Flames Weekly looks at how the Calgary Flames performed in the previous week. Be sure to check in every Monday for our take on the week that was and to find out which storylines and players took center stage. Feel free to use the comment section below to let us know how you thought the team performed or to post any ideas or questions you have about the Flames.
I’ve been covering the Flames for a little under one year, but I find myself in uncharted territory. As the first month of the 2021-22 regular season wraps up, I’m actually finding it very difficult to find fault in this hockey team. To say this squad is firing on all cylinders would be a major understatement. This past week saw Calgary go 4-0, outscore their opponents 18-4 and extend their winning streak to six games. Not too shabby.
Markstrom Has Been Simply Magnificent
Before the season started, I wrote a piece that made three bold predictions that had to happen if the Flames were to have a successful 2021-22 campaign. Perhaps the most important prognostication of the three was that Jacob Markstrom had to return to elite form and become a Top five NHL goaltender. If early returns are any indication, the 6-foot-6 netminder is absolutely shattering those expectations.
This past week saw the 31-year-old puck stopper allow only one goal in four games while stopping every single shot that has come his way in the last 132 minutes. He’s already tied his season-high in shutouts with three in only six starts and here’s the kicker – Markstrom is the first Flames goalie with three shutouts in a four-game span. His performance has truly been one for the franchise record books.
With a goals-against average (GAA) of 1.33 and a save percentage (SV%) of .957, Markstrom is near the top of every goaltending category this season, and he certainly played like it in New York last Monday night, stopping 28 of 29 shots en route to a convincing 5-1 victory over the Rangers. The following night, head coach Darryl Sutter gave the big Swede the night off, but backup netminder Daniel Vladar also proved to be up to the task as he backstopped the Flames to a 5-3 win.
The Flames Have 2 Players Near the Top of the NHL Goal Scoring Race
Because Elias Lindholm has been one of the Flames most consistent players since he arrived in Calgary at the start of the 2018-19 season, I don’t think anyone is all that surprised by his strong start, but who in their right mind would have predicted Andrew Mangiapane would be currently tied for second in NHL goals behind Alex Ovechkin after the first month of the 2021-22 campaign? Not me, especially because the 5-foot-10 spark plug has been pulling off this incredible feat with significantly fewer even-strength minutes.
Mangiapane had a huge week, scoring twice in the Big Apple on Monday, then striking for two more in New Jersey the very next night. No. 88 has been playing on a line with Dillon Dube and Brett Ritchie, so his 5v5 time is among the lowest on the team, but that hasn’t stopped the sixth-round pick from creating great plays out of nothing, including this incredible effort against the Devils on Tuesday night.
Not to be outdone, Lindholm also has seven goals on the year, but he has the benefit of playing on a top line that has combined for 22 of the teams 61 points this season. He has also been skating alongside a red-hot Johnny Gaudreau, who not only has two goals in his past two games but also has nine assists on the year, which is good for second in the league and tied with Connor McDavid. If it wasn’t for the early-season heroics from Markstrom, I think Gaudreau would be a prime candidate for the team’s MVP.
Two Very Different 4-0 Wins Close Out the Week
The Flames wrapped up their busy five-game eastern conference road trip in Pittsburgh on Thursday to face a Penguins team that was missing key players Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. That didn’t seem to matter, as a tired Flames squad faced wave after wave of scoring opportunities from the peppy Pens, so they leaned heavily on their extremely hot goalie to bail them out. Markstrom faced a season-high 45 shots, but stopped every one of them, including this candidate for save of the year.
When a team prides themselves on playing a defence-first, “Sutter-style” of hockey, it was a bit disconcerting to see that barrage of shots and quality scoring chances on Thursday, but after coming home to the dome to close out the week against the visiting Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night, the Flames rebounded with a tight-checking game that limited the visitors to only four shots in the first period and five the second en route to another convincing 4-0 victory.
The Week’s Winners and Losers
The Flames just finished their busiest stretch of the season with four games in the last seven days, so we’ve got a lot more to unpack this week. It’s time to decide who made the biggest impression – positive or negative.
- Oliver Kylington reached an NHL milestone with past week when he suited up for his 100th career game, which sounds crazy because I keep forgetting that the smooth-skating Swede actually made his Flames debut way back in the 2015-16 season. He’s been bouncing back and forth between the big club and the minors for five years, but I have a feeling the 24-year-old may have found a permanent home in Calgary playing on the second pairing with Chris Tanev.
- Speaking of the Flames ever-rotating D-core, the guy who Kylington bounced from the starting roster found his way back into the lineup on Saturday night. Nikita Zadorov was slotted back in, squeezing out 23-year-old Juuso Välimäki and playing on the third pairing with Erik Gudbranson. At 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-5 respectively, the duo of Zadorov and Gudbranson were probably the largest defensive pairing I’ve ever seen and as much as I’ve complained about those two, they actually played a very solid game.
- Sean Monahan is coming off a couple of very down years, and has struggled to recapture the form that saw him score 34 goals in 2018-19. After going pointless in his first five games of the season, the former top line center now has three points in his last three games, including a nice power play marker on Saturday night. While all of his points have come on the PP, his head coach has been applauding his overall effort: “He’s been awesome. He’s got a great attitude and works hard,” said Sutter. “I’ve said it many times in the dressing room – it’s not a top-heavy lineup for us. You’ve got to spread it out and everyone’s got to accept their role and go from there.”
- Backup goalie Daniel Vladar had his second start of the season on Tuesday and secured a 5-3 victory over the Devils. While the 24-year-old Czech hasn’t been spectacular, the rookie netminder has been very solid and already has two wins in the first month of the season. Let’s compare that to last year, when backup David Rittich didn’t record his first win until the Flames’ nineteenth game of the 2020-21 campaign, which was over a third of the entire season. Has Calgary finally found a truly reliable duo between the pipes?
- I’ve often referred to veteran Flames’ defenceman Michael Stone as a bad penny that keeps turning up no matter how hard you try and get rid of it. After Calgary bought out his contract after the end of the 2018-19 season, they keep on bringing him back on one-year deals. The 31-year-old rearguard suited up 33 times in 2019-20, 21 times during the Covid-shortened 2020-21 campaign and just made his season debut on Thursday night against the Penguins, logging a respectable 17:44 of ice time. I’ve learned to never count this guy out.
- Despite leading the Pacific Division and going 6-1-1 to start the season, the Flames are still being linked with a potential Jack Eichel trade. My big question is: WHY? Calgary is the hottest team in the NHL right now, and to make a blockbuster trade work, the team would have to part ways with a big-time player like Matthew Tkachuk, Gaudreau or Monahan. Then, you’d probably have to say goodbye to Dube, Mangiapane or Välimäki. Does any of this make sense? If the Flames start to really falter as the season unfolds and if Eichel is still available, then maybe I can see it. But right now? No way.
The Week Ahead
The Flames are set for another busy week as they start a four-game home stand at the Scotiabank Saddledome. They entertain the Nashville Predators tomorrow night, the Dallas Stars on Thursday and finish up the week hosting the New York Rangers on Saturday. Calgary hasn’t lost a game in regulation since their season opener in Edmonton on October 16, so they are currently riding a 7-game point streak and a 6-game winning streak.
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Greg Tysowski is a former broadcast journalist who chose the exciting life of a stay-at-home dad for over a decade. He’s now a published author, parenting blogger and aspiring sports writer covering the Calgary Flames for The Hockey Writers. Greg is also a regular contributor to the weekly roundtable discussion “Flames Faceoff”, now streaming on YouTube and all podcast outlets.