Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Flames 9, Devils 4 post-game embers: Don’t call it a comeback

Has scoring nine goals in one game ever elicited so much relief? Since the last time the Flames did it, I mean.

Feel of the game

The Flames got off to exactly the kind of start you’d think they would: a dominating one. This was, after all, one of the top teams in the league against a team that isn’t only near the bottom of the standings, but has been ravaged by injury to a comical extent. Johnny Gaudreau’s early goal seemed to signal the Flames were well on their way, and that even though they weren’t scoring on their other chances, they would be fine.

At least, until one of those other chances – started by TJ Brodie – went back the other way, also courtesy of Brodie. Suddenly, all of the Flames’ early pressure was nullified, but you’d think it was fine, because these things happen– Except for a poor Mark Jankowski clearing attempt, oh no they were not supposed to be down– And then Kenny Agostino scored early in the second and, maybe, it was time to be concerned. For as much as the Flames had been the better team overall, they found themselves down two goals: not even close to the outcome you’d have expected.

But slowly, but surely, the Flames worked themselves back into game shape, and whittled away until the game was tied. They even got their first powerplay of the game, and promptly gave up a shorthanded goal, heading into the third down by one, so, maybe, panic. That wasn’t how the game was supposed to go at all.

And then, within two minutes and 37 seconds, everything was fine again. Derek Ryan had a flukey goal that would have made the Leafs proud, and Gaudreau went off on an offensive tear. Once they had a two-goal lead, things felt safe for the Flames again; when they made it a three-goal lead, things felt really safe; when they just went ahead and made it a five-goal lead before the Devils could so much as blink, well, you knew it was over. Obviously.

For all of the roller coaster of emotions the game was, the final score actually was probably an accurate reflection of it.

The good news

Oh hi, Johnny Gaudreau. Welcome back. Though truth be told, this was coming – Gaudreau had been playing much better in recent games, even if he wasn’t getting the points to show for it. There wasn’t an example much clearer than nine shots against the Golden Knights the game prior, even with no scoring on his part; well, this was one hell of a way to regress back to his standard. It isn’t just that Gaudreau snapped with a six-point game, though: it’s that everything he did was so high-skilled. He was putting on an absolute clinic, especially in the third period. Couple of five-hole goals, actually scoring on a penalty shot, deft passing through Devils to set up teammates for some – this is why he’s one of the top offensive players in the sport. That was cool.

Which isn’t to take anything away from Sean Monahan or Elias Lindholm, either, who had pretty good nights of their own. It showed right off the first goal, both of them contributing in getting the Gaudreau the puck to begin with, and carried on through (with Monahan’s assist on Gaudreau’s third goal of the game probably worth a shoutout of its own). The top line has shown signs of coming alive, even during the losing streak; though seemingly all of the scoring came at once, this shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise. Now they’ve just got to keep it up, against teams with slightly better, less-injured rosters.

That isn’t to take anything away from the other lines, either, all of which contributed to the offensive pressure seen throughout the game (not to mention scoring at some point). It’s just that the top line stole the show, much as the second line did the previous game.

It took a while, but eventually, the Flames reminded us why they’ve been where they are in the standings for most of the season. A lot of (deserved) angst has come as of late, but sans some turnovers and some general lack of awareness, this was the kind of game the Flames should have played. In the end, they matched up to expectation. They’re still a good team.

The bad news

That said, the game never should have been as close as it was, and the Devils probably never should have had a multi-goal lead. The Flames were dominant to start; they only had one goal to show for it, though, and it was made evident why that wasn’t good enough. They did bury their chances in the third period, but they should have had them in the first, too. The final frame masks the less-than-ideal play and moments from the first two.

A couple of players, specifically, need to be better. First: Brodie, who can’t give up the turnover that led to the Devils’ first goal, and who can’t be that much of a non-factor on their third goal. That said, Mark Giordano was partially at fault as well, but he was more put together than Brodie (and at least also had a sweet assist to help make up for things) – not to mention, there are plenty of reasons as to why he’s probably going to win the Norris this year. But here’s the thing with Brodie: the Flames do not have a better option. On the top pairing, sure, Rasmus Andersson has been getting looks, but as a regular defenceman? Brodie will be dressed every time; the Flames flat out do not have six better defenders than him. Part of playing defence is making mistakes – we’ve seen everyone in the top four do it, maybe a little too often for comfort the past couple of games – but a lot of Brodie’s have been preventable. He still skates well, he can still create offence; he just needs to be smarter.

The same goes for David Rittich. He made some pretty big, and pretty timely saves, but he also needed to mix in a couple more of them here and there. Yeah, he was let down by his defence throughout the night, but the goals were stoppable. And yet – he’s still their most reliable option going forward, not just for this season, but for the playoffs, too. Rittich wasn’t going to singlehandedly lose them the game, but contests like this are part of why goalie wins are an asinine stat: he didn’t exactly win it for them, either.

Numbers of note

62.75% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF. They were the better team pretty much the entire game, but especially in the third period, during which they posted a 77.42%, limiting the Devils to just seven corsi events for: almost one for each of the goals the Flames scored.

Gaudreau-specific numbers:

33 – A new career high in goals. His previous was 30, from the 2015-16 and 2017-18 seasons. He has a 14.9 shooting percentage this year. His career average is 12.6%. He’s on pace for 39 goals.

90 – A new career high in points. His previous was 84, from the 2017-18 season. He’s the first Flame to hit the 90-point mark since Jarome Iginla scored 98 in the 2007-08 season. He’s on pace for 105 points this year.

6 – Gaudreau’s previous career high for points in a single game was four, which he’s done eight times in his career (four times this season, not including this game).

5 – Gaudreau now has five hat tricks to his name. Coincidentally, this was the first one that did not occur in the month of December.

4 – Gaudreau is now tied for fourth in league-wide scoring. He’s eight points back of second place and 21 points back of first, so he’ll need to have a couple more six-point games if he wants to catch up.

3 – Gaudreau ended a three-game point-less drought in dramatic fashion.

10 – The number of games it took Gaudreau to get six points prior to this one.

8 – The number of shots Gaudreau had in the game. So that’s 17 in the past two, now. I think he wanted to start scoring again.

Other numbers:

4 – The number of points both Monahan and Lindholm had. It’s Monahan’s sixth four-point night (including a five-point game, his career high). It’s only Lindholm’s second four-point game (his first was also a five-point night, his career high as well).

30 – It was anti-climactic, but Matthew Tkachuk is now officially a 30-goal scorer. The Flames are now one of four teams with three 30-goal scorers (the others being Chicago, Colorado, and Tampa). The last time the Flames had three 30-goal scorers was 2006-07, when Iginla, Kristian Huselius, and Daymond Langkow did it.

1 – Also lost in the madness was Oscar Fantenberg’s first ever point as a Flame, his ninth career point. Rittich remains the only Flame presently on the roster who does not have a point this season.

103 – The Flames have scored 103 goals in the third period this season, which is a lot. The next best team is the Jets, with 92 goals in the third period so far this year. The worst team is the Ducks, with 52 goals in the third period – the Flames are so good they’ve almost doubled up on them.

2 – The Flames have scored nine goals twice so far this season. The first instance came on Dec. 4 in a 9-6 win over the Blue Jackets. Gaudreau and Monahan led the way with four points each back then.

Final thought

There was an awful lot to unpack from what was an expected win, but I think it all boils down to this: the Flames are still a good team, but they have to play better.

Is it reassuring, though, to see them score their way out of trouble – just as they did back when they first started taking over the Western Conference? It remains to be seen how sustainable that truly is for this group. Probably not very – but knowing they can still do it is nice.

  • MDG1600

    Great win and nice to see the top line rolling. Just wondering though – the organization has NHL calibre defencemen coming out the wazoo at the moment so why do we have to suffer through watching TJ on the top pairing?

    • withachance

      He made one big mistake last night, but he was pretty good for the team in transitions and pinching all night. Just my two cents that we all tend to hiighlight his mistakes, but no one talks about what he brings to the team.

      I still think he gets traded in the summer though – just makes too much sense.

        • withachance

          True, but that’s my point. It’s easy for fans to point to the one obvious big mistake, but a lot harder to look past it and notice all the small things he does for the team that’s pretty important to the game of hockey like outlet passes, transition through neutral zone, stick checking and pinching in the o-zone, all of which he does at a top 4 level

        • Flaming Duck

          Agree with both points of view. Brody seems to consistently deliver at both ends of the spectrum relative to his play. At this point, this is what he is. I as well suspect he will be gone this summer, mostly as a cap management move.

          • HOCKEY83

            I think he makes as many mistakes as anyone else…unfortunately since Stone was taken out of the line up he became the goat. I don’t believe he will get traded in the off season. He’s the only D they have that is comfortable playing both sides so he can move anywhere as needed and he has great personal stats. The only way i see him getting traded is if it’s a trade they can’t refuse.

          • Baalzamon

            The Flames don’t really have a choice with Tkachuk’s contract coming up. They have to move somebody, probably at least two players. Brodie and Frolik are the easiest to move both in terms of teams possibly being interested and in terms of being replaced from within.

            Also Brodie isn’t even close to being the only defenseman they have that can play both sides comfortably. Hanifin, Kylington, and Valimaki have all played on both sides.

  • withachance

    Really didnt understand all the people asking for Monny to be demoted because of that slump. All great players go through rough patches, but that doesnt mean he’s still the best centre on the team with the best chemistry with Jonny.

    Can we talk about those dirty sauce passes?? Monahan clearly isnt only a shooter, he just seems like it every night because Jonny is too good with those set ups

      • withachance

        Janko is a beaut, but he’s just not on Monny’s level and I think we know it. I also thought Monny threw his weight around last night as well – he just usually doesnt need to

    • Lazarus

      100% All he does is score and in recent years as turned into quite a passer as well. I never question him. Never.
      Last year playing through injuries at the season close. 2 years back when his numbers were down a bit he was catching flak again, he only went into the playoffs and scored 4 goals in 4 games..but yeah he hits a bit of a slump and people want to boot him down a line or 2. Not happening

    • Joel Ottos Jock

      Not because of the point slump. It’s because he doesnt do the little things, he is engaged, he isnt hitting guys and he is a liability in his own zone. When Monny isnt scoring, he really hurts the Flames.

  • Vinnsanity0412

    BSD in net for two big wins…his save % went down and his GAA went up…just sayin. Is the previous the result of defensive zone play? Brodie and Gio on the ice for 6 of the last 7 goals against…just sayin. Again, I defer to Bill Peters with regards to loose zone play. This team needs to clean things up. Gaudreau was amazing, on the Ryan tap in goal reminded me of the Forsberg goal against Calgary years ago. It’s Johnny’s world, we just live in it! If we get to a point where we know we can’t change our position in the standings, maybe give Gio a rest and Brodie can join him, feed him popcorn, see if he can do that without a giveaway.

    • Lazarus

      7 goals allowed in the last 2 games. Yes they were wins, but heaven help us if that had been Smith. The pitchforks would be out. Hell, Smith was on a 7 game unbeaten streak and people wanted him on the sidelines. Double standard much..can’t stand that. At least Ari did point out Rittich hasn’t been Rittich

      • The Beej

        Maybe. But those chances were Wideman level Blankups that always are gonna end up in the back of your net. When you give teams breakaways its tough for me to blame on the Goalie.

        Rittich hasnt been as sharp lately… but he still is performing better than Smith overall and I think the Flames actually owed him this W.

    • withachance

      Yeah agreed – i think the priority has been upping offensive output that defensive zone focus has dulled a little – BP has plenty of time to balance the two before playoffs, not really worried. Remember when Backlund was going off and the team was winning 2-1 games? This team is capable of setting up shop and defending when it needs, but also capable of scoring their way into a win, just up to BP to balance it

  • Raffydog

    Great win, especially happy to see the top line explode like they did. However its goaltending like that which will sink this team in the playoffs. We all saw what poor goaltending gets you in the playoffs a couple years ago. I think its generally agreed the Flames outplayed the Ducks in that series but still went out in four straight because of the goaltending. Seems like they will suffer that fate yet again.

    • Flames fan since 83

      Hey, my memory seem to recall that in the series against the Ducks we absolutely did NOT outplay the Ducks! We got man handled. I think nobody agrees the Flames outplayed the Ducks!
      Our Goalies were not good, I’ll grant you that. Stats wise we were bottom of the league for goalies. (Hilliar and Ramo)
      How do you say “we are the same, and will end up with the same fate???”
      I mean, we are near the top in Goals for, Goal differential. Not to mention top third in PP and above average PK.
      And our goalies are league average. Your comparison is off the charts Stupid.
      Sorry for my rant FN, I’m just tired of this guy, and all the other negative crap.

      • Willi P

        Notes below from the series (NHL.com and yes Flames outplayed the Ducks). Goal tending did sink the Flames that year.

        “By any statistical measure, Calgary was even, or had the slight edge in this series in the volume and the quality of shots, and where most of the action took place.

        – The Flames led the Ducks 128-107 in scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick.

        – In terms of rebounds, the Flames led the Ducks 14-9, according to Corsica Hockey.

        – Calgary led Anaheim 18-12 in shots off the rush, according to Corsica Hockey.

        – Calgary’s shots were taken closer to the net, from an average of 32.8 feet; Anaheim took its shots from an average of 34.3 feet.

        – At 5-on-5, 68 faceoffs took place in the Anaheim zone, compared to 64 in the Calgary zone.”

        • Flames fan since 83

          Thanks Willie,
          Sorry, your correct. I incorrectly thinking of the 2015 season. Second round. Hiller and Ramo in net. We we’re man handled by Ducks.

        • thepharmacist

          Lost to the Ducks in 2 playoff series 2015 and 2017. If above stats was from 2017, the Flames did play well enough to win. Elliot was the goaltender. All correct, he wasn’t good enough. However what I will never forget about that series was a few game changing calls that went against the Flames. The first was the phantam goaltending interference against Bennett that called back a goal. The puck was in the net but the refs did not make a call. It was reviewed to see if the puck crossed the line before the net was dislodged. It looked to be a good goal. But situation room told the refs that they saw goaltending interference(GI). The refs did not call that on the ice nor did the Anaheim bench challenge for GI. The refs told the Calgary bench to save challenging because situation room saw GI. It was announced as a nongoal. That disallowed goal was the turning point of that game. Then the following game a Nate Thompson high stick goal was reviewed and allowed. The situation room stated that there was conclusive evidence that the stick made contact under the cross bar. ?? Thewincolumn.ca even did it’s own scientific video analysis. Not possible. Yes the Flames blew a big lead but that goal should have not counted. That one was the back breaker. Flames probably would have stopped the bleeding had that goal been rightfully called off. Then the Oilers got screwed by a bad call in the next round as well. Kessler did interfere with Talbot. These examples of bad video reviews is what makes me most nervous about the playoffs. I will need my own prescription.

      • Cfan in Van

        It’s been mentioned, but

        1) This team scores a lot more, and it comes much easier than it did 2 years ago. No comparison.

        2) Yes, we did out play the ducks over the 4 losses, in every category except for goals scored (the most important). Anderson was unreal, and Elliot/Johnson sucked. Easy to forget that after being swept, but I recall thinking we were absolutely cursed to loose all those games in a row, when we carried the play in each game.

        3) Our roster is way more balanced now. We were playing Bartkowski, Bouma, Brouwer… Even F.Hamilton played a game.

  • Off the wall

    It has been an amazing season.
    Who’d have thought that picking up a few players would make all the difference to this team?

    Our new players Lindholm, Hanifin, Ryan and yes even Czarnik have made nice contributions to the completeness of this squad.

    Not to mention the solid play of Fantenberg, our latest pickup.

    Peter’s knows how to use everyone. Perhaps that’s the biggest indication of why we have been near the top of the standings for months.

    I think we can win the Division. It’ll be difficult, SAN Jose is playing really well. But after witnessing the Gaudreau show last night, I know we have the players to make it happen.

  • Thesaun

    That was an ugly win. Play 30 minutes like that against a good team and you lose, every time. As Francis said in the intermission, the Devils right now are a glorified AHL team because of all their injuries. The one positive takeaway was that all that room the Devils provided to create offense might give the top line a confidence boost.

    Just because you can afford to make mistakes doesn’t make it OK that you did.

    • Jessemadnote

      As it was said elsewhere, two goals against were due to breakdowns caused by a broken stick, another one was a harmless point shot going 4 feet wide that got tipped and one was a giveaway. Definitely not a tight game but those goals did not really reveal something structurally wrong with the team.

  • Joel Ottos Jock

    It’s not just the big mistakes with Brodie, but all the small mistakes as well. His lack of toughness hurts, his muffin of a shot hurts, his bad decesion mkaing hurts, his bad first pass hurts, and he seems to do all of the above once a game. Too many people seen how well the team was doing and how many points Giordano was putting up and thought Brodie mist be playing well. Brodie has not been good. He is not good. I believe the Flames are a better team with a combo line up of
    Gio Ras
    Hani Ham
    Sit Brodie for a few games, see what these others can do.

    • withachance

      Slightly disagree here. Yeah, he’s not the Regehyr type to grind you in the boards, or has a booming shot. But he definitely has a very good outlet pass (a high risk high reward pass, which makes sense that when it doesnt come off its noticeable), and his shot is there for redirections, not a seeing eye kind like Gio’s. He is miles ahead of Stone and Prout as a right sided dman for this team. His decision making is definitely erratic though, something BP should have noticed by now and working to remedy.

      I just want to point out in the two Norris conversation career years that Gio has had, he was with Brodie as his partner for both. That’s not a coincidence. They suit each other as a pairing and make each other better. Even with Hamilton Gio hasnt performed like this.

      • Joel Ottos Jock

        Gio doesnt deserve a Norris and never should have been in the talks. Just because he piles up the points doesnt mean he is deserving. I dislike how the Norris is chosen based upon points. Can anyone hear truly say PK Subban was the best defenceman the year he won? Gio is doing very well offensively, but is not the best defenceman in the league, not even close. Brodies high risk high reward passes, well when they are more risk than reward it’s time to rethink this pass. Outside his skating, he is not a good nhl player. Time to move on from him. He is part of the deadweight on this roster..with the likes of Smith and Frolik.

          • withachance

            Please note I never once said Gio should win Norris because he stacks up the points. Gio is not even the points leader for dman right now. Gio has never been considered the best offensive dman in the league, and thats why he’s never won the Norris because a lot of emphasis has been placed on points. You’re literally stating the argument that’s robbed Gio of a Norris.

            Gio along with Hedman and Josi are the best all around dman in the league. Full stop.

            I have no idea what you’re talking about to be honest.

        • TheDallyLama

          Ya I was gonna point out to Joel that Brent Burns is 8 points up on Gio in the defence scoring race, so ur not really backing up your point too well. I have to agree with chance, Gio deserves a Norris because he is astute defensively and offensively for defensemen he is top 3-4 in the league. I would like to see that list of 10 defenders better than Gio and probably Shake my head. Do you really in your heart believe 10 defenseman are all around better than Gio, this year in this season? I believe zero defenders are better all around than Gio this year. ?

        • Jessemadnote

          Gio is in the top ten league wide defensive: goals, assists, points, Corsi, powerplay points, shots, TOI, Powerplay TOI, Scoring Chance For%, Rebounds Created, Takeaways, and he’s 14th in shot blocks and 20th in SH TOI. He also plays the toughest competition night in night out. No other defenseman can touch him this year, he is 100% deserving of the Norris.

    • Avalain

      We all know that Brodie prefers to play on the right, but that first goal doesn’t happen if the defenceman is right-handed on that play. Unfortunately, all of our options are left-handed except Stone.

      • OKG

        I seem to recall a very similar goal to this happening on Rasmus Andersson a few games ago, I wanna say against the Wild on the PP.

        Just because that exact goal doesn’t happen if the defenseman is right handed, doesn’t mean a right handed defenseman wouldn’t ever have his shot blocked at the point leading to a rush the other way by a quick and skilled defensive player.

  • Rough night Ari?

    Coincidentally, this was the first one that did not occur in the month of December.

    4 – Gaudreau is now tied for fourth in league-wide scoring. He’s eight points back of second place and 21 points back of third, so he’ll need to have a couple more six-point games if he wants to catch up.

  • Cheeky

    Was at the game last night – what a great atmosphere in the third! Glad Johnny is back, it’s like the first line told the second “11 points, ha, we’ll show you”. Monny actually hit and played hard, I liked this new guy. Great seeing Benny score, and Ryan I’m liking more and more…

    Brodie is both frustrating and amazing to watch. When he dazzles and plays the puck well he looks great, unfortunately he also stick checks and gets caught too many times. If he was a rookie (Ras and Olly) Peters would probably bench them for it but he’s a veteran and as such shouldn’t be making those same mistakes each game. I can’t see him being here next year, he will definitely help this year but it’s time to cash in over the summer. Glad to see the offense finally return…

  • Loud_voices

    I’m tired of seeing people say Brodie’s not a top pairing D when he makes one mistake in a game. Anybody else could cost us a goal but nobody gets shade like Brodie. If you think Brodie is a bad player or doesn’t belong on our top pairing then you definitely aren’t watching the same game as me. Brodie’s tied for 14th in the league for +/- with +23, he’s tied for 36th in points by defencemen with 31 points, he’s tied For 30th in goals by defencemen with 8 all while only averaging 49 seconds on the second powerplay unit. These stats say that he’s basically a perfect #2. People have done articles on his Corsi for and more advanced stats if you want to get into it further but it all points to Brodie being an elite defencemen. Both Gio and Brodie didn’t play well last night but I didn’t hear anybody say anything about Gio. I’ve watched every Calgary flames game this year and 99% of the time Brodie/Gio is a dominant pairing with Brodie taking the bulk of the defensive responsibility while Gio jumps up on the play.