Now that’s exactly how one would have thought the game against the Devils was going to go – no dramatic third-period scoring outburst necessary.
Feel of the game
The Flames got off to a strong start and never once looked back. They put the pressure on and rarely let the Rangers get much of anything. You’d be forgiven, though, for a sense of deja vu – Johnny Gaudreau opening the scoring on a nice breakaway courtesy Matthew Tkachuk, followed by the Rangers soon after tying the game up was probably enough to raise anybody’s eyebrows.
Though the Flames didn’t crumble once they got scored on. Defensive errors were kept to a minimum, overall dominant play resumed, and though the Flames probably should have had a lead exiting the first, they were, once again, the undeniably better team – just with the game more in reach.
The start of the second period erased any possible future doubts. Tkachuk resumed his tear, picking up another two points and giving the Flames an early 3-1 lead. That pretty much seemed to be the entire game from there on out: the Flames wouldn’t let the Rangers get much of anything in the way of chances, and some early third period scoring cemented things. From the third goal on, the game was never in threat.
Pretty much exactly how you’d expect a team fighting for a division title to play a team not going to the playoffs – and the Flames pulled it off near perfectly.
The good news
Tkachuk had himself an absolute night. Two games after scoring his first career hat trick, he registered his first ever five-point game, and looked a force to be reckoned with all night. To their credit, linemates Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik looked ready to keep up with him, as well – and especially further ready to help him to a six-point game in the third period – but Tkachuk is the one who stole the show. Remember when he had a seven-game point-less slump back in early February? So… maybe it’s time to get excited about the playoffs again.
Tkachuk is the only one who really, truly stood out in a major way – five points will do that – so let’s give a couple of other players some individual shoutouts, particularly after the previous game. First: TJ Brodie. Playing the second most minutes out of all defencemen on the team – and the most at 5v5 – he played a clean game, with no particularly obvious errors, nothing disastrous, and helped keep Rangers players to the outside and away from dangerous spots, including on the penalty kill. He had a good game playing big minutes. That’s the case with him most of the time – hence why he gets those minutes to begin with more often than not.
David Rittich wasn’t particularly busy, either, but he remained composed, especially when the Rangers were buzzing around his net. He maybe could’ve stopped the one goal they did get, but it was also a good play by the opposing team and a good shot – and goals against will happen. But there was zero concern for him throughout the night, and it was a good bounce-back effort after giving up four in the previous game.
Even after losing one of their top forwards in Sean Monahan, the Flames still played like a complete, composed team, and there was little doubt from the second period onwards as to who would win. Playing against weaker opponents is never a guaranteed victory, but it’s fair to expect victories out of these games – and the Flames played great. If they can keep that kind of effort set for the rest of the season (and beyond), they’re in a good spot.
The bad news
Monahan missing the final two periods wasn’t great; and not having him for the second of a back-to-back – against a pretty good team in the Jets, at that, also battling for their division – is less so. But an illness is better than an injury – and hopefully it won’t spread further among the players.
For two games in a row, the Flames had a player score at least five points. That’s great! But their streak of hat tricks was broken. That’s less great. So much for a hat trick of hat trick games.
So, about Tkachuk’s future cap hit… (Seriously, there was practically nothing to complain about in this game.)
Numbers of note
62.32% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF. They fell off a bit to a 44.44% CF in the second period, but were well above 50% in the first and third – they controlled the game, and it became especially clear once they took the lead.
15-5 – Natural Stat Trick credits the Flames with 15 high-danger corsi events at 5v5, and the Rangers with just five. The Flames were strong defensively.
70+ – The Flames now have four players with 70+ points. Pittsburgh and Tampa have three players with 70+ points each. That’s it. The Flames are alone in this regard. Mark Giordano is sitting at 66 points; he’ll probably join the four forwards soon enough.
4 – The Flames are also the only team with four players over a point-per-game in scoring. Boston, Colorado, Pittsburgh, Tampa, and Toronto have three each. Giordano is three points off from being a point-per-game player himself – though if he makes it by season’s end, he’d become only the third ever defenceman 35 years or older to score 80 points in a season… so a little bit of extremely high praise trivia to root for.
5 – Tkachuk set a new career high in points in a single game. He had five four-point nights prior to this game, all this season.
16 – Since breaking free of his seven-game point-less drought, Tkachuk has scored 16 points in 14 games. Yes, nine of those points have come in just two games, but he has been consistently contributing offensively, even if it’s only with a point here and there: in the past 16 games, he’s only been held without a point five times.
101 – Tkachuk now has 101 career assists. In over 200 games, he’s a career .79 point-per-game player. He’s the first player from his draft class to hit 100 assists, and he’s 12 points back of Patrik Laine for second in overall 2016 draft class scoring.
8:58 – Monahan’s total ice time, all in the first period. Gaudreau played 3:55 total 5v5 minutes alongside Monahan. He played 6:07 with Derek Ryan, 3:27 with Sam Bennett, and 1:40 with Mark Jankowski. Tough to see if this will hold any affect for the next game with Monahan out, but the smart money might be on Ryan getting the major promotion. (They did well in the third period against the Devils together… who knows?)
17:09 – Ryan’s total ice time for the game, fifth among forwards. He played less than Elias Lindholm, Gaudreau, Tkachuk, and Mikael Backlund.
+51 – The Flames now have a +51 goal differential on the season, clearing another milestone. The Lightning are the only others to have cleared the +50 marker this season (and how, currently at +90). Remember, the Flames were a -30 team last season.
The Flames have had their ups and downs all season. It’s mostly been ups. They’re on another upswing. And yeah, you can make the point the Rangers aren’t as good of a team, but neither were the Devils, and the Flames sure seemed to clean up their play in between games. They’re also mostly facing non-playoff teams from here on out – time to build good habits. They showed them in this game.