Flames Weekly: Impressive Shutout Follows Shaky Season Opener

Flames Weekly is our new series on how the Calgary Flames performed 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 this past week or to post any other ideas or questions you have about the Flames.

After a shortened training camp that saw no exhibition games, the Flames finally dropped the puck on the 2020-21 NHL season on Thursday night in Winnipeg against the Jets. The Flames have been notoriously bad in season openers over the past decade, having not won one since 2009, but for the first 20 minutes, they looked like absolute world-beaters.

The Flames started the game with great energy and pushed a rusty-looking Jets squad back on their heels throughout the entire first frame. Matthew Tkachuk showcased his great hands when he opened the season, scoring with a fantastic tip of Rasmus Andersson’s point shot. The Jets tied the game immediately after a spectacular, sprawling effort by Winnipeg defenceman Derek Forbort, who stopped Andersson from scoring on an open net.

Despite the setback, the Flames kept coming, outshooting their opening night opponent 13-6 and potting two more goals by Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm to take an impressive 3-1 lead into the second period.

Flames’ Inability to Hold the Lead Haunts Them Again

What followed during the next 40 minutes probably had most Flames fans crying out, “here we go again,” as two very sloppy periods saw the team get outshot 26-13, get outplayed in every facet of the game, and once again, choke away a lead.

Head coach Geoff Ward also started juggling the lines, yanking Sam Bennett from his center role on the fourth line to play the wing alongside Mikael Backlund and Andrew Mangiapane. The move seemed to give both Bennett and the line a big jolt of energy, but it wasn’t nearly enough to turn the tide, as the Flames dropped their first game of the season 4-3 in overtime, falling to 0-9-2 in their last 11 openers.

Heading into Saturday night’s home opener at the Saddledome, the Flames could take some solace in the fact that their top guns all got on the score sheet and that Jacob Markstrom played a very solid game, including a spectacular save late in the third period that kept the game tied and ultimately secured a single point.

Former Canucks Help Flames Bounce Back in Home Opener

Not satisfied with the way they closed out a very up and down game one of the 2020-21 season, the Flames were hoping for a more consistent effort for the team’s home opener against the Vancouver Canucks. There was no shortage of compelling storylines for this matchup, as Flames’ newcomers Markstrom, Chris Tanev and Josh Leivo would all face their former teammates for the very first time.

Jacob Markstrom Calgary Flames
Jacob Markstrom, Calgary Flames (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

Power play goals in each period by Sean Monahan, Dillon Dube and Tkachuk gave the home team a lead that they would never relinquish, as Markstrom followed his solid season opener with a magnificent 32-save shutout, becoming just the third goalie in team history to register a shutout as his first career win for the club.

Tanev has also been a terrific addition to the Flames’ back end through the first two games, as the former Canuck showcased his elite shot-blocking ability, helping to kill off 81 seconds of a critical 5-on-3 when the Flames were clinging to a slim 1-0 lead.

The Week’s Winners and Losers

While the Flames only played twice this week, there is still a lot we can take away from the team’s first two contests.

  • Right off the bat, I have to say that the Flames’ power play has been simply terrific. After going 1/4 in game one and 3/6 in game two of the season, the team’s power play efficiency is currently sitting at 40% — very unsustainable but undeniably hot.
  • So far, Markstrom has looked like a legitimate no. 1 NHL goaltender — as advertised. Can he carry the team on his back like Flames’ great Miikka Kiprusoff if the offence dries up?
  • I know it’s a cliche, but to truly succeed this season, the team’s best players have to be their best players on a nightly basis. It’s very encouraging to see Tkachuk, Lindholm, Gaudreau and Monahan all find the back of the net. Early season success is especially crucial for “Johnny and Mony,” as both are desperately looking for bounce-back seasons.
  • Mangiapane and Dube are picking up right where they left off last season. Dube has looked great on the de facto first line with Tkachuk and Lindholm, while Mangiapane looks like he could become one of the team’s best two-way players.
  • New forwards Leivo, Dominick Simon and Joakim Nordstrom have yet to impress anyone. I know it’s only been a couple of games, but look for Leivo to be punted from the Monahan line sooner than later.
  • Derek Ryan was placed on waivers and moved to the taxi squad — only to start both games of the season and find himself right back at center after losing the spot to Bennett out of training camp. Go figure.
  • Milan Lucic has been struggling to start the season, failing to execute basic plays and making a really bad giveaway along the boards in the season opener that sparked the Jets’ comeback. Could he find himself relegated to the taxi squad if his game doesn’t round into form?

The Week Ahead

The Flames have been quite fortunate that their schedule has been spread out to start the 2020-21 campaign, unlike the Canucks, who played three games in four nights to start the season and looked tired on Saturday while falling to Calgary. Look for a better effort from a rested Vancouver squad as they face-off against the Flames for the second time in three days tonight at 7:00 MST.

After a rather lengthy five-day break, the Flames will finally resume action on Sunday for an afternoon matinee against the North division-leading Toronto Maple Leafs, who many pundits have picked to lead the pack of Canadian teams this 2020-21 season.

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