314 days it had been since the echoes of TNT had boomed through the Saddledome. Little did we know that when Andrew Mangiapane set up Matthew Tkachuk for a slick backhand tying goal against the Vegas Golden Knights way back on March 8, 2020, we’d have to wait almost a full year to experience it again.
When Sean Monahan lit the lamp at 8:21 of the opening period on a one-touch feed from the aforementioned Tkachuk it ceremoniously marked the official return of hockey in Calgary.
It was a bit of a bumbling game. There were lulls in action and constant interruptions by penalties. It wasn’t a particularly feisty affair either. When the Flames snagged the lead on Monahan’s goal I’m sure we all defaulted to “don’t blow another lead” mode but the power play continued to come through, Markstrom shut the door and, despite one Sam Bennett’s best efforts to make things interesting, the Flames penalty-killing units (aided by 25 in red) stood their ground.
While the 5v5 play was not a particularly high event or tantalizing the Flames did control most of the play at even strength. The special teams were dynamite and, while the power play will get all the glory, the spoils of victory belong to the penalty killers.
The Flames let up slightly to start the second period but were able to find their legs again with a flurry of chances before heading to the power play where the second unit scored a dazzling marker.
They controlled things very nicely in the third limiting the Canucks’ to a single high danger chance.
Lines 1 – 4
Matthew Tkachuk played a great game. He was solid in all three zones, lead the team on the scoreboard, and was the Flames’ best skater in my opinion.
His new linemate Dillon Dube was no slouch either. He was a fore-checking hound and leading rushes through the neutral zone and sniped a dazzling tally. 29 is solidifying the notion that what we saw in the playoffs was no fluke.
Gaudreau and Monahan had more jump and a lot more drive at 5v5 as well. Gaudreau specifically had plenty of touches and engineered multiple zone to zone rushes leading to extended offensive pressures from the Flames.
Coach Ward seems to have heard the cries of the zone start crowd as well (or maybe he just realized that throwing your two worst defensive forwards out for a bunch of defensive zone draws is asking for trouble) as the match-ups and shift starts were much more favourable for the 23 and 13 unit.
The Bread Man also turned it on in the second half of the game. The Mangiapane to Dube power play marker might be one of the delightful and tantalizing snipes we’ve seen in a long while.
The Mangiapane and Backlund duo managed and contained Elias Petterson’s unit very well.
Line four is still a work in progress. Lucic looked rough again and put up less than stellar possession numbers at even strength (38.89 CF%).
Markstrom: as advertised
If I had some extra cash I would throw it into some independent research. One such venture would be to examine fan and team confidence level during a hockey game when a bonafide netminder is tending the goal. Maybe it was all in my mind but I felt pretty secure having Mr. Markstrom between the pipes back there. He was strong in his net and so technically sound that it brought an utter sense of calmness to my usually stressed-out mind and body.
While the Flames limited the Canucks at even strength Markstrom had to be sharp on the penalty kill. Based on the quality of their shots in all situations the Canucks’ posted an expected goal total of 2.19 yet failed to beat their former pal.
An admirable performance from Tanev against his former club. He was rock solid on the penalty kill blocking shots, passing lanes, and doing anything to keep the puck out of the net.
After watching him closely for only two games, you can tell he’s an intelligent defender. His reads are strong, his blocks controlled and he was a steady force on the back-end. Five blocked shots at even strength (and three more on the penalty kill), 87.93 xGF%, and 63.16 CF% left me impressed.
One play that stood out to me was his right side denial and neutralization of his former partner and zone entry wizard Quinn Hughes. Just a solid defensive play.
I’m hoping Tanev can maintain this level of effectiveness throughout the lion’s share of the season.
The three best and worst Flames
- Matthew Tkachuk. For me, Tkachuk was the best player on the ice every time he jumped over the boards. Two points, 89.92 xGF% at even strength, ’nuff said.
- Jacob Markstrom. No goals for you! Again, so sound, so poised, and shut the door every time he was called upon.
- Andrew Mangiapane. Drove play all night, gorgeous assist, and was making elite plays all over the ice.
- Sam Bennett. If the goal of ice hockey was to take as many stick infraction penalties outside the defensive zone, Sam Bennett would be elite. His on ice play wasn’t poor but he can’t be doing that. Especially after being bumped up to a prominent role with Backlund and Mangiapane.
- Josh Leivo. Leivo has been kind of invisible for five of the last six periods. He got stuck in his own zone for some stretches as well, as evidenced by his 33.35xGF%, and his shot contributions have been minimal.
- Milan Lucic. He looked out of sync and struggled again last night. He was on the ice for some scoring chances but his line as a whole didn’t look great. 53.86 xGF% and 38.89 CF%