When a good team plays a bad team, well, this is just the sort of thing that happens.
Feel of the game
The game started out rather tepid. Things were stacked in the Flames’ favour: one of the best teams in the NHL playing one of the worst, hurting from suspensions and injuries, playing on the second of a back-to-back. It was a game the Flames were going to win. Period. So the slow start was curious, and the Senators opening the scoring with an end-to-end rush was very much a “what the hell was that?” moment.
Only that seemed to wake the Flames up. The Senators’ powerplay was not threatening – they just don’t have the personnel right now – but Mark Giordano was, as was the Flames’ entire fourth line. From there, one could rest easy – because, after all, this was a game the Flames were set to win.
Except the Senators came out and took over the second period as best as they could. They controlled play for most of the frame, but couldn’t get anything really dangerous going for them; it’s not like they’re the Flames’ fourth line, which resumed putting on a show with their second goal of the game. Though the Senators continued to try, towards the end of the period the Flames just took over, and that really was that. The 3M line threw in another couple of goals, and it was over.
The Senators tried as much as they could, but at a certain point, one just can’t overcome reality. Or this Flames team, it would seem.
The good news
So the fourth line is kind of good, huh? No wonder Derek Ryan got a promotion to the first line for a couple of games, and no wonder why Andrew Mangiapane has been up in the NHL since December. Garnet Hathaway is proving to be a great complement to the line, as well; if this is a team’s fourth line then said team really has no reason to complain about any of its forward personnel. It wasn’t even just that the fourth line provided some good energy or decent play in the offensive zone – those goals were pretty. Level of competition and all, but it’s a sign the Flames really do have four lines that can kill the opponent at any given night.
The 3M line added to that, as well, taking a game well within victory and cementing it. Against the Blue Jackets it was the third line; any line can take over a game at any moment and that’s got to boost everyone’s confidence going forward. If someone’s having an off night, what are the chances all 11 remaining guys are, too?
The bad news
Considering just how much better the Flames are than the Senators, it probably would have been fair to expect a little more out of the Flames. Not that a four-goal victory is bad or wasn’t deserved, by any means, but the Flames weren’t really in the game to start, and the Senators did take control of the second period (and things probably would have been worse off if they had marginally better players). It’s fair that the Flames probably knew they didn’t have to totally give it their all – and they did eventually start to come on and look more like themselves, especially towards the end – but maybe at least a little bit of cause for concern, considering most of their regular season is playing out against sub-.500 teams?
The Senators’ lone goal was a pretty bad look for the Flames. The third pairing has been solid but neither could get a handle on the puck, and Sam Bennett was kind of coasting on the backcheck a little. Though that might not be his fault, since he missed the entire third period due to injury; it’s also a bit of a reminder that staying healthy before the playoffs is a priority.
Numbers of note
56.38% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF. They didn’t have to do too much.
18 – The Flames now have 18 shorthanded goals on the season, leading the league. The Coyotes are in second place with 16. Eighteen is the most shorties in the NHL since the Senators scored that many back in 2007-08.
4, 6 – Giordano now leads the NHL in most shorthanded goals and points by a defenceman. He’s awesome. Just doing it all this year.
101 – Shoutout to Ryan, who now has a career 101 points. He’s a .45 point-per-game player – not at all bad for a late bloomer. This season specifically, he seemed to have a bit of a slow start, but really took off at the turn of the calendar – 19 of his 32 points this season have come in 2019.
30+ – Missed this earlier, but the Flames have 10 players with 30 or more points scored this season. That’s not common this year at all: the Sharks also have 10 30+ point guys, the Lightning have 11, and that’s it.
20 – For the third time in his career, Mikael Backlund is a 20-goal scorer. This gives the Flames five 20-goal scorers on the season; unless Michael Frolik or Giordano, who have 15 each, completely lose their minds over the next eight games, it’ll probably stay that way. A bunch of teams have four; the Panthers, Sharks, Lightning, and Leafs have five each as well; and the Capitals have six.
7:12 – Bennett missed the entire third period due to injury, resulting in not a lot of ice time overall. Also affected were linemates Austin Czarnik (8:28) and Mark Jankowski (9:17), who only had two shifts each in the third period themselves. Which, fair enough – the way the game was going, how do you bench anyone else? The third line was the only one that wasn’t particularly noticeable in a positive way.
If the Sharks have proven anything, it’s that no games are gimmes. But the Flames do have a laughably easy schedule at the moment, and they’re playing just well enough to make it through – and looking like they’re doing it with ease, too.
First in the division isn’t clinched, but it’s looking highly probable. So I propose we take these final couple weeks of the regular season, sit back, and enjoy them and this team for what it is and everything it’s shown it can be over the course of the entire season: because soon enough games are gonna be stressful. Really, really stressful. Too stressful. And it’s what we’re all waiting for.