Flames Weekly: Lucic’s Power Five, Shootout Success, Vegas Curse

Flames Weekly looks at how the Calgary Flames performed in the previous week. Be sure to check in every Monday for my 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 me know how you thought the team performed or post any ideas or questions about the Flames.

Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau Calgary Flames Weekly

The boys in red didn’t have much time to enjoy the friendly confines of the Scotiabank Saddledome before hitting the road yet again for a western swing that would put their league-leading away record to the test. The week started with an impressive home win over Sid the Kid and company and it just kept rolling in California with back-to-back victories in Los Angeles and Anaheim. Their final stop was in Sin City, where the Flames’ eight-game road point streak was derailed by the Vegas Golden Knights.

Flames Close Out 3-Game Homestand With Shootout Win Over Penguins

In past Flames Weekly columns, I’ve voiced my concerns about Calgary’s lack of secondary scoring. Last Monday night, however, the boys in red found a way to win without any contributions from their top four snipers Andrew Mangiapane, Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm. Instead, the home team leaned heavily on a big galoot who’s having a surprisingly strong start to the season: 33-year-old Milan Lucic.

Related: Lucic’s Hot Start Helping Flames Keep Pace in Western Conference

Lucic gave the Flames the lead midway through the second period after he chipped a stretch pass from Oliver Kylington past a Penguins defender, rumbled along the boards and fired a hard wrister right through Tristan Jarry. It was the big man’s third “five-hole” goal of the year, something he’s actually becoming known for. When the dust settled after 60 minutes, it was the only regulation goal the home squad needed. Pittsburgh’s Jake Guentzel scored midway through the third to send the game to extra time, but ultimately this game required a seven-round shootout… and a hero to step up. Enter Mikael Backlund.

While the 32-year-old Swede does have one career penalty shot goal to his name, this was his first successful shootout marker after seven failed attempts during his 13-season tenure in Calgary. It also offered some redemption for the Flames’ center, as Backlund’s untimely (and dumb) third-period penalty led directly to the Penguin’s tying goal. Make the final a very entertaining 2-1 victory for the good guys.

Flames Win Back-to-Back Nights in California

While it seemed like the Flames just finished a massive seven-game roadie, the boys in red once again found themselves the visiting squad on Thursday night in Los Angeles. Both head coach Darryl Sutter and new Flame Trevor Lewis received a warm welcome in the barn where they won two Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014. But, the locals weren’t too pleased after Calgary erased an early 1-0 deficit, then took the lead into the second period after power-play goals from two red hot forwards: Mangiapane and Lucic.

Every time the Flames face off against the Kings, there’s always a feisty display of the bad blood between Tkachuk and Drew Doughty. The two fierce competitors battled hard all night and mixed it up after the whistle more than once, so it was very fitting that Calgary’s super-pest scored the eventual game-winner using L.A.’s Doughty as a screen early in the second frame. The visitors would take a razor-thin 3-2 lead into the third and despite being outshot 42-32 overall, they would hold on to secure their league-leading 10th road victory of the season.

Related: Flames’ Coleman Struggling to Establish Offensive Game

Heading into the second half of the back-to-back, the Flames’ coaching staff put the bottom nine forward lines into the blender, hoping to boost secondary scoring and jumpstart some of the players off to a slow start. Both Sean Monahan and splashy offseason signing Blake Coleman are struggling mightily to find the back of the net this year, so on Friday night they found themselves on a brand new line with Lewis, and the results were surprisingly productive. Coleman hadn’t scored in 16 straight games, so when the gritty winger tied up the game 1-1 early in the second period, the relief on his face was palpable.

Meanwhile, Monahan had yet to score an even-strength marker all season, but that also changed at the Honda Center after he potted just his third goal of the year, giving Calgary a 3-1 cushion. After the dust settled, the new-look third line of Monahan-Coleman-Lewis had an impressive five-point night and was easily the Flames’ best unit. Meanwhile, the Ducks showed some moxie by knotting up the score 3-3 in the third but a rather listless extra frame that didn’t solve anything, the visitors found themselves going to their second shootout of the week.

Related: Flames Have the Best Goaltending Duo in the NHL

Dan Vladar got the start between the pipes, played another solid game and was perfect in his first-ever NHL shootout, stoning both Trevor Zegras and Kevin Shattenkirk. Meanwhile, Gaudreau and Tkachuk stepped up for the Flames, both scoring on the Ducks’ netminder John Gibson to secure the 4-3 victory. Vladar continues to impress this season, and with a sterling 5-0-1 record, the 24-year-old Czech has yet to lose in regulation. I don’t think you could ask for much more from a backup goalie.

The Curse That Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas

The victory in Anaheim was the team’s third in a row after breaking the “Honda Center curse” in October 2017. Before snapping out of that atrocious stretch of hockey, Calgary had lost an incredible 29 straight in that building. But lo and behold, the boys in red-faced yet another vexation they really wanted to lay to rest when they arrived in Las Vegas. Heading into last night’s contest against the Golden Knights, the Flames had failed to win a single game at T-mobile Arena, going 0-6-0 since Vegas came into the league. After a mostly flat effort in the desert, you can make that 0-7-0.

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The Flames looked disjointed for much of this game, playing sloppy hockey and having trouble breaking out of their zone. Vegas’ Max Pacioretty opened the scoring on a nifty 2-on-1 late in the first frame, and that marker would hold up until the third period. That’s when things finally got interesting in the city that never sleeps. After going down 2-0 early in the third, the boys in red finally woke up after Lindholm tipped a point shot past Robin Lehner at the nine-minute mark.

Vegas answered almost immediately, going up 3-1 but I have to give the visiting squad a lot of props. They never gave up, pressed hard in the final frame and closed the gap to one goal when Mangiapane (who else?) potted his 16th road goal of the season with six attackers on the ice. In the dying moments of the game, Tkachuk would hit the crossbar but in the end, it was too little, too late. The Vegas curse lives to see another day.

The Week’s Winners and Losers

It was yet another busy week where the Flames played four times in seven days, so there’s no shortage of storylines as the team wrapped up a mini three-game homestand and began a big Western conference road trip. There is a lot to unpack, so let’s get to it and decide who made the biggest impressions – positive or negative.

  • The Juuso Välimäki saga took another twist this past week. Somehow, the Flames just figured out that the 23-year old D-man doesn’t have to clear waivers to be sent to the American Hockey League, so they did just that on Thursday afternoon. Välimäki has only played eight games so far and has been a healthy scratch 14 times, something that didn’t sit very well with him. Here’s hoping the young and talented Finn will play a ton of minutes in Stockton and regain some of the missing confidence that has kept him out of the lineup this season.
  • I alluded to this earlier in this week’s column, but it bears repeating. Lucic is becoming somewhat of a five-hole goal-scoring savant. Four of the big man’s seven markers this season have found their way to the back of net between the goaltender’s pads. When asked about it after Calgary’s big win in Los Angeles, the big galoot’s response actually made a lot of sense. “It’s a high percentage shot. If you miss, it’s off the pads and it stays alive. You get what I’m trying to say? Rather than the ones that go in the glove or all that type of stuff. It just seems to be working. And if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” GO POWER FIVE.
  • Mangiapane has been saddled with the obvious nickname of “Bread Man” for a while now, but after his incredible start to his 2021-22 season, I think the 25-year-old winger should be called the “Road Warrior” instead. On Thursday night, the fourth-year Flame scored his 15th road goal of the season in 14 games played (GP). Only two other active players have ever reached the mark in 14 games or fewer: Patrik Laine (10 GP in 2018-19) and Alex Ovechkin (14 GP in 2019-20). It’s hard to believe the Road Warrior still only has ONE goal at the Scotiabank Saddledome this year.
  • The Flames have been absolute beasts on the road this season, leading the NHL in almost every category. Not only is their 11-3-2 record away from the Dome tops in the league, they also lead the way in goals for (GF), least goals against (GA), save percentage (SV%) and have the second best road penalty kill (PK%). This all adds up to a team that is becoming the one of the toughest teams in hockey to play against, something Calgary’s head coach describes as having an identity. “I mean, we’re trying to get the respect back in the league and an identity back, Sutter said. “I watched this team on TV enough, and they had to change the way they played. When I came here, it’s true — they were too slow of a team.” Yup. I’d say they’re a tad faster now.
  • Prior to their tilt against the Anaheim Ducks, the Flames shuffled up their bottom nine forwards, which proved both extremely successful and downright catastrophic – depending on which players you were talking about. I’ve already raved about the nifty Monahan line that combined for five points, but on the flip side was the new fourth line of Brad Richardson, Dillon Dube and Tyler Pitlick. Those guys did not click, like… at all and found themselves benched for the entire third frame and overtime period. Ouch. To add insult to injury, Pitlick would find himself swapped out for Adam Ruzicka two days later when the Flames took on Vegas.

The Week Ahead

After suiting up four times in seven nights, the Flames get a slightly lighter schedule for the coming week with only three contests on the docket. On Tuesday, Calgary wraps up their four-game western swing in San Jose to take on the Sharks and then they return to their “dome sweet dome” on Thursday to host the Carolina Hurricanes. The boys in red close out the week on Saturday when they entertain the Boston Bruins, an original six-team that always gets the Scotiabank Saddledome buzzing.

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