In the first game of his second stint as head coach of the Calgary Flames, Darryl Sutter was successful. Sutter and the Flames took down the Montreal Canadiens 2-1, and despite some adjustments that need to be made heading into their rematch on Saturday, the Flames finally played a good systems game altogether.
The Canadiens registered a season-low 18 shots on goal, and that number would also be the lowest number of shots the Flames have given up all season. Defensively, the Flames had good structure, and their goaltending was exactly as expected, but the most noticeable difference to me was the work of the 4th line, and more specifically, Sam Bennett while playing under a new head coach.
Finding His Role
The news of a new coach coming to Calgary last week may have been music to Bennett’s ears, and hopefully, for Flames fans, it gives him a change of heart. It’s unknown how long he’ll remain a Flame after news broke earlier this season, he would like to be dealt to another club, but with Sutter behind the bench now, that’s the type of coach that can get Bennett back into his playoff-form that Flames fans idolized last season. For those that have forgotten, Bennett registered eight points in 10 playoff games last season and would also be a plus-4.
For Sutter and Bennett, the early hopes of a match made in heaven came to fruition against a team that had points in six consecutive games. Bennett added two assists on both Calgary goals, and his line would combine for six points. It must have felt rewarding for Josh Leivo, who had his first two-goal game as a Flame and looks to have finally found his scoring touch of late, with three goals in four games. Leivo struggled early on, but under a new coach who demands more, he could also see his numbers change.
Derek Ryan has been excellent since his return from injury too, so if he can get chemistry going with Bennett and Leivo like they did so well under their first assignment from Sutter on Thursday, then the Flames may have finally found a solution to their fourth line problems, and that might give Bennett more of a desire to stay in Calgary.
No Easy Task
Their next task will be no easy feat, as the Canadiens will be looking to further their lead in the standings over the Flames, which is currently a four-point cushion. It is unknown who will get the start for the Habs in net in Saturday’s rematch, but both Jake Allen and Carey Price have been solid options for them in the crease. Allen has a .922 save percentage, while Price, a former Vezina Trophy winner, has a .906.
Sutter has and will continue to coach the Flames to be a team that finishes their checks and plays hard defensively. At times, this can translate into low-scoring games, just as it did in their last, so for a player like Bennett, he’ll need to make his presence known by playing physical hockey, as well as driving the net when he can.
He reminded us all, and maybe even himself again, just how rewarding it is to go to the net because it paid dividends for himself against a strong Canadiens team who will be seeking vengeance the next time these two teams face. Bennett may have been a scratch last week under former head coach Geoff Ward, but Sutter must be pleased with a player like him on his roster, as he suits the style Sutter expects.
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