Once again, we saw what happens when a good hockey team plays a significantly worse hockey team: the good team wins. With ease. It’s been like this for most of the season, but it’s still such a delight seeing the Flames be that outstandingly good team.
Feel of the game
While the game started with both teams getting chances, the Flames got the edge early on and never relinquished it. That wasn’t just signified by their opening goal – though it was beautiful – but by their overall dominance in the offensive zone for the majority of the period, the only real life from the Canucks coming after a tough penalty kill. Even with just a one-goal lead, there was good reason to think the Flames had this in the bag.
Though the Canucks responded with a good start to the second, the Flames got things back under control pretty quickly, and the isolated spurts of Canucks chances weren’t really a match for the Flames’ ability to either completely take them away (thanks, Mark Giordano) or just play with the puck on a string for a far longer period of time. The Flames’ second goal wasn’t the prettiest ever, but it doesn’t matter if they’re pretty, as long as they count – and a two-goal lead for this team looked insurmountable.
It basically was. The Canucks got an early four-on-three powerplay goal, and looked better in the third period than they had all game, but an absolute blast by Andrew Mangiapane put any and all worries of a Canucks comeback to bed pretty quickly. The Flames had some luck on their side – the Canucks missing the net a fair bit, pucks rolling off of sticks – but for the most part, they were just the better team through 60. That’ll win you a lot of games, as we’ve been very fortunate to experience this year.
The good news
The fourth line rules. Again, on repeat from the previous game: Derek Ryan has proved an excellent signing, it is an absolute joy to see Mangiapane further come into his own with each passing day in the NHL, and Garnet Hathaway is a good complement to the line. They’re playing well together. Even when it doesn’t result in points, you can see the impact they’re having on games: often positive, often creating chances, often keeping the puck in the offensive zone. Then you get to the stretches in which they’re actually scoring, and it’s so good to see them rewarded for everything they’ve been doing all year, but especially for the past couple of months specifically.
This probably isn’t Mangiapane’s ceiling, either – throw in Dillon Dube’s progression, the fact that the Flames already have a pretty young top forward group, and there’s a lot to look forward to for a while yet.
Ryan deserves a specific shoutout of his own, too. He had a somewhat slow start to the season, but his impact on the fourth line is probably what’s really making him stand out as of late (even putting aside the points – and he’s got 33 of them, and an outside shot at matching his career high of 38 even though he’s playing two fewer minutes per game). He’s just cerebral. His vision on the Flames’ first goal was pristine. And he’s been playing at this level since about December. He doesn’t make mistakes, he’s setting his teammates up, he’s awesome.
Giordano had a three-point night – his eighth of the season (including a four-point night) – all the while having a strong defensive game and it was just like, yeah. That’s what Giordano does. Not that one expects this of him every single night, but it’s also not even remotely surprising when he has this kind of game because we all know he’s capable of it.
Though honestly? Giordano is the star, but shoutout to the entire defensive unit. Everyone made smart defensive plays, everyone got in on trying to create offence at some point; all six of them are trustworthy and should someone go down Oliver Kylington is right there, too. The Flames have a good defence and three-plus pairings that can all play at a high level. What’s not to love?
The bad news
The fourth line was amazing. The second line did a fantastic job in creating chances. The first and third lines were a little less than present, though. It’s one thing for lines to rotate between having good games – the fourth line rules now but they probably aren’t going to keep scoring at this pace, though they’ll likely keep doing most things right – but it’s fair to wish to see more offensive chances out of the first line, at least akin to the second line’s play.
If Johnny Gaudreau could not take a penalty like the one he had again that would be great. There’s standing up for oneself/a teammate or just doing whatever one can to prevent a breakaway, and then there’s something with just no justification.
James Neal had, uh, a return to action. We can be fair to him: he was out for five weeks, and that’s a lot of time to miss, and a lot to get his legs back under him. And let’s remember: before he was injured, he was playing his best hockey of the season (yeah, yeah, fair enough that he hasn’t lived up to the standard he’s set with his play in previous years, but also this is the time of year when you just take what you can get, and he was looking good comparatively before he went down). So this is kind of a mulligan, and hopefully not a sign of things to come. Teams can do a lot worse than having Neal in their bottom six, but the need for him to get going once again remains pronounced. At least don’t just stand still while your teammate is trying to carry the puck out of the zone but has no choice but to run into you.
I am genuinely concerned the Flames are going to start their inferior goalie for the playoffs and justify it by him having okay games against hilariously inferior, blatantly not playoff-caliber competition.
Numbers of note
55.56% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF on the night. They had an extremely strong first but kind of let up a bit in the third period, albeit when the game was looking pretty safe for them.
70 – And with Giordano’s first point of the night, the Flames officially have five 70-point players. There are only 39 70-point players in the NHL at the moment, and one team has five of them. The Penguins have four 70-point players. The Sharks have five 60-point players. That’s kind of it. No other team is even remotely comparable to the Flames in this department at all.
3 – Now that he has 72 points this season, Giordano officially has the third-highest scoring season by a defenceman 35 years or older of all time. Nicklas Lidstrom and Ray Bourque have him beat with 80- and 82-point seasons, respectively. If Giordano can keep it up for the next seven games, he has a chance at passing both of them. If he can’t, well, he still has the third-highest scoring season by a defenceman 35 years or older of all time.
24 – Ryan may be in tight to set a new career high in points (he’s five off), but he does have a career high in assists with 24. He had 23 last season.
10 – Hathaway scored his 10th goal of the season, giving the Flames their 10th double digit goal scorer (with it being entirely likely that Ryan, who has nine goals, joins the group, and maybe TJ Brodie with eight as well… and who knows, maybe Andrew Mangiapane gets three more, but it’ll probably be just Ryan, if anyone). A lot of teams are in this position, but most don’t have the sheer high-end scoring that the Flames do, too, San Jose being the only real comparable when combining this point with the one above. The Flames are both top-heavy and deep.
14.3% – There’s a lot to love this season, and this is more a commentary on the future than the present, but Hathaway does have a high shooting percentage at 14.3% – and the season before this one, he shot 5.9%; the season before that, 4.5%. Is Hathaway having an awesome year? Absolutely. He’s a very Lance Bouma-type getting a boost by playing on a team with great centre depth. Just when all is said and done and Hathaway needs a new deal, remember how the Bouma thing turned out the first time around. You get teams deep like the Flames by generally avoiding overpayments.
12:12 – Neal’s ice time in his return. The only forwards who played less were Mangiapane and Hathaway. Mark Jankowski edged him out by 10 seconds.
The Flames are a good team dominating bad teams. They are probably going to win the division. They’ve arrived early. They have the talent to play for a while longer yet. It’s still a lot to take in when you look back to October – who was expecting this season?
And they didn’t give anything up at the trade deadline, either. This is only the beginning.