The Calgary Flames were imperfect, but passed a crucial first test against Winnipeg

Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
5 months ago
After a 2022-23 season that could charitably be described as “disappointing,” the shape of the Calgary Flames’ game against the Winnipeg Jets could understandably be cause for concern for some onlookers. Yeah, they were out-shot and out-chanced. And yeah, the Jets definitely deserved a better fate against the Flames than a regulation loss.
But the Flames did a few key things at key times that allowed them to pick up two key points.

The goals, at a glance

The Flames scored five goals in this game, essentially scoring four different ways:
  1. A power play goal from the second unit, scored when Adam Ruzicka made a smart play to throw the puck at the net – to where the Flames had the Jets out-manned – leading to Andrew Mangiapane’s rebound goal.
  2. A fourth-line goal off a face-off win in the offensive zone. The Flames executed on the draw, won battles to maintain possession and move the puck around the zone, and MacKenzie Weegar’s shot found its way through traffic.
  3. A shorthanded goal from the first unit – disclaimer: if Mikael Backlund or Elias Lindholm are on the ice during a penalty kill, that’s the first unit – after Lindholm found Rasmus Andersson jumping into the rush after a big save from Jacob Markstrom.
  4. A first-line goal off a face-off win in the offensive zone. The Flames executed on the draw, won battles to maintain possession after the initial scoring chance, and Mangiapane’s back-hand pass from behind the net found Lindholm streaking towards the net-front area.
  5. An empty-netter after the Flames won some key battles in their own zone to clear.
It would have been nice if they created more off the rush, but their offensive execution in specific game scenarios was pretty impressive. (Their defensive play, particularly puck management, is a work in progress.)

Execution and adjustments

Two things helped the Flames elevate themselves to two points in the standings: execution and adjustments.
While head coach Ryan Huska noted that his team kept giving the puck back to Winnipeg, the reason they had it so much to begin with is because they won face-offs so often. The team, collectively won 61% of their draws, including 71% in the third period with the game on the line. (In the entire game, they won 69% of their five-on-five offensive zone draws – including the face-offs lead to their second and fourth goals.) Lindholm won a staggering 84% of his draws in the whole game, losing just 4 of 25 face-offs that he took.
Rather than strictly stick to his line and pairing combinations, Huska adjusted as the game went along. Andrew Mangiapane was bumped up from the third line to the first, swapping with Dillon Dube. (Huska mused post-game that “I just don’t think there was much going on there,” and implied that moving Mangiapane to the top unit helped them create more.) On the offensive zone draw leading to the game-winning goal, coming after a Winnipeg icing, Huska put out the first line along with Andersson and Weegar (who had played on different pairings otherwise all game). In essence, a rookie head coach put out his five best players in a key game situation and trusted them to execute.
It worked.
The Flames are back in action on Saturday night when they visit the Pittsburgh Penguins.

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