The second week of the 2020-21 season was a bit of a strange one for the Calgary Flames, who kicked it off with a Monday-night game versus the Vancouver Canucks and didn’t play again until last night versus the Toronto Maple Leafs. Though Flames’ fans didn’t see much of their team last week, every other team in the North Division was quite busy, none more so than the Winnipeg Jets, who suited up for five contests.
The week got off to a great start for the Flames, who defeated the struggling Canucks 5-2. Unfortunately, the time off meant they couldn’t carry that momentum into yesterday’s game versus the Maple Leafs, and despite a hard-fought contest they didn’t come out of it with a point in a 3-2 loss. Still, it marked just the first regulation loss of the season for the Flames, who are off to a solid start thanks to great play in a number of areas.
Bounce Back Seasons
At this point in the 2020-21 season, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Elias Lindholm all look better than they did at any point last year. The 27-year-old Gaudreau got his team on the board against the Canucks, scoring the Flames’ first goal in the second period to tie the game up. He also registered an assist on a Lindholm tally later that period to put the Flames up 3-1. Monahan had an assist on Gaudreau’s goal as well as Rasmus Andersson’s empty-netter with just 55 seconds remaining.
All three players also hit the scoresheet in the loss to the Maple Leafs, as Gaudreau had an assist on a Monahan goal to tie the game up at one, while Lindholm had the primary assist on a Matthew Tkachuk goal in the third period to cut Toronto’s lead to 3-2. Despite the outcome, it is great that all three are off to a fantastic start, and is reminiscent of their outstanding 2019-20 season. Through four games played, all three are tied for the team lead in scoring with five points.
What a Goalie
Another bright spot for the Flames is goaltender Jacob Markstrom, who has looked every bit as good as the team hoped for when they gave him a six-year, $36 million contract this offseason. He kicked off the week playing in just his second-ever game against his former team, and while he wasn’t able to get the shutout as he did two nights before, he stopped 25 of 27 shots he faced.
Although last night’s game was his first regulation loss in a Flames uniform, Markstrom played well again, allowing three goals on 32 shots. It was an extremely frustrating night for the Swedish netminder as all three of the Maple Leafs’ goals bounced off his teammates before hitting the back of the net. Still, he kept his composure and made several ten bell saves down the stretch. Through four games, he has a 2.26 goals-against average (GAA) and a .928 save percentage (SV%).
Tough Schedule Upcoming
This week will be slightly busier for the Flames, but they still have it pretty good with three games over seven days, starting tomorrow night when they face Toronto again. It won’t be an easy contest, as many considered the Maple Leafs to be the best team in the North Division before the season started. Last night’s game was a back-and-forth tilt, however, which shows that the Flames are capable of beating them in what should be another exciting game.
The other two games on Calgary’s schedule are on Thursday and Saturday night when the Flames have the tough task of taking on the red-hot Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens are off to a fantastic 4-0-2 start to lead the North Division with 10 points. Leading the charge is newcomer Tyler Toffoli, who has five goals and eight assists in six games. The Canadiens have outscored their opponent 29 to 17 this season, including their most recent game, when they defeated the Canucks 5-2 on Saturday night.
Heading into these two games, the Flames can benefit from the fact that goaltender Carey Price has not been his usual self in net. In four games played, the 33-year-old has a 3.14 GAA and a .893 SV%. Flames head coach Geoff Ward will need to make sure his team is aware of this and tests the veteran netminder early and often, as the rest of the Montreal roster seems to be playing with full confidence right now.
So Far So Good
It has been a solid start to the season for the Flames who have a 2-1-1 record. Though they are outside of a playoff spot in their division at the moment, they only trail the fourth-place Edmonton Oilers by one point, despite playing in three fewer games.
Many had this team pencilled in for the playoffs before the season, and all signs to this point indicate that was the correct call. If some of the team’s top forwards in Gaudreau, Monahan and Lindholm can keep up their hot start, the Flames will compete for the top spot in the All-Canadian division all season.