Canadiens 4, Flames 2: Not great, Bob!
Photo credit:Ron Chenoy/USA Today Sports
By Mike Gould2 years ago
Well, that was something.
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Sure, the 4-2 final score looks mildly close, but those two Flames goals hardly mattered. They both came in the final 90 seconds of the third period off shots which Canadiens goalie Carey Price should have had.
Prior to their unexpected last-second goals, the Flames’ best chance of the night came when they were down 4-0 with just over 2:30 to go in the third period. Having jumped into the slot, Nikita Nesterov received a little tip pass to go in all alone on Price.
Nesterov made a nifty move and found himself facing a wide-open net. He fanned on the puck and shot it off the post. He then corraled the rebound and proceeded to shoot it off the post, too.
That play basically summed up the Flames’ night. They started reasonably well but got into penalty trouble, committing two infractions in the first period and allowing two power play goals. The Flames then fell apart in the second and third periods, playing listless, uninspired hockey and conceding two more goals. The less said about the final two periods, the better.
In the first period, the Flames won the expected goals battle at even strength by a count of 0.38 to 0.14. Flames goalie David Rittich had little opportunity to make a save on either of Montreal’s goals.
The second one was particularly unfortunate, with a Shea Weber point shot deflecting off Juuso Valimaki’s stick en route to the Flames’ goal. As a general rule, it is usually best to avoid scoring on one’s own net.
Speaking of which…
Valimaki was not great, Bob
The Flames’ Finnish rookie has a lot going for him.
He showed tremendous resilience in battling back to the NHL after suffering two severe leg injuries over an eight-month span. He dominated the Finnish Liiga in a 19 game stint with Tampereen Ilves prior to the Flames’ training camp.
To start the season, Valimaki has formed half of a decent Flames third pairing alongside fellow NHL returnee Nesterov. The pair played particularly well prior to the Flames’ extended break.
But against Montreal on Thursday, Valimaki noticeably struggled. He constantly fought the puck, took the (admittedly weak) penalty leading to the Habs’ opening goal, and was the last man back on Josh Anderson’s game-winner.
Valimaki’s on-ice expected goals percentage (xGF%) at 5v5, 28.27%, ranked last among Flames defenders.
Many of Valimaki’s difficulties originated from misfortune more than incompetence. That said, after such a frustrating night, the Flames might be smart to rotate in Connor Mackey or Oliver Kylington to play in Valimaki’s place on the third pairing.
When will the wingers score?
The Flames dressed eight wingers on Thursday. Five of them are still looking for their first goals of the season.
Johnny Gaudreau has four goals. Matthew Tkachuk has three. Milan Lucic, against all odds, has two. Josh Leivo, Andrew Mangiapane, Dominik Simon, Sam Bennett, and Joakim Nordstrom all have zero.
The Flames have been hurting for goals lately, particularly in their first periods. They haven’t scored a goal in the opening frame for four consecutive games. Their slow starts have put them in some considerable holes, going down by scores of 1-0 and 2-0 twice each in their last four first periods.
Which players are the most likely to help the Flames turn around this trend—while possibly bumping their own individual slumps?
- Mangiapane probably should have scored by now. He’s rocking a 68.8 xGF% on the year and has already attempted 20 shots. Not only has Mangiapane not found the back of the net, he’s also sitting at a zero on-ice shooting percentage at even strength. He hasn’t scored yet and neither have any of his linemates.
- Leivo has been tricky to read through the first six games. He has been a clear downgrade from Dube on the Tkachuk line but he hasn’t really been hurting them, either. He hasn’t been a passenger on the top line but he has certainly benefited from the promotion, going from a 41.2 xGF% in 54:36 away from Tkachuk to a 91.6 xGF% in 16:40 with him. The real Leivo is probably closer to replacement level than he is to being a top-line player, but he might yet show some untapped upside with repeated deployment next to the Flames’ top offensive driver.
- Simon has been largely unnoticeable on the Gaudreau line. He’s certainly no Lindholm and he’s no Micheal Ferland, either. He’s been… there. The Flames will probably want to look for a player with more potential to complete that trio.
- Bennett is regular season Sam Bennett again, which is not great but also not entirely unexpected. For years, Bennett has made a name for himself by following less-than-stellar campaigns with ridiculous playoff performances where he ranks among the Flames’ offensive leaders. Bennett was arguably the Flames’ top player in the 2020 playoffs but has reverted to usual form to begin 2020-21, ranking second-last on the team with a 35.56 xGF%.
- Nordstrom is the only Flame with a worse xGF% than Bennett this season. He has the worst offensive results on the team at even strength, averaging just 1.01 total on-ice xGF worth of chances per 60 minutes, and he also has the worst defensive results on the team, surrendering 3.28 total on-ice xGA/60. Dube returning to the lineup likely means Nordstrom returns to the press box, a place where he probably belongs on most nights. If Dube is not healthy by Saturday, the Flames should really explore finding a replacement for Nordstrom on the fourth line (no, not Buddy Robinson or Zac Rinaldo).
Three Gould Stars
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.
- Gould Star One: Matthew Tkachuk got into another tussle on Thursday, this time against the Habs’ Ben Chiarot. It did not go well.
- Gould Star Two: Rasmus Andersson and David Rittich split this star in recognition of their combined… performance on Tyler Toffoli’s goal. The shorthanded marker effectively put an end to the Flames’ hopes in this one.
- Gould Star Three: Milan Lucic has goals in back-to-back games. He is still having issues with driving play at even strength but the Flames will need to take the small victories when dealing with a three-game losing streak.
The Flames will return to action on Saturday, again facing off against the Canadiens.
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