lapses happen; they really only had one egregious one in the first period, it just so happened to turn into a goal against. But the start to the second period cannot happen. This was a team looking to snap a four-game losing streak, their once-lofty place in the standings threatened within the span of a week, and they allowed two goals within 80 seconds. They surrendered a two-goal lead just like that. They were caught by surprise within seconds of the second period starting, and didn’t seem to have their heads back in the game a minute later when the game got tied; the top pairing was victimized there, as well. The good news is they calmed down after they gave up two goals; the bad news is they gave up two goals to begin with.
Sometimes you see Good Sam Bennett, as we did for moments here and there. And then you get Bad Sam Bennett, taking multiple penalties that helped nobody. Sometimes you even get them both on the same shift! It’s weird.
You could point to the circumstances surrounding the Golden Knights that this win isn’t that positive a sign: they played the night before, they started their backup goalie, it wasn’t an optimal game situation for them. The Flames played well, for the most part, but that does perhaps temper things some: they had to have been the favoured team, and maybe wouldn’t have done as well in less ideal circumstances.
So is this a thing now? Is every goalie is just going to throw a tantrum if another player is remotely near him whenever the puck goes in the back of their net? Surely there has to be a better way to deal with this; it’s stupid. It was stupid when Devan Dubnyk did it, costing the Flames a perfectly legal goal. It was stupid when Marc-Andre Fleury did it, costing the Flames a perfectly legal goal. It was stupid when Rittich did it, but when in Rome I guess, even though there was no chance that goal would be called back. And it was stupid when Subban did it, carrying shades of the Fleury fit from a couple of games ago, but going the right way this time. It’s such a needless disruption to the game. The NHL had to introduce a penalty when coaches kept challenging for offsides in vain hope; if this keeps up, I wonder if something is going to be done here, too. But in the meantime: it’s annoying, and I would like goalies to cut it out now please.
Numbers of note
50% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF on the night. They had a stellar first period (71.43%) and dealt with a chasing Vegas team in the third (34.38%). They did what they needed to do, though – finally. They handled it.
3 – For the first time in his career, Tkachuk has a hat trick. (Of course he scored it in Game 69.) He had 10 two-goal games prior to this point.
1 – Tkachuk also ties Backlund in career hat tricks now, with one each. Backlund’s first came on April 7, 2016, against the Canucks (powerplay, even strength, then shorthanded). He now has 13 multi-goal games in his career.
10 – Since going point-less for seven games, Tkachuk now has 10 points in his last 12. Of course, four of them came just now, which obviously skews things a fair bit, but he has been slowly rounding the corner.
40+ – At long last, somebody other than the Flames’ big five scorers has passed the 40-point mark. Backlund is on pace for 23 goals (a career high) and 50 points, which would make it his second ever 50-point season. The only other teams to have at least six 40-point players: Montreal (six), San Jose (nine), and Washington (six).
27 – Remember how Frolik was bad last season, with a mere 25 points in 70 games? He has 27 points in 52 games now. In his first two seasons with the Flames, he was a solid half-a-point-per-game player. He’s looking like that again now, even if it is taking a big effort like this contest and double his shooting percentage from the season prior to correct things. But hey – maybe last season really was a blip, not a sign of things to come.
9 – Gaudreau had nine shots. That’s a lot. He deserved at least a point or two there.
Well, that was a big step in the right direction. There are still a lot more to take, but maybe this will be an exciting month after all: one that will likely, when all is said and done, be filled with promise and disappointment. But the pendulum swinging back to promise is always welcome, and remember; the Flames still do control their own destiny. It got a little brighter with a much-needed win over one of two top divisional opponents.