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Photo Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Flames 5, Sharks 3 post-game embers: First

Back on Dec. 8, the Flames took over the top spot in the Western Conference. It was a delight that they made it there at all, and that late in the season at that; a fun little blip as we got to look forward to the start of the Flames’ window opening. But then they kept pace with the top teams in the Central. And in January, took it back over. And aside from a day here and there, just never really gave it up.

This was both the most inevitable and unexpected conclusion to the regular season. They’re really the best in the West. Over the course of a 79-game season, they’re really that good.

Feel of the game

The Flames came out dominating, looking like they knew exactly what this game meant and ready to get things over with. It didn’t work out to their immediate favour, though, and certainly not when the Sharks started controlling game play, taking advantage of a floundering Dalton Prout and opening the scoring. Another game with a good, fast start that amounted to nothing; what’s new these days?

Except just under three minutes later, TJ Brodie had some moves to get in close, though he couldn’t capitalize off of them. Then Johnny Gaudreau slid a perfect pass to Sean Monahan, and the game was tied. Thirty-one-seconds later, the third line was playing give-and-go, and Mark Jankowski got them the lead. Forty-four seconds after that, Prout redeemed himself by collecting a great Andrew Mangiapane feed, getting fancy, and making it 3-1. And then right after that, the 3M line nearly gave the team a three-goal lead.

Within the span of about two minutes, all four Flames lines and their bottom defence pairing generated five scoring chances, three of which went in. It was over. The Sharks had their small bursts, but the Flames were ready to completely take control, and kept trying to create offence in the second period – all while the Sharks did basically nothing. That fourth goal did go in, courtesy of Mikael Backlund, and we were left with a completely listless Sharks team being dominated by a hungry Flames version, every single skater circling them and coming back for more. It wasn’t a battle for the division, or even a fight to stay alive: it was a slaughter.

At least until the third period started, and the Sharks seemed to realize they had to get going, all the while the Flames seemed content to let the game play out as it would. Though the Flames did wake back up a little after the Sharks made it 4-2, with the 3M line finally getting that goal to restore the three-goal lead, and the third line going for it immediately after. The Flames couldn’t score again, and a late Sharks goal only really served to take a point off of the Flames’ goal differential, but the better team skated away with ease.

One team was ready to take the division; the other team was ready to concede.

The good news

Four. Lines. It isn’t just that the Flames took advantage of their opportunities to score three goals in 1:15, it’s that they had the personnel to decimate the Sharks with a relentless attack. Three lines scored shift after shift after shift, and it wasn’t too far off from all four lines getting goals in that time frame. Good bursts like that are probably going to be much harder to come by in the playoffs, but that the Flames can send out wave after wave of attackers and all of them are good enough to score is going to be tough to defend against. We’ve been saying it all year, but now that their place in the standings is cemented, let’s say it one last time: this team has forward depth and it’s going to make them scary.

A couple of specific player shoutouts:

James Neal, for picking up right where he left off against the Ducks. He looks ready to go for the playoffs, and easily could have picked up more than just the one assist he got. Does this version replace the one that’s been dressed in a Flames jersey all year? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s nice to know he still has it in him.

Sean Monahan, for also picking up where he left off. There was question surrounding his play until the game against the Ducks; a little less so, now. The games aren’t going to matter again for another 10 days or so, so we’ll see where this goes, but he’s still got it in him, too.

The entire 3M line, for being their typical relentless selves. They were ready to score, and came close way more times than their actual points tallies indicated.

TJ Brodie, for going up and down the ice and really working to create offence and show a lot of creativity along the way. He was partially at fault on the Sharks’ second goal, but a dynamic Brodie looks like an engaged Brodie, and he looked like he was absolutely feeling it and raring to go.

Mark Giordano, just for being Mark Giordano. Really, though, this was a true team effort from top to bottom – and he probably takes some credit for that.

The bad news

Prout’s goal was gorgeous, and just the right amount of piling on the Sharks to make the game look like it was done. Unfortunately, he was heavily at fault for the Sharks’ first two goals: being unable to corral the puck, giving it away, getting spun around. The silver lining to this, though, is that Prout is probably the team’s 10th best defenceman. He’s not bad to have, but he shouldn’t be in the starting six – more of a last resort kind of player.

The powerplay went zero-for-six. It’s good the Flames were controlling play so well they forced the Sharks into taking penalties; it’s bad they couldn’t properly make them pay. The Sharks even got a couple of shorthanded chances out of it, some in which the Flames were lucky the puck simply rolled off their stick or they shot it wide. The powerplay experienced a brief return to life against the Ducks, but there’s still plenty they need to work on there. Not sure if their switching back to the old units is an indictment on anything, either.

You create your own luck, and the Flames very much deserved the win, but it’s maybe worth a partial asterisk in that the Sharks did play the night before, and a lot of the game came about as a result of the Flames’ three quick goals. You don’t get to pick your opponent, but it’s another one of those “temper your expectations” things – the Flames were good, but possibly not actually as good as they looked.

Can the Sharks grow up, please? When the Flames were beating them on Dec. 31, Aaron Dell speared Sam Bennett, and things got goony and out of control because the officials wouldn’t call anything. With the Flames beating them March 31, there was an unnecessary high hit on Matthew Tkachuk, but at least this time the officials did something about it. Man, though – talk about an unlikeable team. The Flames have one goal left for the regular season: don’t get hurt. Here’s to sportsmanship being applied there.

Numbers of note

49.37% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF. They had a 60% CF in the second period, which was definitely their best frame; in the first they gave ground to the Sharks until they scored three goals, and in the third the Sharks were the more motivated team. The Flames were the ones who capitalized, though, and put the Sharks in that position.

3 – The number of shots the Sharks had in the second period. The Flames had 14 in that frame, by the way.

1 – Prout scored his first NHL goal since April 8, 2016. It was awesome. Michael Stone and Oscar Fantenberg are now the only Flames skaters without a goal this season.

4 – The number of Flames skaters who didn’t register a point: Derek Ryan, Elias Lindholm, Travis Hamonic, and Brodie. It’s especially a shame for Brodie because he really had some good chances.

6, 5 – Michael Frolik and Mikael Backlund led the way with shots on net. They each got a goal, but Frolik definitely could have had more.

33 – Noah Hanifin has a new career high in points. He had 32 in 2017-18.

4 – The number of points Gaudreau, the only Flame with multiple points (two) in the game, needs to hit triple digits. Three games left, and nothing to play for. It’ll be curious to see if he can do it, and how much of a chance he’ll get.

49 – Forget the loser point, that’s a lot of straight up wins. Forty-nine times this season you’ve sat down and watched the Flames win a game. You know the last time that happened? The 1988-89 season, when they collected 54 wins. They can’t get there this year – but 50 would be a nice number to reach, wouldn’t it? It would only be the second time in their history.

+61 – The Flames eclipsed the +60 mark in goal differential. Think they’ll stay there? They were a -30 last season. Finishing their next three games with a combined goal differential of +9 – and it’s well within the realm of possibility they can do that – gives them a turnaround of +100 from 2017-18.

Final thought

The Flames have just three games left and they’re all meaningless. There are no teams left to scoreboard watch. This week can just play out, hopefully injury-free, and then we’ll get to see how these guys fare in the real test.

Remember: it’s still just the beginning.

  • Jimmyhaggis

    Who is this James Neil guy, where was he all season. Boys looked strong and dominated a pretty good team, great way to enter the playoffs. I guess the decision now is should they rest guys or go into into the playoffs guns a blazing.
    Congrats for winning the Conference and Division, home ice is huge.

  • Sven

    —“The Flames eclipsed the +60 mark in goal differential. Think they’ll stay there? They were a -30 last season”–

    That’s amazing- a 90 goal swing

    also worth noting that when looking at “line production” over the last 10 games the Flames ice three of the top fourteen lines in the NHL

    # 4 Tkachuk / Backlund / Frolik
    # 9 Gaudreau / Monahan / Lindholm
    # 14 Mangiapane / Ryan / Hathaway

    Calgarys “third line” has outscored their opposition 6-0 over the last 10 games and they “out chance” their opposing lines 60% – 40% while they are on the ice

    Icing 3 of the top 14 lines league wide must be the definition of “depth”

    final thought

    I am scared to death of Mike Smith

  • Kzak

    Actually, there is one thing to play for and that’s to be sure to finish ahead of the Bruins to have home ice advantage if they were to face each other in the Cup final

    • Heeeeere’s Johnny

      I agree with this as a thought. However I believe it is unnecessary as we will be playing Tampa in the final. The hockey gods know that the Flames got jobbed in ‘04 and so the rematch has been preordained and will result in a game 6 win for Calgary on home ice. #itwasin

      • Heeeeere’s Johnny

        As a result, I would suggest resting anybody that is nursing some injury and playing our AHL guys. Kyller and Vali should get in. I’d put in Stone and Fantenberg too. Get Gio, Hammer, Hamonic and Phat Ras some rest. Benny needs a game or two to get his legs back and Quine should come in as well. I think I might rest Johnny and Mony, or maybe Lindy instead of Mony.

  • Korcan

    Would love to see Gio finish the regular season with a point-per-game point total, but that may be too much to ask. Maybe they can have a few offensive explosions these last three games now that the pressure is off.

      • Hockeysense9393

        Normally I would agree with you, but with Gio I kind of think it is. He still has a chance to hit a couple accolades and the Norris is a big deal especially at his age. The guys a beast, so I don’t think that a game or 2 off would help him. It may actually even hinder his momentum. I remember an interview with Chara where he said that a lot of top players like to just keep the pace and mental focus, especially going into the playoffs. I would think that Peters will leave that choice up to him. On the other side of the coin though, Gio is the kind of leader that doesn’t really care about the accolades, so we’ll see what he decides. I for one would like to see him go for that 80 point water mark that would pretty much guarantee the Norris.

        • flames2015

          Gio is leading right now in all prelim votes that have been shared, and basically a lock right now. I would rather him rest, then risk injury. Pretty sure he’s thinking the same.

  • Flames fan since 83

    Wow, GREAT regular season.
    Congrats to the entire organization. Mission accomplished for the Regular season.
    Now, let’s keep it Rolling. GFG!!

  • Flames fan since 83

    Looking at the picture of James Neil on top.
    Neil went to the last two final matches for the Stanley Cup, and Lost! He might have been Dis-engaged for the past 79 games, but being so close to getting his name on the Cup again. No way he doesn’t give every last effort from now on.

  • buts

    Watched the game at fajitas bananas in PV hahaha great name, bar and great game. Congratulations flames and too all the fan base we deserve this. Looking forward to a long playoff run, Calgary and Alberta deserves this also after all the political BS we have been through.

  • Raffydog

    I know I can be a bit negative at times, but now that it’s all said and done, congrats to the Flames organization on an amazing season. I never would have guessed they would finish the year on top of their division much less the conference. Now lets finish it off. Dont stop till you win the cup!!!

  • Zesty14

    I’d like to congratulate the boys the much deserved top spot in the west. Is it just me or does BP look like he has (just about) everyone geared up for a solid post season run. Besides a few small lapses calgary had shown why they should be 1st over the sharks. When Prout scored that beauty and they zoomed in on his face I thought for a second “When the f@€/K did Dennis Wideman come back?” Time to rest up and address any bumps and bruises the boys might have gotten over the marathon. We are in for some exciting hockey Ladies and Gentlemen.

    • HAL MacInnis

      Peters definitely deserves a lot of praise. From recognizing problems early and adjusting lines, to shortening the bench since day one and making sure the team had every chance to win games. I think it’s safe to say that we have the division and conference locked up early because of him.

        • HAL MacInnis

          No doubt. The way he has handled Rittich this year was damn near perfect. It’s hard to build confidence and a winning way at the same time. He also did wonders with our young defencemen. Hell, I vote for Peters! Screw election rules! Is there anything he can’t do?

  • Hockeysense9393

    Wow…a lot that I’ve been reading lately here, is how much Monny sucks and holding up his end. Then I read that he has 20 points in his last 19 away games? Just quietly going about his business I guess. Everybody can’t score every game we know that, but the depth on this team is a pretty good strength going into the playoffs. This is freakn exciting!! GFG!!

    • Derzie

      In my experience, hustle, or the appearance of hustle, is a big bias for a lot of people. It is often equated with being productive. Someone could be flying around and never get a counting stat of any kind, and still be looked at as being ‘better’ than the slow lumbering point per game player. I’ve seen it in minor hockey. In the pros. At the workplace.
      Sean’s numbers speak for themselves. He is a high end player who produces at a consistently high level. Speaking calmly, never smiling, and clunky skating are all distractions. We are lucky to have him, and he would be welcome on any team.

  • FlamesFanFromMI

    I know, people including me were not a big fan of Neal. But last 2 games I am noticing him especially the hits he has thrown and couple of times level the guys. If you remember Hammer was the whipping boy last year ( well besides the dink that got bought out) look at his game this year. Looks like he needed time to come around. Hard to get motivated (besides the huge pay) he was in back to back cup finals. Hopefully he will come around. Backlund start hitting too. I was like wow. I don’t need to stay up late to watch these meaningless games till playoffs.