The Flames put in just as much effort as they needed in order to win. It’s maybe not the greatest strategy going forward, but the stakes aren’t so high right now – and it worked out just fine.
Feel of the game
This was an odd one: it’s probably fair to say the Blue Jackets were the better team through 60 minutes, but the Flames were clearly the better team overall. By that I mean, the Jackets played a stronger game – in part due to having to chase for most of it – but when the Flames decided to actually play instead of just defending, it was obvious that they were the superior team. And, in fairness to the Flames, they did hold a multi-goal lead for most of the game; they didn’t have as much to worry about. Especially with a playoff spot clinched and the Jackets in the precarious position of missing out, despite being one of the biggest buyers at the deadline.
The Jackets had the stronger start to the game, but the Flames seemed to wake up once they got scored on (and especially after they almost got scored on again, but for the net being forced off its moorings). Throw in a late first period goal and a beautiful early second period one and the Flames didn’t seem inclined to look back.
That almost came to bite them in the third period, as the Jackets put the pressure on and the Flames barely got any shots of their own, but a powerplay goal aside, David Rittich didn’t yield. It wasn’t the prettiest effort, but it was just the right amount the Flames needed.
The good news
When they’re on, the Flames are so good – and that’s even with missing three top nine forwards, including a surefire first liner. They didn’t do it too often, but when they took control the Jackets had a much more difficult time keeping up. It was far from a perfect game, but there were still those flashes in which you remembered just how the Flames got to the position to be gunning for a first place division finish to begin with.
You’ve gotta give it up to the depth the team has built up. Tripping penalties aside, Andrew Mangiapane looked really good, and Mark Jankowski and Austin Czarnik were feeling it to play with hustle and occasionally get fancy in their passing. That trio was great. The Flames have options. And while Jankowski is already an established NHLer, it’s nice to see Czarnik still doing mostly well with the opportunities he’s gotten over the past month since James Neal was injured – and it’s especially nice to see Mangiapane look like he’s turning the corner on being a regular NHLer, too. It also begs a good question to have: when Sean Monahan, Sam Bennett, and Neal all come back (presuming they all do), who comes out of the lineup? They’ve got a lot of forward options.
Rittich was great, ready for the Jackets’ attack, and looking every bit like a starting goalie. The Jackets were one of the few playoff-caliber opponents the Flames had left; that Rittich got the start against them probably isn’t much of a surprise, but seeing him turn in such a good performance was great. He had his struggles just over a month ago; he’s earned confidence and trust right back, though. And though the circumstances surrounding it were terrifying, it was nice to see him down on the ice with Noah Hanifin almost immediately after the latter unfortunately took a puck to the head (and very, very fortunate that he was able to return within that period).
What can’t Mark Giordano do? Talk about going above and beyond as a defenceman, with a key save of his own (and it should still be mentioned that Rittich did a great job on the play, in all its scrambly moments, as well) – and he’s almost certainly going to reach 70 points this season, on top of all that. He’s amazing.
The bad news
It was a little uncomfortable, seeing how much better prepared the Jackets were to start the game, and seeing the Flames just kind of hang on through most of the third period. There’s something to be said for resting up before the playoffs, even mid-game if the opportunities are there – a two-goal lead does add a fair degree of insurance – but you’d still expect a little more from the Flames. Taking nearly 13 minutes of a period in a one-goal game to get a shot on net? That’s dramatic. It all worked out in the end, of course, but it certainly wasn’t a banner game.
Luck had its part to play in things as well, especially favouring the Flames. The Jackets hit a lot of posts – too many for comfort. If things had been marginally different, they could have been the ones with the multi-goal lead. It’s less “the Flames held them to just two goals” and more “the Flames are at least a little lucky only two goals were scored on them”. Though I suppose it’s fair enough turnaround from the number of posts the Flames hit when playing the Jets in the previous game – but still, this one was more precarious than the score made it look.
Numbers of note
46.94% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF, including a 36% third period. They had a two-goal (then one-goal) lead and the Jackets were the more desperate team.
5 – Mangiapane is up to five goals this season. He’s only shooting at 10%, too – not an outrageous number at all. This doesn’t have the obvious signs of being a flash in the pan, at least.
68 – Giordano is now tied for second overall in league-wide defensive scoring with 68 points. He’s now the fifth 35-year-old and older defenceman to ever register that total in the NHL’s history.
4:29, 4:48 – Alan Quine and Curtis Lazar, respectively, did not see that much ice time. It’s evident they’re only in the lineup out of sheer necessity, though Quine did have two shots and Lazar had one very notable block.
13:44 – Someone’s gotta benefit from someone else’s reduced minutes. Mangiapane had the fourth highest ice time he’s had all season.
.939% – Rittich had a good showing. In five of his past eight games – since he seemed to start winning the net back in late February – he’s had a save percentage well enough over .930%.
The Flames continue to put themselves in a good position to close out the regular season. They only have two games left against playoff-caliber opponents: the Stars and the Sharks. In the meantime, the team is playing well, most everyone is contributing in one way or another, and they seem to be finding a healthy balance of not overexerting themselves, while still playing hard enough to get a win.
In all likelihood, the race to the Pacific Division crown will continue to go right down to the wire, but getting some breathing room back in the form of a three-point lead does feel nice.