The games won’t be meaningful for a week and a half yet, but in the meantime, who’s to say the depth players can’t have any fun?
Feel of the game
The game lived up to its billing right away: one of the worst teams in the NHL facing one of the best’s prospects and depth players. That is to say, it was very minor league-y – sloppy, ugly, and honestly charming in how bad it was. It kicked right off with Derek Ryan opening the scoring while falling down, and continued as the Flames’ severely lacking defence couldn’t find a way to contend with the Kings.
A 2-2 game going into the second wasn’t all that surprising, but you could see the tide start to turn when the top line got involved. Johnny Gaudreau scored a very Gaudreau-like goal, but for the most part, it was just a game being played out. Really, it still could have gone either way.
At least until the third period. It was like a switch had been flipped: suddenly the Flames decided to stop messing around, stop playing down to the Kings’ level, and just go out and completely crush them. James Neal got the next two goals going (both by scoring, and with the primary assist), a couple of rookie defencemen kept the puck in the offensive zone to add on, and two goals 15 seconds apart were thrown in for good measure. The end result? A 7-2 game in which the Flames’ depth collectively rose up and decided they were going to get a decisive win.
The good news
The third and fourth lines did a lot throughout 60 minutes. They scored six of the Flames’ seven goals, and while they weren’t all pretty, they did serve to highlight how scary the Flames’ depth can be. Ryan has been proving himself an astute signing for at least half of the season now. Neal continues to look like someone who might actually contribute in the playoffs. Mark Jankowski jumped up in a big way. It won’t always be this good – definitely not against the significantly better competition the playoffs will provide – but opposing teams really will have to defend against everyone the Flames have to offer.
Obviously the context surrounding the game nullifies the excitement – two teams with nothing to play for, one of which is already very bad – but it’s cool the Flames legitimately have enough depth that they can sit their entire top four and be fine. Not that it didn’t show, but the only regular defenceman the Flames had dressed at all was Rasmus Andersson; of course everyone was going to be at least a little sloppy. The team has a lot of good options for their sixth defenceman in the playoffs, though.
Specifically, it was nice to see Oliver Kylington and Juuso Valimaki pick up a point here or there and show their instincts stayed intact despite substantive time off from playing in an NHL lineup (especially in Valimaki’s case). And really, who saw all of Andersson, Kylington, and Valimaki playing in the same NHL game all at once? That was awesome.
The bad news
There can’t really be a bad news section for the end of the regular season, can there? Criticism at this stage simply isn’t productive, at least not from a non-coaching perspective, which is all we can offer here. The Flames are the best team in the Western Conference. Praise the good that you see and shrug at the bad, because this wasn’t an optimal lineup and the game meant nothing.
Though Sam Bennett taking the hit he did genuinely was bad. It broke the one thing the Flames have left to play for: don’t get hurt. Good news that he’s apparently okay, but scary moment that left you with a sinking feeling in your gut. Let’s avoid that the next two games. And the next two months, at that.
Numbers of note
56.67% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF. They were actually a sub-50% team in the first period, but that was it.
50% – That said, the lowest corsi any Flame had at 5v5 was a mere 50%. That includes Bennett, who didn’t see any ice in the third period, when the Flames were playing rather well.
37 – With two goals, Ryan boosted his point total this season to 37. His career high is 38 from a year ago. He’s got a real shot of matching it, or even eclipsing it.
31 – Three points helped elevate Jankowski past the 30-point plateau. He scored 25 points as a rookie; he’s at 31 now. Still four goals off from his career high in goals scored, though we probably all remember how he fared in Game 82 a year ago…
3 – Neal is now riding a three-game point streak. He went point-less in his first three games back from injury (and remember before then, he had six points in 10 games). Now he’s got four in three.
6 – Neal also led the way with six shots. I really hope it’s this Neal showing up in the playoffs.
2 – I know this isn’t the right time to criticize, but maybe worth pointing out Elias Lindholm only has two assists in his past 10 games. He hasn’t had the point explosion like Sean Monahan has, but he was maybe the most consistent member of the line prior to its slump.
21:58 – Valimaki played the most minutes of any Flames skater, though Michael Stone (21:53) and Oscar Fantenberg (21:32) weren’t too far behind him.
16:30 – Kylington played the fewest minutes of the defence. Is this a sign of who’s in the running to play regularly in the playoffs? … Maybe?
+66 – The Flames just keep adding to their goal differential. The Lightning are in first place league-wide with a +100, while the Leafs are in third with a +41. There’s a gap between first and second, and almost as big of a gap between second and third.
50 – For the second time in their existence, the Flames reached 50 wins. Unless the Bruins win all of their remaining games, the Flames and the Lightning will be the only teams to reach that marker this season.
That was fun. Hope everyone’s having a good, injury-free time.