Ah, yes. That’s right. The Flames are a playoff team; have indisputably been one for some time now, even if it only just recently became official. It’s not exactly a surprise when they resume looking the part.
Feel of the game
The Flames had a strong start, as one would expect, considering the quality of the matchup. That didn’t translate, though; at least not right away, when the Ducks briefly got ahold of the game and made it 1-0 as a result. But it didn’t last long at all. Following a powerplay that looked much improved, Mark Giordano tied the game. The first period ended tied, perhaps with a sense of disappointment – the Flames could be better. We saw flashes of it.
The flashes expanded into extended sets of play through the second period, and eventually just completely took over in the second half of the game. Sean Monahan looked alive on the Flames’ first goal; he carried that through, picking up another two points in the second. Around him, the entire group looked ready to go – while the Ducks, down two goals, tried to get back into the game to start the third, they couldn’t match up to the wave upon wave upon wave the Flames could send after them. The 3M line had substantial pressure. The fourth line got two goals. Monahan got another one for the hell of it. And what started out as a game in which the Flames looked to be getting their feet back under them ended with a reminder that: oh yeah. This is a good team.
The good news
Welcome back, Monahan. It wasn’t just that he had a four-point night – although that in and of itself will always be good – but he looked engaged throughout the game, ready to be all over the ice, and with strong offensive instincts and a great shot. Perhaps one of the best signs? Not just his willingness for board play, but being a presence in the slot as well. One of the top line’s problems as of late has been a reduction in creating high-danger events; Monahan got a goal out of creating one of those (and an assist as well, though it was on the powerplay, so it wouldn’t have been noted in the linked piece which only took 5v5 data into account). Great sign moving forward.
Monahan deserves the majority of the accolades, but James Neal had a great game, too. He didn’t get a point for it, but he helped create the Flames’ first goal. Even if their third goal hadn’t been credited to him, he would have at least gotten an assist for it. He wasn’t as strong as Monahan was, but he was engaged, too – and remember, we’re talking about someone who has consistently been an offensive player until this season and is shooting at a mere 4.6%. Neal has the talent. He can be a threat. Games like this help emphasize that – and the Flames will be all the better off in the postseason if they give their opponents a reason to be scared of all of their lines on any given night. (Hello, too, to the fourth line; we know they aren’t going to score every game – but they evidently have the potential to do so.)
Rasmus Andersson is smart, helps create offence, can be trusted well enough to slide up to the first pairing and not look out of place, and the Flames’ defence would be so much less formidable without him around.
The powerplay looks like it’s slowly righting itself. Not just because they finally got a goal again, but also because they actually didn’t spend too much time chasing and looked comfortable controlling things in the offensive zone. Maybe some of that was the opponent, but I really like the new units, with Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk separated from Johnny Gaudreau and Monahan. They look much more balanced, now, with two major forward scoring threats on each. And the Flames have the forward depth to fill the rest out accordingly – it’s certainly a good experiment before the playoffs, at least. (Does this mean Austin Czarnik stays in the lineup?)
The bad news
Mike Smith only got beat once, and made a number of good saves when it was still a close game. However, he still looked off to me in a number of lower danger moments, and not just due to the occasional equipment issue. Seemingly routine saves appeared to result in jerky movements, there was some casualness in getting back in the net; it seemed to smooth out as the game went on, but a lot was just… weird. And maybe a reminder we are talking about a 37-year-old who has dealt with injuries. It’s not an indictment on his play; it was odd to watch, though.
Before we get too excited, let’s remember that the Ducks are a bad, lottery-bound team. The Flames can’t control their opponent, and beating up on a weaker opponent will always be preferable to not, but it’s also not necessarily a guarantee that the Flames/Monahan/whoever are/is “back” (remember the game against the Devils? And the followup to that?). We aren’t going to know if the Flames are truly “back” until the playoffs actually start. It’s been a while since they’ve played a truly meaningful game.
This section was less “bad news” and more “temper expectations,” I guess.
Numbers of note
61.46% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF on the night. Good team beats bad team convincingly.
50% – The lowest CF any Flames skater had at 5v5, which is neat.
80 – Monahan is now an 80-point player for the first time in his career. His previous career high was 64 points. The Flames now join a handful of other teams with multiple 80-point players (five others have two 80-point guys; Tampa has three) – though Lindholm and Tkachuk are two and four points off, respectively. Four 80-point guys this season is a possibility, which I don’t believe any other team would be able to match. At least two is a certainty.
33 – Monahan also set a career high by scoring his 32nd and 33rd goals of the season; he’d reached 31 twice before. Boston, Chicago, Colorado, Tampa, and Winnipeg also have three 30-goal scorers. Lindholm is just three goals away from reaching 30 himself – but it’s going to be tough to make that happen.
10 – Derek Ryan became the 11th Flame to hit double digits in goals scored. TJ Brodie is sitting at nine; he could still make it 12 players total. Considering his goal the previous game and it being his shot that got Ryan the goal, maybe he will?
32 – Noah Hanifin tied his career high in points, hitting 32 on the season. He had 32 last year as well.
.900% – Smith has finally escaped the dredges of a sub-.900 save percentage season, where he has been confined pretty much the entire year. He now sits at .900% exactly.
The Flames are thiiiis close to clinching first in the Western Conference. Be honest: back in October, approximately zero of us saw that coming. But watching them in this game, they looked exactly like a team worthy of such a feat.
Every player is streaky; the hope is the Flames have enough weapons to overcome others’ slumps, especially going into play a week and a half away. The playoffs are a different monster entirely, but that might also be what kicks guys back into shape. This is a team that’s never been in this position before in the regular season: they’ve never had so much security with so many games remaining. It’s just a gut feeling, but I think we see games more like this one in the postseason than the previous two.