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.
Heading into last week, the Flames were one of the NHL’s hottest teams, riding a 10-game point streak and about to square off against a couple of squads that were deemed “easy pickings.” The San Jose Sharks were icing a roster ravaged by COVID-19 protocols while the Montreal Canadiens were stuck at the bottom of the Atlantic division. These were not the teams I would have handpicked to cool off Calgary’s best start in 12 years. However, after back-to-back losses, the boys in red showed some moxie by bouncing back in Ontario and snagging three out of a possible four points against the Leafs and Senators.
Flames’ Top Line Goes Missing in Action
Sometimes I feel like I have the power to jinx players by complimenting their efforts in my Flames Weekly columns. Right after I made a big fuss about Andrew Mangiapane’s incredible start to the season, the crafty winger didn’t score a goal for two weeks. Last Monday, I called the Flames top forward unit an elite line, and all three of them promptly disappeared from the scoresheet.
The trio of Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm completely dominated the New York Rangers with three goals and nine points in a 6-0 blowout win. Still, they couldn’t scratch out even a single point in back-to-back losses against the Sharks and Canadiens. On Tuesday night, the Flames faced a San Jose squad with a significant number of AHL players in the lineup due to COVID-19 protocols, and while Calgary outshot and out-chanced the visiting squad, they just couldn’t find a way to finish.
It was a tight game that was ultimately decided by a fluttering puck that Flames’ D-man Nikita Zadorov deflected past Jacob Markstrom early in the third period. But in the end, the home team simply had no answer and couldn’t beat the Sharks’ sharp rookie netminder Adin Hill. After a couple of empty netters, make the final a 4-1 loss. Speaking to reporters after the game, head coach Darryl Sutter called out his best players for not answering the bell: “In the end (their top guys) played a lot and they were probably better than our top guys tonight.”
Mangiapane’s Incredible Goal a Highlight in Sloppy Effort vs Canadiens
While the setback to the Sharks snapped the Flames’ impressive 10-game point streak, the boys in red still had a five-game road winning streak on the line when they rolled into Montreal Thursday night to take on the Habs. Except for the first unit, Sutter decided to put the forward lines into the blender and the results were very promising early on. Dillon Dube was moved back to wing to play with Mikael Backlund and Trevor Lewis and the new line struck gold only a couple of minutes into the game when Backlund potted his third goal of the season.
It appears former number one center Sean Monahan has finally served his penance on the fourth line, as he found himself prompted to second-line duty with Blake Coleman and the team’s top sniper Andrew Mangiapane as his wingmen. The fresh combo also clicked early after Mangiapane roofed an insane backhand while on one knee after redirecting an off-target Monahan pass back to his stick with his skate. The magical marker was his team-leading ninth goal of the year and league-best eighth road goal.
Unfortunately, those two dandy first-period goals weren’t enough to secure the win. After a solid first frame, the visiting squad simply stopped playing the solid defensive style that helped them secure points in 10 of their first 11 games. Instead, a combination of sloppy giveaways, poor execution and dumb penalties sealed their fate and ensured a 4-2 loss. It was also another contest where the faltering first line failed to pot a goal, which underscores the importance of solid secondary scoring. Even the red-hot Mangiapane couldn’t save them this time.
Vladar Steals the Show in Toronto and Ottawa
After riding the pine for two weeks, we were all wondering when Flames’ backup goalie Daniel Vladar would finally get another start between the pipes. He was definitely overdue, but when I found out he’d be facing the high-octane offense of the Maple Leafs on Friday night, I wasn’t sure the 24-year-old Czech was up for the task. Boy, was I wrong about that. Vladar’s last start was Oct. 26, but there were no signs of rust at Scotiabank Arena. The rookie netminder stopped all 26 Toronto shots in the first two periods and the game was still knotted 0-0 early in the third when Oliver Kylington scored a beautiful goal to break the ice.
With the way the Flames were playing midway through the final frame, it looked like Vladar could steal a win for the visiting side until Kylington went from hero to zero after his botched clearing attempt went right on the stick of Toronto’s Alex Kerfoot and moments later, it was in the back of Calgary’s net. After a thrilling overtime where the young Flames’ goaltender stopped Auston Matthews on a clear-cut breakaway, the Leafs’ sniper got his revenge and scored the winner moments later. It was a heartbreaking 2-1 loss for Vladar, who stopped 35 of 37 on the night and was the main reason the team squeaked out the loser point.
After his best performance of the season in Toronto, it seemed like a no-brainer for the Flames to ride the hot hand against an Ottawa squad that was down a whopping 10 players due to COVID-19 protocols. Unlike the game against a similarly depleted Sharks squad, this time, the boys in red showed no mercy and won a game they were supposed to win. While Ottawa carried the play more in the first period, Calgary took over in the second frame and never looked back, cruising to a 4-0 victory.
While the Flames’ netminder was solid, he admitted he didn’t have to play spectacular to secure the win and his first career NHL shutout. “From the get-go, we were just the better team,” Vladar told the media after the game. “More focused and the guys played great in front of me. I had no rebounds. So, easy game for me.” I must also note that Mangiapane remains red hot, as he scored his team-leading 10th goal of the season on a nice redirect from Monahan.
The Week’s Winners and Losers
I know that every team goes through many ups and downs throughout an 82-game season, so I don’t think anyone should be overly concerned after a very mixed bag of individual performances this past week. After four games in seven days, there is certainly a lot to unpack, so let’s get to it and decide who made the biggest impressions – positive or negative.
- A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that Monahan wouldn’t be very productive playing on the fourth line with a couple of “old muckers” and it was true – all of his points on the season came on the power play. Well, after being bumped up to the second line with Magiapane and Coleman flanking him, the 27-year-old is finally starting to get back on track. With just three games playing in the top six, the centerman already has three points, including his first two 5-on-5 points of the 2021-22 campaign.
- Over the past two seasons, there’s been a lot of chatter about the Flames overplaying Markstrom and not giving the big Swede enough downtime. When the 6-foot-6 netminder took to the ice on Thursday, I found out it was his 56th start since the start of the 2020-21 season, which was the most in the NHL. While Calgary’s number one goalie does have four shutouts on the year, I do find that his play starts to slip after too many consecutive starts and he seemed to acknowledge this in a postgame media scrum after Thursday’s loss to the Habs. “Three goals. Not good enough. I think that’s an easy way to assess it,” he told reporters in Montreal.“In the third, we need to come up with a couple of saves to keep the tide and give the guys a chance to win. I’m disappointed.”
- Sometimes I forget that Kylington has already played 109 games for the Flames, as the 24-year-old kept getting shipped back down to the minors. Well, I’m here to say that the young Swede has finally arrived and won’t be making any trips to Stockton any time soon. After going scoreless in his first four games of the season, the D-man is hot as a pistol and has already hit a career high in points.
- I wrote last week that Flames rearguard Juuso Välimäki has been the odd man out in the Flames defensive depth chart, being a healthy scratch since Oct 28. The 23-year-old lost his job to Zadorov and I’m really not sure when we will see the young Finn back in the lineup. It looks like sitting out is really getting to Välimäki as he recently vented his frustrations to a Finnish news outlet. “There have been so many games in recent years due to injuries that now it feels pretty stupid that I am healthy and would be able to play, but it is not given,” he told a reporter. Calling out your coaches for a lack of playing time is never a good look, so I’m not sure how this all plays out.
- Flames’ prospect Walker Duehr got the call up to play his first NHL game on Sunday to replace an ailing Tyler Pitlick (day-to-day, lower body injury). While a hockey player’s first chance to play in the big leagues is always a momentous occasion, the 23-year-old also made a little history along the way. Duehr became the first player from South Dakota ever to play in the National Hockey League. I guess you really do learn something new every day.
The Week Ahead
After finishing up last week with a grueling three games in four nights against Atlantic division opponents, the week ahead doesn’t get any easier. On Tuesday, the Flames continue their eastern conference roadie to take on the Philadelphia Flyers, then shuffle off to Buffalo to battle the Sabres on Thursday. They wrap a jam-packed seven days with back-to-back games on Saturday and Sunday against the New York Islanders and Boston Bruins, respectively. If Calgary can squeak out a winning record by the end of this epic road trip that features seven games in eleven nights, I’d consider that a huge positive.
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Greg Tysowski is a former broadcast journalist who chose the exciting life of a stay-at-home dad for over a decade. He’s now a published author, parenting blogger and aspiring sports writer covering the Calgary Flames for The Hockey Writers. Greg is also a regular contributor to the weekly roundtable discussion “Flames Faceoff”, now streaming on YouTube and all podcast outlets.