With the Calgary Flames mired in a four-game winless skid they were definitely in need of a spark, and it was Sam Bennett who provided just that in a badly needed 5-4 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Bennett set the tone with his feistiness by engaging in a spirited fight and also netted the game-winning goal. The triumph allowed the Flames to end a tough road trip on a high note and to carry some positive momentum into their upcoming homestand. It was also sweet revenge for a Calgary squad that endured a humiliating 9-1 home loss against the Penguins on Oct. 25.
For two clubs that don’t see much of one another it was a contest that featured plenty of animosity. Bennett has taken on the role of sheriff during the 2018-19 campaign and he doled out justice on Marcus Pettersson after the Penguins defenseman leveled Flames forward Austin Czarnik with a first-period hit. The immediate response was part of the nine penalty minutes Bennett racked up in raising his team-leading total to 81.
Bennett Embracing Unlikely Policeman Role
Bennett was selected fourth overall by the Flames during the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and there have definitely been some trying times during his stint with the organization. While never realizing his potential as a major offensive threat, he’s now evolved into a dependable player with a modest scoring punch to accompany the hands he’s shown this season in the fisticuffs department. At 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, Bennett isn’t necessarily the biggest dog in the fight, but he’s acquitted himself well in the battles that he’s had this season.
His teammates definitely appreciate Bennett’s efforts as there have been other games this season where his scrappy ways have been the catalyst the Flames needed. Another prime exhibit was a tilt that Bennett had with Ian Cole of the Colorado Avalanche back in November that provided the Flames with a rallying cry in a game they trailed 4-1 but went on to eventually win by a 6-5 count. Bennett stuck up for teammate Mark Jankowski after he was victimized by a Cole hit and the Flames were spurred on emotionally by the hostilities.
While the days of every NHL team having a true enforcer are gone, Bennett seems quite comfortable in shouldering a major load of those duties. He’s already surpassed a career-high in penalty minutes and has been involved in five bouts so far this season. That surprisingly puts him in a tie for second in the league, and interestingly enough, the Flames are 5-0 this season in games when he has dropped the gloves. It’s clear the club feeds off the energy he brings to the table when he’s at his most combative.
The durable 22-year-old is definitely one of the toughest Flames to play against for opposing teams with his physicality and he’s not one to take a shift off. Bennett incurred the wrath of the San Jose Sharks when he leveled Radim Simek with a devastating hit late in an 8-5 victory on Dec. 31. That incident has raised the temperature between two talented clubs currently battling it out for top spot in the Pacific Division and the Western Conference.
Bennett’s Offensive Contributions on the Upswing
Bennett struggled to start the season with just two goals in the first 20 games but has definitely raised his offensive profile in recent weeks. He’s found his scoring touch with his ability to drive to the net and has been a key contributor for the Flames on a second power-play unit that has finally started to find its way. He now has 11 goals, including four in his last 10 games, and 11 assists on the season. He’s already matched his goal tally from the entire 2017-18 season when he played all 82 games.
Bennett notched his second game-winner of the season against Pittsburgh and his fourth power-play marker as the Flames withstood a furious late-game rally to end their worst slide of the season. It was one of those contests in which Calgary’s depth featured prominently with the likes of Andrew Mangiapane, Travis Hamonic and Czarnik also hitting the scoresheet. It’s an encouraging sign moving forward to see the Flames get the job done in a contest in which the top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm were relatively quiet.
Bennett’s Game Appears Playoff Ready
As the Flames move further along into this stretch drive, there’s no doubt that it’ll be a case of needing all hands on deck. They simply can’t rely on the number one unit to save the day on a nightly basis and will need their secondary scorers to step-up. Bennett is the type of player they’ll need to excel when it comes to late-season productivity and intensity, and he’s definitely shown that he’s more than willing to embrace those responsibilities.
Bennett is in the final year of a two-year contract and has certainly raised his stock of late with his well-rounded contributions while enhancing his reputation as a heart-and-soul guy. The Flames may not have the hard-nosed reputation they had in days gone by, but Bennett is proving to be one of those exceptions as he thrives in a most unexpected role.