The Flames almost walked out of the centre of the universe with four of a possible four points. I’m not sure if you know this (you may have missed it due to lack of media coverage) but the Toronto Maple Leafs are the top club in the NHL. The Flames, well more accurately David Rittich, almost swept them in the two game mini series. Alas, it was not to be.
There are two avenues of thought post game:
  1. Take the points from the best team in the league and run into a four game set with the Sens and downplay the fact you were out shot, out chanced, and out played for two games. Focus on the positives?
  2. Take the points from the best team in the league and run into a four game set with the Sens and realize the fact you were out shot, out chanced, and out played at 5v5 for two games. Focus on the lingering problems?
Do we just move along and thank our lucky stars? Or, do we realize this team still has some serious underlying issues. I’m leaning towards the latter but let’s breakdown the good and the bad from last night.

Game flow

Calgary started strong as they controlled play through much of the first period. It was a fairly low event opening frame with the Flames stifling the Leafs 5v5 attack limiting them to three scoring chances and zero of the high danger variety.
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TORONTO xGF%
Period
CALGARY xGF%
42.13%
1
57.87%
60.75%
2
39.25%
76.59%
3
23.41%
(5v5 Data from Natural Stat Trick)
The nice start was also neutered by another penalty parade. The penalty killers were excellent all night long. The 4v5 units did a great job attacking and standing the Leafs’ entries at the blueline and were sealing seams all game. The more aggressive, dynamic approach on the PK was a marked improvement in strategy and resulted in nullifying a nuclear Toronto power play.
The stalemate was finally broken by, guess who, number 88 in white. While the Lindholm line had some issues in the two game set, the Mangiapane marker was a shining example of how the 19-28-88 trio can work so well together: forecheck hard, nifty plays on the walls and behind the net, find soft spots in the slot, and snipe.
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Despite the decent start and getting ahead the Flames just couldn’t keep up with grey and blue through periods two and three and relied heavily, if not solely, on Big Save Dave to live up to his name.
(Scoring Chances from MoneyPuck)
Rittich faced 12 high danger chances in the final frames while the Leafs held the Flames to a measly four.
Player
GA
SA
Sv%
xGA
GSAx
David Rittich
2
39
94.9
3.56
1.56
Michael Hutchinson
1
22
95.5
1.63
0.63
(All Situations Data from Evolving Hockey)
A recurring and troubling theme this year has been the Flames’ reliance on incredible goaltending performances to win them hockey games. Combine this with their lack of 5v5 offence and you’ll see a troubling trend emerging.
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The Flames are, far too often, unable to give their heroic goaltenders even strength run support.
The tying goal was perhaps a lucky marker but, in the final analysis, you cannot give the Leafs’ that many high danger chances and not expect something to end up in your net.
Plenty has been made of the Lindholm empty net duff but I’ll hold up 40 minutes of getting dummied 5v5 as to why the Flames’ ultimately lost to a missed empty net shot everyday of the week.
I don’t know about you folks but as soon as I saw 13 and 23 pressuring that deep with Nylander and Matthews building speed I let out an audible “uh-oh.” Gio and Monahan get their wires crossed and it’s lights out. Tough one for Dave.
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Lack of offence

The Flames could not get much of anything going 5v5 or on the man advantage. The 5v5 issue has been an problem all season. It is hard to win many hockey games when only mustering nine total high danger scoring chances in 120+ minutes of hockey.
(Even Strength Data from Evolving Hockey)
Perhaps this means adjusting the breakout or perhaps Ward and co. figuring out how better manage the puck through the neutral zone. Adjustments need to be made as this team needs to spend more time in the offensive zone applying sustained pressure.
Tkachuk, specifically, needs to start generating more 5v5. I like the idea of keeping the lines consistent but the fact no trio can consistently produce 5v5 offensive results has me eyeing the notion of returning to old faithful 3M 2.0 and the Gaudreau, Monahan, Lindholm units.
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Perhaps wait it out a few more games but something to watch. This club cannot rely on great goaltending and power play goals if they want to get back into the playoff picture.
The power play needs some new looks. Adjusting the entry with multiple bump back options seemed to help the setup and control last night but I’d still like to see more seam passes and pucks getting to the slot.
So, back to the original proposition: take the points and run or are we concerned? I think the Flames can have their cake and eat it to so long as they really start getting to the bottom of their 5v5 struggles. It’s by no means a given but by banking a win and a loser point in Toronto they have set themselves up for a possible roll here. Don’t squander it.
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MOST IMPRESSIVE FLAME: David Rittich

Best player on the ice for 121 minutes and it rhymes (kind of) with Quidditch.

LEAST IMPRESSIVE FLAME: Mark Giordano 

Oof. A rough one for the captain at 5v5 (and his partner to be honest). He was on the ice for seven high danger chances against, made a pretty poor read on the game winning goal, and finished the night with a 21.58 xGF%. Okay, Andersson should be lumped in here as well as he got eaten alive: 8.13 xGF%, 23.68 CF%.
On to the battle of the Tkachuks.
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