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.
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.
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.
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.