The Calgary Flames bounced back from a Game 3 loss to the Dallas Stars with a very strong Game 4 performance, powering themselves to a 4-1 win. It was easily their best game of the post-season and arguably their best overall output in weeks when you consider the opposition.
Here are five takeaways from the triumph.
Rolling with seven defencemen really seemed to work
After playing coy about lines after morning skate, the Flames went with seven blueliners (playing Michael Stone in place of fourth line forward Brett Ritchie, who was on the second line in the morning, fourth line in warm-up, and then the press box at game time). Post-game, head coach Darryl Sutter explained it was because he felt his defenders looked tired in Games 2 and 3 (due to Rasmus Andersson’s Game 1 ejection overtaxing them).
Here’s how the Flames’ overall (all situations) ice time changed for defenders between Games 3 and 4.
The guys who played less did seem a bit tuckered in previous games and Stone’s addition injected some energy, physicality, and somebody who has a booming shot and isn’t afraid to use it. Stone registered eight shots in this game (all in the first two periods) and he provided the Flames with more or less exactly what was needed in Game 4.
It would make sense for him to stick around for Game 5.
Rolling with 11 forwards seemed to really work
The Flames’ forward combinations have remained static throughout the first three games. With 11 forwards dressed, the Flames largely mixed and matched with eight of those 11 forwards.
Aside from the top line of Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm (7:21), Dallas didn’t see any Flames forward combination for more than 4:00. Eight different combinations played a minute (or more) of five-on-five together:
- Gaudreau – Lindholm – Tkachuk (7:21 / 73.2 xGF%)
- Lucic – Lewis – Jarnkrok (3:42 / 35.9 xGF%)
- Mangiapane – Backlund – Coleman (3:15 / 75.0 xGF%)
- Lucic – Lewis – Toffoli (2:43 / 63.3 xGF%)
- Lucic – Jarnkrok – Toffoli (1:43 / 46.6 xGF%)
- Dube – Backlund – Coleman (1:31 / 100 xGF%)
- Dube – Jarnkrok – Toffoli (1:16 / 60.3 xGF%)
- Lucic – Backlund – Toffoli (1:00 / n/a xGF%)
If the Flames stick with 11 forwards, it would make sense for them to stick with Gaudreau-Lindholm-Tkachuk (duh), Mangiapane-Backlund-Coleman, and rotating Lucic, Lewis, Toffoli, Dube and Jarnkrok in a bottom-six cosmic gumbo. The top six were superb, while the rotating bottom five were energetic and occasionally quite good. Lucic-Lewis-Toffoli was a really effective forechecking line that gave the Stars fits at times.
We’re not saying that Ritchie was “the problem,” but removing him basically keeps the Stars from knowing precisely which forwards they’ll see on any given shifts and kept them off-balance throughout Game 4.
The most five-on-five time in the series
It’s no secret that this series has been filled with penalties. But the Flames were a little bit better at avoiding shenanigans, and it likely contributed to their ability to roll lines and keep everybody fresh and engaged in the proceedings. No shocker, it also contributed to the best game the Flames have played thus far.
The 41:21 of five-on-five time was a series high, just beating out Game 1’s 41:15. Game 2 had 40:39 and Game 3 had 38:55. We’ll see where this number ends up in Game 5.
Jacob Markstrom was quite good, again
Dallas’ young netminder has gotten most of the attention in this series, but Vezina Trophy finalist Jacob Markstrom has been exactly what Flames fans has hoped he would be: really, really good. Markstrom has allowed just five goals (two at five-on-five). The Flames have been supporting him with strong defence, generally, but when Markstrom’s been called on to make big saves, he has done so.
When will Jake Oettinger’s dam break?
The Flames haven’t been the offensive powerhouse that they were at times in the regular season – thanks, Dallas defensive systems for that – but they’ve generated a lot. Just not a lot has gone into the net.
Through four games, their expected goals (all situations) are 15.24. Their actual goals are seven, a difference of 8.24. That’s nuts, and it reflects their team-wide 4.67 shooting percentage, lowest among all playoff teams. (They’ve also missed the net a ton.) Some of that is Oettinger, and some of that is rough puck luck. The Flames have out-shot Dallas 150-106 and hold a 15.24-10.93 expected goals edge.
If the Flames keep doing what they’re doing, eventually the dam should break. Right? Right?? Right. (Maybe.) Perhaps three goals scored on Oettinger (on 53 shots) in Game 3 is a sign of what’s to come.
Let’s watch that Johnny Gaudreau penalty shot goal again
It was pretty sweet, wasn’t it?
Looking to up your fantasy hockey game? DailyFaceoff has the tools you need for both daily and season-long fantasy leagues, including a lineup optimizer, daily projections, and a whole lot more. Sign up for the DailyFaceoff tools here.