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Photo Credit: Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

Avalanche 3, Flames 2 (OT) post-Game 2 embers: Better than this

A sweep was always unlikely. But the Flames didn’t need to make it any easier for the Avalanche to get a win.

Feel of the game

The Flames were outworked from the very beginning, and it took until overtime for them to look like they belonged in the game.

When Sean Monahan scored in the third period to give the Flames their first lead, things felt reminiscent of those games in the regular season in which the Flames played terribly but would pull out a win anyway: you know, the whole “good teams find a way to win” adage. Were it not for a smart play by the Avs as soon as they pulled their goalie, that very well may have been the case. That JT Compher tied the game late was merely justice: Colorado should have put it away long before the third period even started.

The Flames have Mike Smith to thank for even giving them a chance. It wasn’t just the two-on-ones or the breakaways given up to the Avs, it was the sheer domination they had when it came to overall gameplay. They spent way more time in the offensive zone. Though it didn’t score, their powerplay looked more dangerous (how about the full two minutes in which none of the Flames’ penalty killers could get off the ice?). The Avs came ready to play and the Flames did not; furthermore, they seemed to have no clue how to respond to being challenged as aggressively as they were.

The Flames weren’t perfect in Game 1, but they connected well enough on all cylinders that they didn’t need to be; they found a way to put things away. It’s a testament to how good they can be – and how much better Smith is in these playoffs – that they even had a chance of winning this one at all.

Although, to keep things in perspective: that’s a first seed against an eighth seed. One team needed to go all-in to get the win, while the other could be overwhelmed and yet still improbably in it. There’s hope yet, but the Flames can’t play like that again.

The good news

Regular Season Smith died so Playoff Smith could live. The former will not be missed. Smith has looked like a completely different goalie these past two games, and was easily the highlight of the Flames’ entire night. The confidence was (presumably) always there; the body has caught back up to it. There’s just no anxiety watching him anymore, even when he has to face an Avalanche player on a breakaway or in tight in the slot. He’s the reason the team had a chance, and he did a great job with everything the skaters in front of him tasked him to do. (Though he did, occasionally, have some help, to the tune of 29 blocked shots: 19 from the top four defence alone, plus another four from Elias Lindholm.)

One thing Games 1 and 2 have in common: it is amazing to see the Flames’ rookies scoring goals and being impactful players this early in the playoffs. Andrew Mangiapane made a statement in Game 1, and Rasmus Andersson put himself in perfect position in Game 2. Mangiapane is increasingly looking like he’s going to be a player – is this his coming out party? – and while we already knew Andersson is one, we’re still waiting on his AHL offence to show up in the NHL. It’s been coming slowly but surely.

Mangiapane is probably the best story out of all of the Flames forwards, but a couple of other guys deserve credit for some hard-fought games, too. Sam Bennett is up and down in the regular season but he’s been fantastic in the postseason, just as he was the past two times the Flames made it. He’s all heart, and the talent promised that saw him drafted fourth overall reared its head to make him more than the typical grinder depth player. And Johnny Gaudreau is doing absolutely everything he can to create offence. He should definitely have more than one assist by now.

The bad news

The Flames. The Flames as a whole. Through 60 minutes, they were mostly terrible. One of the worst signals of how out of their depth they were was probably the start of the third period: lucky to go into it tied, and the Avalanche came out and just completely dominated them for several minutes. It was tough to watch; the Flames rarely played that poorly in the regular season.

There’s Good TJ Brodie, and then there’s Bad TJ Brodie. Bad Brodie was the one who showed up for Game 2, the most obvious example being the Avs’ first goal. He stood out on the Flames defence as having a particularly rough game. Probably the worst part, though, is that he was fine for Game 1, and there’s seemingly no telling which Brodie the Flames are going to get on any given night. Good Brodie is an asset the Flames would be worse off without. Bad Brodie can be a game changer for the other team.

Though it’s the second game in which the Flames’ powerplay scored and their penalty kill was perfect, I still actually like the Avalanche’s powerplay more. It’s simply more consistently threatening. The Flames, meanwhile, have spent a lot of time chasing, can’t seem to get set up, and give up shorthanded chances and/or goals. Towards the end of the game it looked much better – their powerplay in overtime looked completely competent, and it was a shame it couldn’t score – but it was a mess early on, and it needs to be better going forward.

Also, even though their penalty kill remains perfect, the Flames still need to cut down on taking penalties. Roughing at the end of the period? Not helpful. Throwing the puck over the glass? Also not helpful. That said, though, the refereeing has had its own issues – in other games especially, if you want to listen to Leafs fans – but the embellishment call on Gaudreau? Really?

Numbers of note

38.3% – The Flames’ 5v5 CF on the night. Yeah, that seems about right. They were playing at a 30% level through the first three periods and shot up to an 83.33% for overtime, so we know they can be better, but they’ve really got to be better much earlier than they were. Say from the first minute onwards.

68 – The number of shots Smith faced plus the number of blocks the Flames had. For the Avs, it was 49. Say what you will about the Flames’ overall poor play, but it was still a team effort in trying to keep the puck out of their net – though it probably would have helped if they’d done more on offence, period.

46.88% – Monahan’s 5v5 CF on the night. It was the highest on the Flames. So that’s terrible.

77.27% – Nathan MacKinnon’s 5v5 CF when facing off against Mikael Backlund. He was a 66.67% away from him. The Avs had a good game and he had a good game; nobody was stopping him.

23:22 – Backlund led the way in ice time for Flames forwards once again. Going to be really interesting to see how much he gets without home ice advantage.

18:51 – Gaudreau’s ice time got back up there, though, at least.

11:25 – Mangiapane got more ice time but he still played the least among all Flames forwards. He probably deserves more.

5:10 – Brodie’s ice time on the powerplay, leading all Flames players. The second unit got more time than the first. It was probably earned, though; they seemed less of a disaster.

24:14 – Brodie’s overall ice time, the second most on the defence (pour one out for Mark Giordano’s 28:55). Though Andersson played with Giordano in the third period, Brodie still got a ton of time in the game.

.923% – Smith’s save percentage. If you include playoff and regular season games together, it was tied for his 17th best game this year by that metric. Against playoff teams only? Tied for seventh. He looks like a different goalie.

Final thought

One thing I don’t quite get: vitriol directed towards specific players. The skaters, as a whole, were atrocious as a collective unit. One single player doesn’t make or break such a terrible team effort (the only one who really can is the goalie, and he tried very very very hard to overcome everybody else), so laying all of the blame at individuals doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Do adjustments have to be made and does video have to be studied? Yeah. But that’s a team focus – because this was a team loss.

  • withachance

    Offering up some caveats before the “sky is falling” comments to come:

    Brodie made some glaring mistakes, but was money in the first game. He’s going to have bad games but he’s also going to have games where he is the top 2 dman on the team. I dont think he’s the type of player to thrive being hemmed in his own zone all games like last night. I do think he needs to be demoted to 3rd pairing and taken off powerplay, and just let him do what he does best which is transition the team from d to offence and provide quality outlet passes.

    No one in the league could contain Mackinnon last night, man was a on a mission. Backlund crushed it first game, and all the haters come out when he has a hard time containing one of the most dominant players in the league? Typical.

    That was a bad game as a collective, its not any one players fault. Learn from the game, move on, and work on getting 3 more wins. Series is 1-1

    • Rudy27

      I don’t think that pass to Brodie on the PP that resulted in the short handed goal was a wise decision. The Av player had speed going toward the blue line and Brodie had very little time to reach to the short (not so clean) pass. It all happens very quickly out there, but what he should have done once the pass was bobbled, was play the body! Speaking of which, there were some really good hits both ways last night, but I think the Flames need to play the body more on the Avs breaking into our zone. The Avs seemed to come in and set up at will all night.

      • The Beej

        I thought passing as a whole was a big issue.

        Both on the passers and receivers.

        Passes were behind guys but as well guys were jumping up and moving up ice too quickly. On the powerplay as well… if you move up too quickly into coverage it makes it tough for the guy carrying the puck to make a good decision. Also… a lot of times guys were breaking out before we had possession… this all led to turnovers and odd man rushes going the other way.

        The good news. This is a chemistry thing and something they can look at in video. The chemistry had been good for most of the year and Peters has done well when making adjustments so I think we are in good hands.

  • Pizzaman

    McKinnon is a beast. Strength, skill, speed, smarts – the whole superstar package. Best player on the ice for any team. I knew he was good but no idea how good. With Avs having last change next two games Peters needs a plan.
    Mckinnon will kill Jankowski and his line and Ryan’s line unless Doc wins the face offs, but size definitely matters especially Mckinnon’s line against Docs. So it means Backlund and his line have to be better and stronger than they were last night.
    It also means our D have to be super aggressive to keep McKinnon’s line from setting up in our zone. They will not only set up shop in our zone but that line will add a garage and lawn chairs in front of Smith!

    • ville de champignons

      Agree. Never really paid attention to McKinnon before this because, well, Avs. But he is the best player on the ice anywhere right now. Way, way, better than Connor McMuffin or anybody else, at any price.

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    This one left a bad taste in my mouth. I have never seen us this dominated and that includes games against TB. I have never seen our PK stuck in our zone for the entire 2 minutes. And, I have never seen an individual player dominate us like McKinnon did and we see McDavid 4 times a year.

    One thing that is for sure, we can not let McK build up his all World speed in the neutral zone or let or have our D back in as much as last night.

    I can handle losses but not total domination by an 8 th seed over a 1st seed at home. We were hugely out coached and now it is time to see what our brain trust can do to take back the momentum. If this becomes a track meet then Neal, Monny, and Janko need to find another gear.

    I know it is just one game but Czarnik and Dube’s speed could really help. I love Ras on the top line but not when McK is on his side. Brodie had a really rough game and BP recognized it. If Johnny is our game breaker then we need to get him the puck more. Keep Bennett on that line he was a beast and protects his linemates.

    • Kevin R

      I dont think Czarnik & Dube are the answers. This team needs to play bigger , faster & turn the dial up on the urgency/intensity level a few notches. They were horrible, they were out hit, lost every puck battle on the boards, passing was not crisp, last to the puck. Colorado should have blown them out.
      Mickey & I have been preaching that Tre needed to pick up a forward at minimum & would have been nice to get A D that can play not only hockey but a nasty nasty heavy game . Look at every series & how nasty the games are & the fact that the refs are just allowing everything & when they do call anything, they are head scratchers. I cant stand the officiating in this league & many other fan bases feel similar. Brodie is getting way too many minutes, I think we need Prout back in & start to get nasty with some of their stars they way Cole & Zadorov are treating ours. I like Fanta, I think we should resign him, but I dont think anyone else has that nasty game in the back end. That crosscheck to Backlund that wasnt called that left that huge welt on his neck & shoulder happened right in front of the ref. This isnt about fighters, this is about getting players that wont respect other players & will play however nasty it takes to win. Look at the suspensions all ready, players are getting vicious because of the crap that isnt getting called.
      Oh well, too late now. Games like last night happen to every team. Avs played phenomenal, we all know Flames can play so much better, we’ll see how they respond in Game 3. There are no favorites in this league.

  • Off the wall

    When you get out chanced 26-9 in scoring opportunities, it’s extremely difficult to win. Even with Smith playing as great as he is.

    I think this is what our team needed. Losing, because if we would have squeaked out a win last night, then there’s no justice to how badly we were dominated by the Avalanche.
    MacKinnon is scary good. In game one he was extremely frustrated. Game 2, I watched as several times he got the stinky glove and extra shots after the whistle. Absolutely no reaction from him, not even a defensive retaliation! It was a completely different MacKinnon.

    Even after the game ( in the interview) he showed how intelligent he was. He knew exactly who was on the ice, specifically naming where Andersson was and where Giordano was in his overtime winner. He knew exactly what he was doing when he broke down the seam between them.In saying that, I’m not blaming anyone, it was a rocket-shot that was perfectly executed.
    I’m just impressed by his astute awareness.

    I’m always going to be a Flames fan first and foremost, however sometimes you have to appreciate the great hockey players of our opponents.

    It’s always been a team game and Ari is correct in saying that.
    Teams win games, not individuals. We can choose to be disappointed in our own players, or we can choose to support them. I prefer the latter.

    It’s off to mile high city. It’s a new day, a time for our team to spend some time together and focus on the next game. I’m extremely excited and can’t wait for Monday.

    I know we will be much better in game #3. Because the alternative isn’t an option anymore!

    Go Flames Go! 🔥

    • Kevin R

      Yeah we were saying that last night how deflating it would be for Colorado if they were to lose that game after the complete domination they had in that 3rd period & pretty well the whole game. In my view Flames came out completely flat. Never noticed Hathaway doing Hathaway things. Benny is the one guy that will play the way we need to. When he nailed Cole, I was really proud of him. Not sure how so many feel Peters got out coached & sat back on the 2-1 lead. Flames showed no sustained forecheck or cycle all game, what makes people think Peters held them back. I never saw so much panic in our players as I did last night. Colorado had at least one & usually two guys on any of our guys when the puck came our way. They played with no fear, I saw lots of fear from our guys. This isnt coaching, it’s on the players. I agree, maybe losing, as much as it sucks, may be a blessing to let these guys know playoffs requires another level of intensity & execution.

      • Luter 1

        We look to be scared to forecheck more than one guy because of Avs transition speed, I have never seen our defence play so deep with incoming players to the point they are actually in shooting position with our defence still backing up. We are doing very little to disrupt Avs pouring in on our zone. Avs running interference on our forecheck to give their D lots of time and we are not fighting through it. Little to no forecheck is a bad recipe for beating them. Time for BP to do some serious coaching and to light a fire under about half of our passengers.

    • Luter 1

      It is very obvious he cannot skate with 95% of the players on the ice, so not sure what people are expecting from him – he isn’t hitting any one – too slow and his once deadly shot has followed his skating – too slow to get a good one off. Said it a month into the season – this guy is unfortunately done.

    • BringtheFire 2.0

      Nothing is wrong with Monahan. He’s the same Monahan he’s always been. He’s either scoring or he’s not. To think that the series rests on one person…well, someone didn’t read the article.

    • BlueMoonNigel

      Monny and me don’t give a damn because at the end of their respective 7 year contracts, Monny will get about $500,000 more than Mac on base salary, and at the end of the day, it’s the guy who brings home the bigger paycheque who is the real winner in our society.

  • Flaming Duck

    Hard to swallow that loss. Losing is bad, but to be beaten like we were in every aspect of the game was hard to watch. Hopefully our boys learned something about what is required to win in the playoffs and last nights game is not repeated. Game 3 feels a bit like a must win for the Flames given how they were beaten in game 2. Still feeling optimistic, but a few cracks in my optimism. GFG!!!

  • jupiter

    Really. “One thing i don’t quite get,vitriol towards one specific player.” Yet goalie’s are open season for you. You will use every stat available to attack or pump up a goalie , and somehow that’s OK. Analytics for Goalies don’t predict success and likely never will. Such a big part of their performance is mental.Vitriol through Analytics is not OK,IMO

    • oddclod

      Facts. She’s really having a hard time walking back her vitriol. It’s called psychological projection. Blame others for what you’re guilty of. It’s not anything strange, It’s human. The best way around it when you’re wrong is to accept it and move on. Any reluctancy of accepting contrary information tends to make the mind defend our preconceptions.

      It would have been easier for her to just eat crow and move on. But again she feels the need to imbue “regular season Mike Smith” on us (Instead of second half Mike Smith, or just playoff Smitty) to justify framing him as mediocre. BundlIng regular season numbers with playoffs is irrelevant.

      At least she went half way and agreed Smith is capable moving forward. I’ll give her that and accept that’s the end of it.

      That said, the team looked bagged. That can happen to a group. Rest up boys you got long run ahead of you. GFG

    • withachance

      I think Ari is saying its ok to criticize, we are fans after all. What’s not ok is some of the comments to players specifically last night on the game thread. They were pretty bad and showed the ugl

      • jupiter

        Agree . I never listen or view blogs after a loss. Emotions on fire ! Just saying there are writer’s on this blog that are just as guilty of vitriol towards player’s or letting emotion get the best of them. Using analytics as a conduit for vitriol seems to be acceptable for some. IMO.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    There are only 3 clubs who if they lose in the opening round their defeats will be major upsets and deep soul searching should follow. Tampa is already down 2. The Caps have fought hard to win their 2 games. The Flames split at home, but honestly, they could have lost both games had gritty Smitty not been otherworldly in Game 1.

    If the Flames don’t get past the Avs, oh my! As the TDL neared, don’t remember one FN poster or columnist saying we needed Guy X or Guy Y to beat the Avs. All the smack here was about being good enough to take out the Sharks, Knights, Jets or Preds. Heck for the longest time it looked like the Flames and Coyotes would duel in round one.

    Finishing first in a conference puts greater expectations and added pressure on a club. Will the Flames burn under this heat or will they be burned by the heat? We will know a lot more by this time next week.

    • withachance

      So what you’re saying is, if the Flames win, whatever they were expected to. If they lose, then its all hell breaking lose and the organizations will need deep soul searching.

      It’s a lose – lose situation basically isnt it. Its 1-1, calm down.

  • Jim Red Deer

    Neal is way too slow to play in this series. Someone gave our GM bad advice when he signed Neal. Must have been the same person who told the GM to give a draft pick for Lazar. Two real bad signings.

  • slapshot444

    Grate article again by Ari. Really have to sit Brodi after a game like that, let him play his way back after he rests. That would send the message to everyone. Coach needs be more confident as well. I’m confident for a bounce back barn burner in game three and no way Mackinnon can duplicate that effort. It was never going to be a sweep.

  • RKD

    Opportunity lost to go up 2-0 but I think it is a better learning experience. We still have not seen their best hockey and playing like they did last night and being up 2-0 in the series would be worse for them as a group. Let’s see how they bounce back. They need to face challenges early on and be battle hardened.