The Calgary Flames might have won on Tuesday had it not been for their painfully bad first period.
How bad was it? Officially, they received credit for just one shot on goal against Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen in the entire period. Even then, the validity of that “shot” is up for debate—the first person to present photographic evidence of its existence will receive a $5 Subway gift card. (It may or may not have already been fully redeemed and I am not entirely sure how to reload it, but alas).
The Flames looked miserably flat-footed from the start and wasted no time in allowing the first goal of the game. They received a power play shortly afterwards but promptly squandered any potential momentum by taking a penalty of their own, allowing a goal to Auston Matthews on the ensuing Leafs man advantage, and then taking another penalty.
By the end of the period, the Leafs were leading the even-strength Corsi battle by a relatively slim margin of 8-7. That said, the Flames’ shot attempts primarily came from significant distances away from the goal and all but one* (*again, citation needed) failed to reach Andersen.
Meanwhile, the Leafs completely dominated in the expected goals category (0.70 to 0.24 in their favour) which, again, makes sense. They were all over the Flames. Jacob Markstrom almost single-handedly prevented the Leafs from going up 5-0 just 20 minutes into the game.
Still, the whole game could have gone off the rails after the first period, and it did not. Who was most responsible for allowing the Flames to crawl back into the game? Why, I thought you might never ask…

Johnny Gaudreau was really good again

Johnny Gaudreau was really good again! He scored two goals on Tuesday, including the goal to cut the deficit to 2-1 just over a minute into the second period. He also tied the game in the third period with a gorgeous shot on the power play. I forget what happened after that.
Gaudreau was the Flames’ most dangerous player on Tuesday and will help the Flames win a lot of games this season if he continues to show up in this form. After a difficult first period, he rebounded over the final 40 and looked consistently dangerous.
He also played over 22 minutes, which is a nice step in the right direction for Geoff Ward after the head coach spent much of last season and the first few games of this one deploying his star winger for well under 20 minutes a night.

Noah Hanifin was also very good

Noah Hanifin was also very good! The Hanifin-Tanev pairing looked questionable on paper in training camp but it has looked surprisingly effective out of the gate, emerging as one of the Flames’ most trustworthy and consistent duos.
Hanifin especially impressed on Tuesday, leading the Flames in ice-time at even strength, finishing second in Corsi for percentage and fourth in expected goals percentage. He also recorded an assist on Gaudreau’s first goal.
After an off-season full of hype for Juuso Valimaki, Hanifin became something of a forgotten man in many Flames discussion circles, often being thrown into trade proposals and bumped down to the third pairing. Right now, though, he’s playing like somebody angling for a full-time role on the top pair.
For all intents and purposes, Hanifin-Tanev is the top pairing right now. They’re giving the best performances and playing the most minutes at even strength. The coaching staff needs to continue riding this wave for as long as it lasts.

The Flames really need Dillon Dube back

The Flames really need Dillon—OK, you get the point.
What is going on with the Flames’ depth right now? Last season, the Flames fought to tread water with inconsistent contributions from their stars while being buoyed by their strong third line.
Now, with Mikael Backlund manning the Flames’ third line, the team’s depth is somehow less effective and the rebound performances of its stars are being sabotaged.
To give due credit, Milan Lucic scored his first goal of the season on Tuesday with a hard shot through Andersen’s five-hole. He needs to take that shot more often—it’s very effective.
Also, the Lucic-Nordstrom-Ryan line actually led the Flames in expected goals percentage on Tuesday (bolstered primarily by excellent defensive results), finishing at 80.49%, 77.49%, and 95.74%, respectively. That line was less of an issue against the Leafs than it has been.
No, the Flames’ Big Bad Line on Tuesday was, surprisingly, the Backlund line. Number 11 himself had a particularly off night, completely losing his man on the Leafs’ first goal and letting multiple attackers speed by him on Travis Boyd’s 3-1 goal.
Backlund, Leivo, and Bennett all finished the game far underwater for expected goals percentage, ranking as the three worst skaters on the team in that category. The Flames are terribly missing Dillon Dube and his two-way excellence in their lineup right now—one of Dube (when he returns) or Mangiapane needs to go next to Backlund to try and kickstart some chemistry.

Three Gould Stars

Let’s try something different. It’s a play on my last name, see. These “Gould Stars” will be used to recognize players who were noticeable—for reasons both good and bad—in the game being discussed. This is not a list of the three best players. The Gould Stars will all also receive Subway gift cards.
  • Gould Star One: This one goes to Matthew Tkachuk, who got Very Mad at the end of the game when Jake Muzzin flipped a puck at him. Having watched Tkachuk for five years, he probably got upset about this because he didn’t think of trying it first.
  • Gould Star Two: Sean Monahan was also pretty solid on Tuesday, setting up both of Gaudreau’s goals and driving play reasonably well. He has seven points through the Flames’ first five games.
  • Gould Star Three: I am contractually obligated* (*for legal reasons, this is a joke) to include Milan Lucic in this last section each and every time I write the morning-after column. Seriously, it was good to see the big man bump the slump and it would be a nice development to see him return to being as effective as he was down the stretch last season. That said, it still makes very little sense to have him on the ice when his team is chasing a game-tying goal in the dying minutes of the third period. Alas, baby steps.