Photo Credit: Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

Flames 6, Golden Knights 3 post-game embers: Nice line, nice hat trick, nice win

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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

Final thought

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.

  • Orrwasbest

    Nice headline, nice being the key, the Flames are way to nice to play against. Where are the nasty players needed for playoff hockey? Last in hits in the league. I am guessing teams like Vegas would love to get Calgary in the playoffs.

  • withachance

    Can we all agree to leave the 3M line alone, at least until playoffs? The second line is not the problem right now.

    Lots of time to go for BP to fix de zone lapses and to coax the top line back into form – really do we think this slump will continue for 10-15 more games?

    Also Fantenberg looked really good out there, definitely bringing physicality along with solid distribution. Good 3rd pairing option in the playoffs for sure. Logged big minutes with Doughty in the playoffs, could really be a Kempny type addition down the stretch

    • MDG1600

      Agree about Fantenberg… I would actually bump Andersson to the first pair and scratch Brodie for Fantenberg/Stone 3rd pairing ahead of the playoffs to see how it worked.

      • withachance

        Depends on the opposition. If its someone heavy like VGK I can actually see Ras being scratched for Prout. Brodie is still one of the best transition dman on the team. You lose a lot of zone entry and puck carrying ability without Brodie.

        Also wouldnt want to hurt his peak trade value by scratching him. Ras + Phantom would probably be one of the best 3rd pairing in playoffs

      • FlamesFanOtherCity

        Brodie/Fantenberg and Gio/Ras may just be the fix needed. As much as Stone is an option, he’s not better than Brodie. Both he and Fantenberg can play RD. Brodie is a slightly better skater and Fanta can provide the toughness and defensive coverage to offset Brodie’s wanderings.

      • Jessemadnote

        Aw man you guys just have tunnel vision sometimes. Brodie is 9th league wide in plus minus, 2nd on the Flames in Ice time and defensive scoring, 3rd in takeaways and 5th in Corsi percentage. He’s a good player and he’s having a good season. Despite his flaws it would be very foolish to scratch Brodie for Stone or Fantenberg

  • MDG1600

    “Gaudreau was awesome”. Really? He had 0 pts and the three turnovers inside our blueline which resulted in great scoring chances for Vegas. I mean I love Johnny but he is pressing too hard and turning the puck over more than usual.

    • Heeeeere’s Johnny

      It does seem like teams have figured out how to defend that line. Swarm Johnny and take away his space so there’s no time for a play to develop behind him. It’s working, and the line has to figure out something else. It feels to me it is in the style of entry with Johnny’s button hooks. If they can change the look to more of a north-south rush and start pushing the puck toward the net that should open things up for trailing D.

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      His issues have to do with the play of his linemates. They are coughing up the puck during zone entries or missing passes in the slot. How many times have they missed the net per game? More than the one or two shots they get credit for. Johnny gets into trouble when he has no support. Gio was ahead of him when he turned over the puck. Where’s the defense?

  • Heeeeere’s Johnny

    I didn’t see the game yesterday. I woke up early in the Comox Valley and got in the car with my wife to drive back to Calgary. The drive always starts out so nicely with a short drive into a sunrise to the ferry in Nanaimo where we can relax, catch up on the news and take in the scenery. Then there is getting into the groove of a long drive, planning for breaks, getting gas, food, etc. Somewhere past the mid-point of the drive it becomes a drag and I just don’t want to be driving anymore. We were driving through nice towns with perfectly serviceable hotels … why not just give up on it and try again tomorrow? But you grind it out and keep going and once I hit the Alberta border it feels like it’s gonna happen. Toughest driving of the trip though as darkness descends and the winds pick up. It takes a greater degree of focus and effort to finish the drive than it did to start.

    When I got home and saw the end of the third period and the boys pulling out a victory I noticed the parallels. I’m hoping they’ve noticed that they are through the dog days and it’s now time to pay attention and grind it out. If they can get to the playoffs it will feel like they are starting out on a brand new day!

    • Skylardog

      They were together for a bunch during Tkachuk’s scoring slump. They played well together last night, but have been far from effective together since the All Star break Hopefully the corner for them has been turned.

        • Skylardog

          I disagree, without anything other than the eye test right now, but both the third and fourth lines seemed better, whether Neal or Czar were on the third line.

          • withachance

            Wow, yeah based on eye test I’ve noticed the Backs line taking over most times on the ice – and scoring goals as well. To each their own I guess!

            But yeah 4th line has been money, 3rd line has been falling off lately though.

  • Vinnsanity0412

    Really think we should take heed of Peter’s comment regarding that there is still a lot to clean up. The win is awesome, but Gio and Brodie were on for all 3 Knight’s goals. The first line was awful defensively and I would have benched them for their pathetic zone coverage after the first Vegas goal (5 minutes left in the first, would have sent a message). Fantenberg appears to be a keeper and I think he is built for playoff hockey. I love Kylington, but it may be difficult for him to get back in the line-up moving forward. Before all is said and done, I suspect Quine and Lazar and some of the tougher more battle tested players will be taking the spots of some of our softer players. Also believe that Mike Smith will have a part to play in all this before it is said and done.

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      Agreed, we need a better defensive center on the top line. Switch Janko and Monny and the problems will go away. What does this do? Johnny gets a better skating center who can control the boards, protect the puck and use his size to create space for Himsrlf and Lindholm. Janko is by no means rugged but he will grind it out and stand up for his linemates in a scrum.

      Monny centres 2 speedsters and can drive his own line. Bennett will stand up for Monny and drag him into the battle when Monny starts to disapppear. Bennett wins the board battles and finds a Monny in the slot.

  • Skylardog

    Finally. Now breathe everyone.

    And with that win, we have 91 points, which should be enough for a playoff spot even if we lost all of the last 13. Not happening, but it is good to know we could 😉

  • cjc

    Is it time to talk about Bennett? Even when he seems to be “on” the puck doesn’t go in for him and 308 NHL games later one wonders if it ever will. Now at seven games without a point and 11 without a goal. Still ends up taking a lot more penalties than he draws. For what it’s worth, he’s never been a plus player either. He’s barely on pace to top his totals from the past two seasons despite scoring being way up.

    Bennett’s due a new contract, and it will probably be in the 3 million range over two years (I’m basing that off Ryan Strome, who had slightly better production and got 3.1 million x 2 on his third contract). They already have a couple of bottom six players costing more than 3 million (Ryan and Neal). I feel like Bennett needs a fresh start somewhere else, and it will free up a middle six spot for Dube next year.

  • Flaming Duck

    Missed the game but saw the highlights. Smith having some fun with Fluery during warmup clip on Sportsnet was too funny. Smith put his stick on the ice and goaded Fleury to come across the centreline, just like Fleury did to Rittich during the last game. Afterwards voth goalies had a laugh at centre ice. I thought it was a pretty cool and funny moment. GFG..

  • everton fc

    Re: Fantenberg; he could be a nice #67, at a ice price tag, as we try to ink the likes of Tkachuk, Rittich, Hathaway, Bennett…

    Re: Bennett; If we can sign him for a decent salary, his is an ideal 3rd line grinder. He’s also only 22. Let’s consider what he is, who he is, what he brings to the team, and not “what he should have been/might be/will never be”. Hope that made sense!

  • Hard Dump in the Corner

    A step in the right direction but playing against a team on a second game in two nights road trip is not the best measuring stick. Good win and great performance by the second line but we still aren’t firing on all cylinders.
    Hopefully this is the start of the ramp up to the playoffs. GFG.

  • Garry T

    Gudreau Quine Lindholm. ….. give Monahan a rest , Quine playing well.
    Monahan can get some instruction on D.
    And eliminating the whiffing.

    Tkachuk Backlund Frolik
    Leave three and four lines alone
    ( you could put Kylington in for Bennett )

    Gio /Anderson
    Hanifin / Hamonic
    Fantenberg Kylington
    Brodie 7th. D

    PS. Go back to the all wood sticks. Less breakage in critical situations

  • Off the wall

    For the first time in my life, I’m experiencing something new… migraine headaches. I never imagined how debilitating they can be. It affects your eyesight, thinking and judgement.

    Just another thing to add with the pangs of getting older. It’s weird, but stress can induce it.

    I love our Flames. I take it personally, with each win and loss. It’s hard to separate yourself from that thought process.

    Yesterday, I chose to. I purposely didn’t comment, because I realized I’m too invested in my own thoughts. I’m not one to believe that my opinion is right or wrong, I just hope to share something with all of you, that makes a bit of sense.

    I’m beginning to wonder if some of these migraines are self- induced, or could be prevented with a little cognitive behaviour.

    We are so close. We can smell the sweet scent of playoff hockey. We’re elated, yet have lingering doubts about this magical season. A losing streak can do that to you. So can our own negative thoughts.

    We can drive ourselves crazy with every single shift, every game, every player involved.

    Is it worth it? Not when it affects your health. Not when it means you have become more than a fan, you’ve become obsessed.
    I think I’ve become the latter.
    No, I know I have.

    I’m only sharing this because I struggle with obsessive tendencies as it is, this is just another one of those, that can catch you of guard.

    My own prescription( yes I’ve seen a real Dr) has been to back off on the worries of each game, each player and each shift.
    Enjoy the game, it’s beautiful!

    I forgot what that felt like. Yesterday, I did that. And it felt good, no it felt great, because instead of watching our team and critiquing every single thing, I watched the game with an unbiased perspective ( it’s truly difficult) and I came away with an appreciation for the game itself.

    It feels good to relieve yourself of burdens you didn’t know you were carrying. I can’t imagine how our players feel each day.
    This is their living. This is their life. And we peer into it every day.

    And yet we get to critique them at will. On forums, in the media, chatting with our fellow fans.
    Sometimes really hurtful things said about them.

    I’m glad I’m not a NHL player. I’m just simple Otw.

    If only we can remember that they have the same human tendencies we do, I think we can appreciate the game like we should…

    • Cfan in Van

      Sorry you were forced into this position, but I think everyone could learn from your struggles in this regard. Take a step back and enjoy it for what it is. Definitely consider your health (mental and physical) before your past times (or favorite obsessions). I always look forward to your contributions here, but if we hear from you a little less, I’ll assume it’s for your own good.

      Good luck friend.

    • HOCKEY83

      Sorry to hear about the Migraines. I’ve been suffering with severe migrains since before my earliest memory and was a clinical study at the U of C when I was young because they used to last up to 7 days. 7 Days in a dark room with no noise completly drugged up as a child was not fun. Now thankfully they occur once or twice a month for a few day. Living in Calgary is hard because they are related to the chinooks in a big way. Just for an FYI Extra Strength Excedrin is the very best over the counter pain reliever for migraine headaches. Unfortunately it’s not sold in Canada so you have to go across the Border to get it.

    • Derzie

      I find as I/we age, I am less able to watch whole games. The main reason is to avoid stress. Caring about the result of a game and having zero ability to change that result, creates stress. I can watch games front to back, except when the Flames are involved. So, my way to “enjoy the game” is to watch until I’m not enjoying it, then I turn it off. Bad calls. Giving up dumb goals. Non calls. Oilers coverage. All calls to turn it off. I go do something else for a while, then circle back once calm.
      Getting old stinks but I’ve decided to listen my body and avoid unnecessary stress from watching sports.