Flames Need More Against Maple Leafs

Despite coming away with a 4-3 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday, the Calgary Flames likely aren’t satisfied with their overall effort. The Flames did well at keeping up with the top team in the North Division, but the Leafs are a desperate team right now. They have just one win in their previous seven contests, and goaltending consistency has been an issue of late. (From ‘Andersen struggles, Maple Leafs lose to Flames,’ Toronto Sun, 03/19/21)

The Flames were outshot 8-2 in the third period, and 27-18 overall. I felt they did a decent job holding the Leafs’ top-scorers to the outside, and the Flames leading the blocked-shots department 29-7 definitely depicts that, but Calgary needs to work on their time of possession. Too often on Friday, Jacob Markstrom and the Flames were left chasing the puck in their own zone, so they’ll need to make some adjustments for Saturday’s rematch.

Playing With a Lead

The Flames improved to 13-0-0 when heading into the third period with a lead this year, but playing on top was something they struggled to do against the Leafs. Calgary jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period courtesy of goals from Matthew Tkachuk, who picked up his eighth tally of the season, while Derek Ryan deposited his second. The first period saw five goals total, and the Flames led the Leafs 3-2 heading into the second.

Calgary Flames' Matthew Tkachuk
Calgary Flames’ Matthew Tkachuk (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)

Just 3:48 into the second frame, Calgary’s lead was erased as Mitch Marner wired a shot past Markstrom. What wasn’t erased from the Flames, though, was their ability to fight for one another. Leafs defenseman Justin Holl took a run at Flames’ star forward Johnny Gaudreau, and that didn’t sit well with Tkachuk. Following the game, Tkachuk was asked about the hit by Sportnet’s Eric Francis, and the type of message he was sending by fighting. “Don’t touch Johnny…I don’t think a lot of guys liked the hit,” Tkachuk said. Holl and Tkachuk did battle, but it was the Flames who found a burst of life via the physical spark.

Just over two minutes after Holl and Tkachuk’s spirited tilt, Mark Giordano placed a perfect shot past Andersen on the power play, and that would give the Flames a 4-3 cushion. The goal also happened to be his 50th power-play goal as a Flame, and only Al MacInnis, Gary Suter, and Paul Reinhart have more power-play goals while playing the blue line as members of that same team. The Flames were heavily tested for the duration of the game following Giordano’s game-winning goal, as the Leafs hammered the opposition with zone-time and pretty passing plays, but Markstrom and his team had all the answers. No doubt, the Flames need to execute their game more safely while playing with a lead, but last night they managed to hold on, and now sit two points back of the Montreal Canadiens for the final playoff spot.

Positive Takeaways

Sure, the shots and time of possession were both won by the Maple Leafs, but Darryl Sutter’s group appeared to be invested in each other, and managed to win a game where they were severely outplayed for most of the action. Sometimes, the victories against the top teams that your team had no business beating can be all that a team requires to get things trending in a positive direction. The Flames’ penalty-killing unit also deserves credit, as they went 3-for-3 and were responsible for shutting down the likes of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and William Nylander just to name a few.

Sutter was honest in his assessment of the way his team played against a tough team. “Obviously they’re going to get scoring chances on their power play, and off their cycle and with the skill they have, but I thought overall it was not a track meet game at all. I think we have a team that can play together and if we just eliminate mistakes in our game and stay out of the penalty box, we can play with them” said Sutter.

Darryl Sutter
The man with the faces who just wins in the playoffs. (Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE)

It was almost inevitable that the Leafs were going to tie Friday night’s thrilling affair, but Calgary stuck to their game and ground out two critical points instead. It is likely that if Jack Campbell is healthy enough following his lower-body injury, he will be getting the crease-call on Saturday’s game for the Leafs, while Calgary will likely go to David Rittich. This is standard procedure on back-to-back games, but it’s something Calgary will need to prepare for. The Leafs have lost three straight and are looking for a spark, so the Flames will need to tweak their game.


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