The month of February was one to forget for the Calgary Flames. In fact, it feels somewhat surprising that they were able to escape it with a 7-7-1 record, as it certainly felt worse at times. The inconsistencies that arose this month have caused the rumor mills to really get swirling in Calgary, the biggest of the bunch being that this team may soon be completely blowing things up. While that isn’t something that is likely to happen during the regular season, it certainly could this upcoming offseason if they aren’t soon able to turn things around.
As it stands now, the Flames are on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs, as they sit behind the Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets, and the Montreal Canadiens, who own the fourth and final playoff spot with 23 points. The Flames sit just one back with 22 points but have played two more games than Montreal. The good news here is that the Habs are in a major downward spiral after a red hot start to the season, as Saturday night’s loss to the Jets marked five straight.
Despite the fairly disappointing month, there were players who impressed and played a major role in the 15 points the Flames were able to pick up. Here are the top three performers of February:
3. David Rittich
While some may question this selection right off the hop, hear me out. When the Flames announced on Feb. 22 that Jacob Markstrom was day-to-day with an upper-body injury, the city of Calgary went into panic mode as the 31-year-old has been arguably the team’s best player this season. It also meant that Rittich, who had seen very little action to that point, was going to need to be at his best.
Thankfully for the Flames, Rittich was just that early on with two incredible games against the Maple Leafs in which he stopped 71 of 73 shots and helped his team pick up three of four points. Unfortunately, inconsistency, which has plagued “Big Save Dave” throughout his 124 game NHL career came into effect the following game against the Ottawa Senators. The Czech netminder was pulled after allowing four goals on 20 shots, one of which was from center ice. Head coach Geoff Ward still elected to go back to him versus the same Sens two nights later and he was able to bounce back, stopping 31 of 34 shots in a 6-3 win.
Though it wasn’t perfect, Rittich for the most part was able to give his team a chance to win. Through eight games (six starts) in February, he posted a 2.58 goals-against average (GAA) along with a .917 save percentage (SV%). For comparison’s sake, Markstrom played nine games this month and had a much less impressive 3.37 GAA and a .896 SV%. Whenever the latter is able to return, he will once again be the team’s starting goaltender, but for the time being Rittich should continue to provide solid play.
2. Chris Tanev
When the Flames announced the signing of Tanev, many questioned the move by Brad Treliving. Everyone knew that the 31-year-old was a solid shutdown defender, but were quite concerned given his lengthy injury history as the veteran has played in 70 games just once throughout his lengthy NHL career.
Well, so far so good on the injury front. Even better is that while fans knew he was good, I’m not sure anybody expected him to be as impressive as he has to this point in the season. Tanev had a terrific January and continued that right on through February, being without a doubt the team’s best player on the back end. While he doesn’t have the offensive skill of other blueliners on this team with just one goal and three assists, he makes up for it in many other aspects of his game.
Currently, Tanev’s average of 3:25 minutes per game on the penalty kill leads all Flames skaters, while his 17:42 per game at even strength is second, trailing only Noah Hanifin. Even more impressive is that despite being the second-highest defender in defensive zone draws this season, he is just one of two on the back end that is a plus player. Early on, he is more than living up to his $4.5 million cap hit.
1. Andrew Mangiapane
After a breakout 2019-20 season in which he scored 17 goals and 32 points, fans expected Mangiapane to not only maintain those totals but build off them this year. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case early on as the 24-year-old was held without a goal through the month of January and had just one assist. His season has turned around in a big way this past month however, as he has scored eight goals and 11 points through his last 15 games.
With the big month, Mangiapane now sits just one goal back of Johnny Gaudreau for the team lead. What makes this even more impressive is that he is seeing limited time on the power play with an average of just 1:54 per game. He was recently reunited on a line with Matthew Tkachuk and Mikael Backlund who he has had success with in the past, so it’s reasonable to expect the goals to continue.
It is clear just how the Flames relied on Mangiapane this month, as he recorded at least a point in five of their seven wins. The hope now is that some of the Flames’ top players in Gaudreau, Tkachuk, and Sean Monahan, are able to play to the level they are capable of. If they are, and Mangiapane is able to keep scoring, this team could very soon go on a run and erase all the current doubts of its fanbase.
Former Jr. A player turned writer. Cover both the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers, and am part of both the Flames Faceoff and Oilers Overtime podcasts.