Since taking over as head coach of the Calgary Flames, Darryl Sutter still has yet to lose after his team improved their record under his watch to 3-0-0 with a win over the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night. Sutter has been very adamant about changing the team’s consistency level, and so far, it appears they’ve turned over a new leaf. The Flames have yet to trail in a game since Sutter took over, and even when the Oilers erased a 3-1 deficit and looked to control all of the momentum, Flames’ speedy, young defenseman Noah Hanifin had the answer to the opposition’s new-found life.
Shutting Down the Captain
The Flames entered the Saddledome on Monday looking for revenge following three-straight defeats coming at the hands of the Oilers. Prior to the game, the Flames trailed the season series 3-1, including a 7-1 loss on Feb. 20, where Connor McDavid racked up five points as well as a hat-trick. McDavid has without a doubt been difficult for the Flames to contend with at times, as he has 11 points in five meetings this season. Sutter knew that the focus needed to be on slowing McDavid down, as he had this to say before the big tilt. “He’s head and shoulders the best player in the league, so, I don’t think there’s one player that stops Connor McDavid. (He’s) a tough guy to stop, you just slow him down within the rules and limit his chances.”
Sutter’s under-construction group got to work against Edmonton’s captain Monday, as he was held to one assist and three shots, despite receiving 25:52 of ice time. For what it’s worth, too, McDavid was a minus-3, as the Flames combatted hard against his daunting offensive abilities by playing with structure, and believing in the process from the drop of the puck. The Flames did a fairly solid job limiting the Oilers’ high-danger chances, and a big thank you from all Flames players should be going out to Hanifin after his work-horse style game.
After going 44 games without a goal, Hanifin has now found the back of the net three times in his last five matches, and he couldn’t have picked a better time to confidently jump up into the play than when he did against the Oilers. After the momentum had clearly swung in Edmonton’s favour following their third-period equalizer from Leon Draisaitl, Hanifin and the Flames chose not to let what happened the last time these two teams met, happen again.
Just 67 seconds after Draisaitl’s goal, one that would have likely deflated the Flames in the past, they found the precious lead again. Hanifin forced a turnover by snatching the puck out of the reach of Jesse Puljujarvi in front of Jacob Markstrom’s net, and sent the puck up ice, but what he didn’t know is that the puck was coming right back to his stick. As the Flames rushed up the ice following the turnover, Mikael Backlund produced a nifty feed to Andrew Mangiapane who was positioned in the left faceoff circle. He would then find Hanifin all alone in the high slot, and the six-year NHL blueliner made no mistake on Mike Smith. The goal for Hanifin and the Flames would be just enough to stop the Oilers from taking over the game – a game in which they looked to do so after appearing like the better team in the third period, as well as late in the second frame.
Hanifin not only scored a crucial game-winner that saw the Flames improve to 12-0-0 when leading after two periods this season, but overall, he had himself an outstanding night and was named the game’s third star. Not too often we see him on the top power-play unit, but twice in the third period Sutter gave Hanifin the opportunity, and that’s got to be big for the young defensemen’s confidence as he finds his comfort zone. “I think I’m just getting more comfortable. It’s been a fast six years and I’ve learned a lot over those past six years, and having a guy like Taney (Tanev) come in just to play with him he’s made my life a lot easier and he’s allowed me to take another step and be more reliable in certain situations” said Hanifin during his post-game presser.
Prepare for Battle
The Flames and Oilers will do it all again on Wednesday, but I expect a much hungrier effort from Edmonton in the rematch. The Flames are five points behind their rivals to the north, while the Oilers have played two more games than Calgary. Hanifin has taken great steps of progression each season he’s been in the NHL, and will likely be rewarded again on Wednesday with steady ice-time. He logged 24:58 of ice-time Monday, and in his 29 games played this year, he has three goals, three assists, and is also a plus-six.
Some had him chalked to be the frontrunner of any Flames trade talk this season, but Hanifin has very quickly silenced the critics with his play of late. Now that he is playing on a pairing with Tanev, the duo has been considered elite, as it took them eight games to be scored on against at even-strength. They also have a combined 10 points together, and are a combined plus-11. Look for Hanifin’s role and responsibilities to develop as he matures into the illustrious player this team thinks he can be. (From ‘They’ve been playing great’: Hanifin, Tanev form rock-solid defensive duo for Flames, Calgary Sun, 02/02/21)
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