With a whopping three Eastern road trips, the month of February loomed as an extremely travel-heavy one for the Calgary Flames and, fortunately, they proved up to the challenge. The Flames wound up excelling in the role of road warriors by wrapping up their latest journey with a hard-fought 2-1 triumph over the New Jersey Devils. The result allowed the road-weary Flames to produce a perfect three-for-three trip at one of the most pivotal points of the 2018-19 season.
The Flames are now on a season-high, seven-game win streak and as a result enjoy a comfortable seven-point cushion over the San Jose Sharks atop both the Pacific Division and Western Conference standings. Their recent hot stretch has them sitting with an outstanding record of 41-16-7.
This group has been quick to reaffirm the faith shown in them by top brass who, outside out of a depth move, opted to stand pat at the trade deadline, despite all of the rumors associated with Calgary. They’ve gone 2-0 since the deadline passed and proved their ability to win tight-checking affairs.
Flames Tighten Defensively
The Flames have enjoyed taking the front-runner approach of late in netting the first goal in their last four road contests dating back to a Feb. 16 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins rather than rely on the come-from-behind magic that was their calling card earlier in the season. David Rittich performed admirably between the pipes in turning aside 19 of 20 shots in securing the win against the Devils.
Unlike the previous couple of road junkets, the Flames found success in three consecutive low-scoring games. They kicked things off by besting the Ottawa Senators by a 2-1 count and also got past the Metropolitan Division leading New York Islanders for the second time in less than a week by a 3-1 margin. During this latest trip, the Flames substantially cut down on the scoring chances against. They allowed only 70 shots in total in the three games and were especially strong in their five-on-five play.
The Flames’ home ice heroics have featured a number of wildly entertaining games that included plenty of goals and some remarkable rallies by the home side. However, the flash-and-dash, entertaining brand of hockey wasn’t evident during their most recent road success. There’s definitely nothing wrong with that as, after all, you don’t get extra points for victories that have a higher entertainment value associated with them.
Rittich & Smith Flashing Fine Form
Rittich’s latest performance against New Jersey was an encouraging sign as ‘Big Save Dave’ appears to be back on track after going through his toughest stretch of the season. While he wasn’t busy in the first 40 minutes, Rittich came up big in the final frame and made some critical saves when the Flames were a man down. He has the confident look of a netminder ready for his first shot at NHL postseason action. Rittich rebounded with back-to-back victories on the recent trip and is a stellar 22-5-5 during this breakout campaign with a 2.56 goals-against average.
Seasoned veteran Mike Smith is going through one of his finest stretches of the season and is 5-0-1 in his last six outings. He turned aside 26 of 27 shots in the Flames’ triumph over the Islanders and is showing glimpses of the type of play that garnered him an All-Star Game invitation last season. Smith has matched Rittich in allowing just two goals in his last two appearances while making a total of 51 saves in the process.
The Flames are a stellar 21-11-2 record away from the friendly confines of the Scotiabank Saddledome, and they’ve looked much more comfortable in staying away from the types of high-scoring shootouts that have been a regular occurrence at home. Calgary’s allowed two goals or less in 20 of their 34 road engagements this season thanks to the solid netminding from both Smith and Rittich, and are quite content slogging through and winning those 2-1, 3-1 contests while keeping the opposing crowd quiet in the process.
Giordano, Depth and Penalty Kill Prove Major Keys
Flames captain Mark Giordano continued his brilliant season by hitting the 60-point plateau in netting the game-winning goal against the Devils. He joined an exclusive, elite group in hitting that target as a 35-or-older blueliner. Giordano sets the tone on a game-by-game basis with his compete level and skill, and is making a tremendous case to be a potential Norris Trophy winner as the league’s top defenseman.
While the top line showed some life on the recent trip, the Flames are proving to have much more of an offensive arsenal than just Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm. Mikael Backlund is playing some of his best hockey of the season and netted a pair of goals on the latest trip as he continues his pursuit of a 20-goal season. Austin Czarnik netted the game-winner in Ottawa and added a helper against the Islanders as the depth has shone through of late.
After allowing three power-play goals in the 5-4 victory over the Penguins, the Flames’ penalty kill was flawless on this recent road trip in killing off all nine short-handed situations against them. While the power play isn’t clicking at a desired rate of late, it did produce goals from Matthew Tkachuk and Lindholm during the three-game trek.
Flames’ Road Schedule Greatly Reduced in March
With a home heavy schedule in March, there’s a growing sense of optimism that the Flames can hang on to their lead atop the Pacific Division. After playing 13 games in 27 days and logging thousands of air miles in February, they’ll undoubtedly welcome playing 10 of their next 15 contests on home ice where they have an excellent 20-5-5 record.
The Flames are the only team, other than the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning, to secure 20 road victories this season. They went 5-2-2 during a difficult February on the road and an impressive 8-3-2 overall. Any die-hard Flames fan would’ve gladly taken those results heading into the month.
Calgary’s emphasis on strong defensive play, their depth and solid goaltending were on full display in their grinding recent road trip. It appears as though the group is getting into playoff mode preparing themselves for what lies ahead when the physical battles and intensity levels ramp up and the goal-scoring tends to decline. The Flames have plenty of confidence whether it be on the road or at home and at this stage of the season that’s extremely encouraging.
Have loved sports since an early age as both a fan and a participant and eventually was fortunate enough to get into the Sports Radio business. The highlight of my career was being part of Calgary Flames broadcasts at Sportsnet 960 The Fan during their run to the 2004 Stanley Cup Final. I was an on-air personality from 2001 to 2012 at the station and had the pleasure of covering many a game at the Saddledome over that period. In the last few years I’ve transitioned to sports writing and have been an NHL contributor for RantSports.com and most recently a UFC writer for Today’sKnockout.com.