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Six observations through three games of the Battle of Alberta

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Photo credit:Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports
Pat Steinberg
8 months ago
For a second straight series, the Flames are down 2-1 after three games…but this feels different. Despite facing the same series score against the Stars, it generally felt like Calgary was the better team for most of those first three games. That hasn’t been the case the last two vs. Edmonton. With nine periods played, here are a few takeaways going into game four.

The Flames are capable of better

Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft said “to a man” every one of his players needed to be better after game one. Well, Edmonton has responded and they’ve been significantly better since. Now it’s Calgary’s turn to do the same thing.
The Flames haven’t been at their best for a consistent stretch in this series as of yet. Game 1 was drunk, Game 2 was filled with penalties, and Game 3 was abhorrent for the first 40 minutes. On the bright side, they’re only down 2-1 in a long series and can clearly be better. If you’re glass half-empty, though, Calgary is three games into round two and haven’t brought anywhere near their best. I can understand if that strikes you as concerning.

They’re missing Chris Tanev

Based on adrenaline and a superior roster, the Flames were able to withstand Tanev’s absence in game seven against Dallas. Since then, the void left by Calgary’s most important defenceman has been glaring. Michael Stone has done an admirable job stepping into a top six role, but no one is replacing the team’s defensive rock and best all-around blueliner. It just can’t be understated how important Tanev would have been against Edmonton and all that offensive firepower.
Out since leaving Game 6 of round one, I’m not optimistic about a return in the near future. It’s the playoffs, so details are hard to come by, but it seems clear Tanev is dealing with an upper body injury. Knowing this guy’s pain tolerance, I’ll never shut the door on a return in this series. But from what I’ve seen of Tanev in practice and how little he’s putting on his shot, I’m not feeling great about it.

The top pair needs to be better

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They’re not the only ones in this category by any means, but without Tanev there’s even more weight on the duo of Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson. Calgary’s top pairing is -4 combined in the series and -6 over the last two games. Analytically, they’re bleeding more chances than normal. And key mistakes by both have led directly to Edmonton goals.
Hanifin and Andersson made up one of the league’s best pairings during the regular season. With or without a Tanev return, the Flames need them to get back to that level in short order.

Jacob Markstrom looked better in Game 3

He allowed four or more goals for a third straight game, but Markstrom looked far more like himself on Sunday than at any point in the first two games. After making 30 stops on 34 shots through the first two periods, Markstrom was replaced by Dan Vladar to start the third period in Game 3. It was head coach Darryl Sutter trying to reset his team, and it also worked as a breather for Markstrom.
Over the balance of the series, Markstrom hasn’t been at the level Calgary needs. His last outing, though, showed signs of the guy voted a Vezina Trophy finalist during the regular season. We’ll see if that’s a good omen for Game 4.

More than one player is driving Edmonton’s success

Connor McDavid is at a level we’ve never seen before, which is scary knowing what he’s already accomplished. In saying that, I think it’s false to suggest the Flames are getting beat by one player in this series.
McDavid has been the best player for either team, without question. But Leon Draisaitl leads Edmonton in scoring with ten points in three games. Zach Hyman has scored in all three contests and has four goals total in the series. Evander Kane was dominant through 40 minutes on Sunday. And Mike Smith has answered the bell after a nightmare Game 1.

The second line has been the best line

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Since reuniting Mikael Backlund, Andrew Mangiapane, and Blake Coleman in round one, Calgary’s second line has been their best line. That trend has carried into this series with the Oilers. The Flames absolutely need more from their top line, but you can’t question what Backlund’s trio has done. Their five-on-five metrics are dominant. Courtesy Natural Stat Trick.
PlayerCF%xGF%HDCF-HDCAHDCF%OZS%
Backlund67.272.013-192.952.2
Mangiapane68.174.913-192.954.6
Coleman61.166.211-284.656.6
This line is driving play, generating quality chances, and allowing next to nothing at the other end. If the Gaudreau-Lindholm-Tkachuk trio ends up raising its game, Calgary’s top six has a chance to really swing the series.

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