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Flames 5, Canucks 2: Gaudreau shines, Markstrom rock-solid as the Flames beat Vancouver (again)

Talk about an inverse of the season opener.

Unlike their 4-3 overtime loss in Winnipeg last Thursday, in which the Flames looked great in the first period before falling apart in the last 40 minutes, the Flames improved as the game progressed on Monday evening against the Canucks.

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A tripping penalty by Milan Lucic just 2:32 into the game did little to help any of the Flames’ skaters establish a rhythm. Only Jacob Markstrom, fresh off a perfect performance over his old Canucks friends on Saturday, looked sharp early. Markstrom notably stymied former teammate Adam Gaudette on three separate breakaway attempts in the first.

But after Vancouver out-shot Calgary 16-4 in the first period, the Flames came right back by besting the Canucks in that department by a count of 20-3 in the second.

The third period looked a little closer in the shot department—tied at eight apiece—but the Flames’ opportunities at even strength were of a much higher quality. The Flames also kept things extremely tight in the third period.

Key statistics from Natural Stat Trick for CGY/VAN on 01/18/21

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TIME CGY Shots VAN Shots CGY 5v5 Corsi For VAN 5v5 Corsi For CGY 5v5 Expected Goals For VAN 5v5 Expected Goals For
PERIOD 1 4 16 8 17 0.39 0.61
PERIOD 2 20 3 18 5 1.02 0.61
PERIOD 3 8 8 9 5 0.46 0.13
TOTAL 32 27 35 27 1.87 0.84

Let’s take a closer look at some of the players who contributed notable performances on Monday.

Johnny Gaudreau is back

After many years of being one of the most exciting players in the league, Johnny Gaudreau looked merely Good-reau in 2019-20. He scored just 58 points in 70 games, his worst year since he was a rookie.

His decreased production wasn’t the result of bad luck, either. Gaudreau started having issues with creating offence and forcing teams to take penalties against him. In short, he stopped driving play.

Speaking in less quantifiable terms, Gaudreau started making fewer and fewer of the plays which had, in the past, frequently made opposing defenders look silly.

Calgary still relied upon Gaudreau as a key cog of its transition game, but he notably became a little less successful—particularly relative to his teammates—at entering the zone with control of the puck.

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On Monday, it frequently looked like the Gaudreau of old had returned. He made a slick little give-and-go play with Sean Monahan before scoring Calgary’s first goal, which was good enough on its own, but it’s worth watching Gaudreau’s entire shift just to get a sense of his confidence with the puck.

Look at the breakout pass Gaudreau received from Juuso Valimaki with around 8:30 to play in the period. Gaudreau received the puck awkwardly and saw Canucks centre Jay Beagle blocking his direct path to the offensive zone.

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However, instead of trying to force a difficult zone entry or dumping it in, Gaudreau circled back. He brought the Canucks’ defenders toward him before giving the puck back to Valimaki, now with a relatively unobstructed path ahead of him. The play entered the zone with Gaudreau making some nice passes to keep the cycle going before eventually driving hard towards the net and tucking the puck home for a well-earned goal. That’s a great shift.

Here’s another Gaudreau shift from the third period:

Gaudreau remained in position throughout the beginning of this clip before eventually receiving a pass in transition from Dominik Simon. He made a very nice play to corral the puck in his skates while maintaining much of his momentum before being hauled down by Canucks defender Quinn Hughes.

From there, on his stomach, Gaudreau remained hot in pursuit of the puck. He corraled it away from Travis Hamonic, returned to his feet, and continued to battle along with multiple Canucks. That allowed Sean Monahan to retrieve the puck for the Flames to possess with an extra attacker. Ultimately, the puck returned to Gaudreau on the right flank, where he fired it towards the net for a deflection and a good chance.

Then, Gaudreau made plays like this, where he drew two defenders towards him after entering the zone before firing a perfect no-look backhand pass towards a streaking Noah Hanifin.

Finally, of course, check out Gaudreau’s royal road pass to Elias Lindholm on the eventual game-winning goal. The poise required to make this sort of play is astonishing, particularly with just seconds remaining on the clock.

The Flames could be in for a very successful season if Gaudreau can keep putting together great performances like he did on Monday.

Markstrom: terrific again

Markstrom has been the Flames’ most consistent performer through three games and he turned in another banner effort on Monday.

The Flames’ undisputed starting goaltender allowed two goals on 27 shots against his former team, good for a .926 save percentage. That said, he cannot rightfully be faulted for either of the Canucks’ tallies.

Vancouver’s first goal, off the stick of former Calgary Hitman Jake Virtanen, came all the way from the point (bad) but ricocheted off Valimaki mere feet before it reached Markstrom’s cage. Chalk one up for unfortunate luck.

Tyler Myers received credit for Vancouver’s second goal but it should really go into the books as Mark Giordano’s second of the night. With the Canucks down a man, Myers broke into the Flames’ zone on a two-on-one and banked his pass attempt off the Flames’ captain’s stick and through Markstrom’s five-hole.

Many people have already made the joke that the Flames scored all seven goals in this game. Had Markstrom not been present in the first period, when Vancouver outshot Calgary at a 4-to-1 rate, it’s likely that joke would not ring true.

Above all else, here is a perfect quote from one of the players who tallied in Calgary’s favour:

The three best and worst Flames

There should be no real surprises here.

The top three:

  1. Johnny Gaudreau. A fantastic offensive performance. Only real complaint: he didn’t play enough (just 9:42 at 5v5, good for sixth among Flames forwards). Also, his 55% CF and 56.27% xGF are skewed by less-than-great defensive results. But he was electric.
  2. Jacob Markstrom. Allowed zero bad goals. Both of Vancouver’s scores deflected in off Flames. Made some tremendous saves, particularly in the first period when the Canucks dominated.
  3. Matthew Tkachuk. Drew the fourth of six consecutive Canucks penalties, giving the Flames an extended 5-on-3 to end the second period. Somehow held off the scoresheet while recording marks of 81.0% CF and 92.1% xGF.

The bottom three:

  1. Milan Lucic. Still looked painfully slow, although his passing improved as the game progressed. Took two tripping penalties. Played far too much (10:30, second-most of any forward). 52.9% CF, 77.4% xGF.
  2. Sam Bennett. I guess? Bennett was basically unnoticeable all night, although he did spend some time on both special teams. 38.5% CF, 58.7% xGF.
  3. Juuso Valimaki. This might seem unfair to the rookie—he rebounded nicely in the second and third periods—but Valimaki’s first period might have been the least successful of his NHL career to this point. He took a penalty, made a couple of very bad turnovers, and had a puck deflect in off of him. Still, hard to call him “bad” at all. On this night, nobody really was. 48.2% CF, 53.2% xGF.

All statistics in this article are from Natural Stat Trick, unless otherwise noted.