In their previous 10 games, the Calgary Flames had just two regulation wins. It was looking that trend might carry on to start against the New Jersey Devils last night until the Flames remembered one key thing: as much as they try to hide it, they can actually be a very good hockey team.
Feel of the game
The Flames definitely had something to prove as Bill Peters decided he was really feeling himself at practice Wednesday, but you wouldn’t know it based on how they started. It wasn’t downright rubbish, but to have their starts called out and then to give that effort is not a good look for the Flames. Thankfully, after the greatest #97 in the league gave the Devils a 2-1 edge, something clicked. Something along the lines of “Oh yeah, these guys have the least amount of wins in the NHL, maybe we shouldn’t give them their fifth.”
From then on, the Flames were a team not necessarily possessed, but one that was confident. It absolutely helped that the Devils decided to gift the Flames six power plays, but there was a sense of belief in the game the Flames were playing. It’s still alien to experience that feeling midway through the game instead of at the end of it, but this is a welcome development for the season and one that I hope continues.
For real though, after the goal by Nikita Gusev, the Devils didn’t have another shot for nearly 13 minutes, when P.K. Subban had his shot stopped by Rittich. By then, the Flames had gone from trailing to having a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. By the time the third period rolled around, the Flames were comfortably in control, but decided to have Gaudreau score on a breakaway (it’s real, I know) and really put this one to bed.
Here’s my favourite part of the third though: the Flames didn’t let up when they easily could have, even when you adjust for score and venue effects. This is more of a game that the Flames can build off of than the one against Arizona, and I hope this kind of inspired play is how they start their next game and beyond.
The good news
Noah Hanifin, take a bow. This was statistically his best game in a Calgary uniform, and you could see that he was Noah Havinfun (nickname courtesy of FN’s Mike Pfeil).
you're welcome pic.twitter.com/NchOuQNkq9
— Mike Pfeil (@mikeFAIL) November 8, 2019
Is it a coincidence that this game comes as he’s paired alongside Rasmus Andersson for an entire game? I’m going to say no because I love what Andersson brings to the table, but it is also aggressively way too early to make that call definitively. Still, this is a pairing that I can easily get behind if it continues to look this good.
The second power play unit doubled their goal total tonight! Or rather, Noah Hanifin got a power play goal and Andy Greene decided that Mikael Backlund deserved one too. The Flames went 2-for-6 on the power play for the second straight game, which is not something I expected to say after the first period.
David Rittich only had to make 21 saves last night, which is tied with the game against Philadelphia for the least amount of saves Rittich has had to make in Flames victory. Quite often, Rittich has been put to work this season, and has come up big enough that the Flames still have a decent enough record. It’s nice that the skaters decided to make life easy for him.
That might have been the nicest goal of Derek Ryan’s career? Let’s have one more look.
Derek Ryan: not a first overall pick, still scores goals like this pic.twitter.com/LytECZQAmW
— FlamesNation (@FlamesNation) November 8, 2019
I’ve felt (and occasionally even said) for a few games now that the third line of Ryan, Alan Quine, and Sam Bennett have been quietly good, so it’s nice to see Ryan get rewarded like that. Ryan also led the Flames at CF%Rel at 5v5 at 23.72, followed by Bennett (who led for all situations at 25.40). Even when they aren’t scoring, they can give the top six an actual break without Peters having to worry about what’s going to happen. The ice time is more balanced, and the Flames can rely on a full team attack like they did last season….
The bad news
….well mostly, anyway. Even though there were no major issues, I felt that Frolik brought a lot more jump to Rieder and Jankowski than Lucic did. Lucic even had a half-decent game! I just don’t see what he brought in a game like that which necessitates Frolik getting scratched. You have to feel as though we’re watching the end of the line for Frolik, who deserves a better fate and being a very dependable soldier for Calgary over the course of his contract. He’s the best NHL free agent that Brad Treliving has signed during his tenure as general manager (and second overall to David Rittich), and it’s a shame to see him become an albatross for whatever reason.
The real issues last night were the top line, which is weird to say because they all contributed on the scoresheet. However, they were frequently out-chanced on the ice, and couldn’t keep pace in their matchups the same way the other three lines were able to. It’s been a very long time since Monahan and Gaudreau both lit the lamp in the same game, so I know I risk coming off like Peters here and nitpicking in a game where there’s actual cause for celebration. I just don’t think that kind of performance gets the job done against a deeper team.
The reffing was wild and inconsistent, but it worked out in the Flames favour, so that’s neat.
The start of games seriously have to be better. It’s difficult to believe that last night was just the eighth time in 19 games that the Flames were trailing after 20 minutes, which is horrendous because the actual stat itself is also too many! The Flames have had a blistering start to the schedule, but that just means that most teams are fresher than them on any given night! Hoping to still have gas in the tank for a comeback is really going to become a major problem soon.
Numbers of note
10 – Ten game point streak for Lindholm. Yes, I’m going to keep updating how long the streak goes in Numbers, because we should all Walk With Elias.
24:08 – Mark Giordano’s ice time. Interestingly, he barely played after killing off Backlund’s penalty in the third, as Peters realized there is no need to keep tiring Young and Fresh. He’s still head and shoulders the Flames leader in TOI, but any time the Flames can afford to rest Giordano will only pay off for them in the long run.
13-3 – Those were the scoring chances for Calgary and New Jersey at 5v5. When you make it all situations? It becomes 20-4. That was a beautiful period for the Flames, even with the goal they allowed.
4 – Hits by Michael Stone, who led the team. He also had the lone assist on Ryan’s goal, and did enough to not stand out in his 13:49 of ice time in the first game since Kylington’s demotion. Did he do enough to keep Brandon Davidson in the press box on Saturday?
88.4% – The success rate for the penalty kill. They are now third in the NHL, and are within spitting distance of top spot (San Jose, 90.6%)
The Flames have a tough test ahead of them on Saturday, facing the top team in the West and the defending Stanley Cup champions. If ever there was a time to have a good start and set the tone, it would be against St. Louis.