Flames Weekly: Ritchie Injury, Tkachuk Drama, Rangers’ Fox Roasted

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 us know how you thought the team performed or to post any ideas or questions you have about the Flames.

Calgary FLAMES WEEKLY Johnny Gaudreau Matthew Tkachuk

It’s been a very eventful seven days in Calgary. Kicking off the week with back-to-back losses shouldn’t qualify as a roaring success, but I must admit that securing points in 10 out of 11 contests to open a season is extremely impressive. The polarizing Jack Eichel circus is finally over, and once again the Flames play the role of the bridesmaid. Throw in an impressive blowout win over the New York Rangers on Saturday night, and you’re still looking at one of the hottest teams in the NHL that’s having its best start in 12 years. So, who needs Eichel anyways?

Tkachuk for Eichel Rumors Stirred up Controversy

In the end, it was much ado about nothing. The week started with breathless rumors that Calgary was one of two teams “on the one yard line” to secure the services of Eichel in a blockbuster trade, and here was the kicker – Matthew Tkachuk was supposedly a key part of the deal. The news blew up on social media, sent shockwaves throughout the Flames organization, and rattled loyal fans in the C of Red.

Related: Flames’ Tkachuk Was Never Going Anywhere

The 23-year old was asked about the hullabaloo before Thursday’s game and responded diplomatically to the unconfirmed reports. “I’m sure it’s different for everybody, but I had a hard time believing it was true so I just went about my business like I normally do the night before a game”. Tkachuk also mentioned that Flames general manager (GM) Brad Treliving reached out to him, but the gritty winger declined to share the details of that conversation. He simply responded, “He talked to me about it, but we’ll just keep that between us.” He added, “All good” when asked.

Carter Hart Matthew Tkachuk
Calgary Flames Matthew Tkachuk (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Eichel (and a 2023 third-round pick) ended up being traded to the Vegas Golden Knights for Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs, a top-10 protected first-round pick in 2022 and a second-round pick in 2023. While it was confirmed the Flames were indeed in the mix, it now looks like Treliving’s offer was a distant second, and any reports that Calgary was truly close to closing the deal were greatly overstated. I’m certain there will be some serious fence mending to keep Tkachuk happy during the upcoming contract extension negotiations.

Kylington, Zadorov Showed Moxie Forcing Overtime in Back-to-Back Games

With the Eichel saga dominating the week, I almost forgot the Flames actually played a few hockey games. On Tuesday, the boys in red put their seven-game point streak, and six-game winning streak, on the line when they hosted the Nashville Predators. Despite outshooting the Preds 20-9 after the first period, the home team found themselves down 2-1. After a scoreless second frame, the smooth-skating Oliver Kylington knotted the game early in the third with a great snipe just after the power play expired.

While the Flames would ultimately fall in overtime, head coach Darryl Sutter still complimented his squad on a hard-earned point – one that they probably wouldn’t have secured last season. “It’s still a step for us. It’s a battle-back point. You come from behind in the third, it’s still a good point,” Sutter told the media. “In the past, this team wouldn’t have got a point.” Just two nights later, the Flames seemed to follow the same script when the visiting Dallas Stars showed up ready to play.

Much like Tuesday’s contest, the home team found themselves down after the first frame, but this time, they bounced back to take a 2-1 lead before a late Stars goal with just five seconds left in the second period evened up the game. After falling behind 3-2 early in the third, the Flames really needed a hero to get this game to overtime, and that hero was… Nikita Zadorov? Yes, you heard that right.

While Kylington stick-handled his way through a sea of Dallas players to set up the shot, it was the big Russian who pulled the trigger to tie the game at three a piece with less than four minutes to play. While the Flames dominated the extra frame, they simply couldn’t close the deal and watched the Stars’ Jamie Benn beat Jacob Markstrom on Dallas’ only shot in OT to win it 4-3. Disappointing? Sure, but it was another contest where Calgary didn’t have their A-game but still found a way to salvage the loser point.

Ritchie Injury Gives Richardson Opportunity to Step Up

Coming out of training camp, I fully expected Brett Ritchie to be the 14th forward and spend most of his nights eating popcorn and watching Flames games from the press box. However, the hard-working winger actually played in the first nine games of the season, until a first period scrap with Nashville’s Mark Borowiecki on Tuesday night knocked him out of the game and landed him on injured reserve. The immediate beneficiary of Richtie’s injury has been offseason depth signing Brad Richardson, who was slotted on the fourth line Thursday night with Sean Monahan and Trevor Lewis.

Related: Flames’ Forward Lines Could See a Major Shake-up After Ritchie Injury

The 36-year-old looked a bit rusty early on in his season debut against the Dallas Stars, but he seemed to find his sea legs as the game progressed. He carried that momentum into his second start of the 2021-22 campaign when Calgary hosted a tired New York Rangers team that was 24 hours removed from being embarrassed by a ridiculous 1-on-4 goal courtesy of Edmonton’s Connor McDavid. Meanwhile at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday night, Richardson managed to score his first marker as a Flame in a game where the home squad absolutely crushed the visitors from the Big Apple.

Flames Trounce Rangers in 6-0 Blowout

Talk about a statement game for Tkachuk. Still stinging from those Eichel trade rumors, the Flames’ first line winger had a whale of a night on Saturday, putting up a goal and three helpers in a blowout victory over the Rangers. In fact, Calgary’s top unit of Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm combined for nine points in the game and continues to play at an elite level. While there were goals seemingly going in from everywhere, there was one in particular that has a shot at being the NHL’s goal of the year.

And speaking of goal scoring, that was something you didn’t see at the Flames’ end of the ice on Saturday night. Lost in the shuffle during the explosion of offence was Markstrom quietly having another great game and posting his personal best fourth shutout of the season. I was actually a bit worried about the big Swede heading into this contest, as he looked a bit shaky in the back-to-back overtime losses earlier in the week. After his bounceback performance, No. 25 currently has a .942 save percentage, a 1.65 goals against average and is a huge reason why Calgary is having such a red hot start to the season.

The Week’s Winners and Losers

This may not have been the Flames’ busiest week on the ice, but with all of the drama surrounding a potential trade for Eichel, new faces inserted into the lineup and a point streak that now spans 10 games, there is certainly a lot to unpack. It’s time to decide who made the biggest impression – positive or negative.

  • It doesn’t matter if you were rooting for the Flames to secure Eichel or to pass on the injured elite center, the bottom line is, Treliving once again couldn’t get the deal done and this isn’t the first time he has fallen woefully short. The Calgary GM has been reportedly “close, but no cigar” on a boatload of failed deals that included such players as Mark Stone, Nazem Kadri, Jason Zucker, Josh Anderson and Taylor Hall. Will the Flames ever stop tinkering and snag that elusive number one center?
  • Say what you want about piling up loser points, but they can be extremely valuable come playoff time. Just ask the Flames from last year, who had two more regulation wins than the eventual Stanley Cup finalist Montreal Canadiens but failed to make the postseason. The 2020-21 campaign saw Calgary secure only three overtime loss points, while the Habs’ notched 11, so I’m certainly not complaining that the Flames snagged two last week and already have three in the bank this season.
  • I love it when the C of Red really lets an opposition player have it with a full-throated, thousands-strong boo. On Saturday night, former Flames’ draft pick Adam Fox was mercilessly taunted every time he touched the puck, but he really thought he had bested the haters after scoring a highlight reel goal late in the first period. His joyous celebration channeled Hulk Hogan, as he gave it right back to the crowd. Too bad the play was offside and was called back via a coach’s challenge. Right on cue, the Saddledome erupted with an even harsher putdown as chants of “Fox, you suck!” rained down on the reigning Norris trophy winner.
  • It’s time for me to eat some serious crow. In the preseason, I came down pretty hard on the Flames’ depth defensemen signings and insinuated that Erik Gudbranson was actually the opposite of his last name. But after an 11-game sample size, I have to ask the question: is Gudbranson actually… good? So far, the veteran blueliner has four points, a plus-four rating, 18 shots on goal and is a 54.4% possession player. He even dropped the gloves for the first time this season on Saturday night. Not too shabby for a guy a lot of fans thought would drag down the third pairing.
  • Speaking of the Flames’ third paring, it looks like Juuso Välimäki is the odd man out after being a healthy scratch four games in a row. The 23-year-old Finn started the first seven contests, but has since lost his spot to a resurgent Zadorov, who had a two-point night against Dallas. The big Russian has actually played quite well alongside Gudbranson after a poor showing in the preseason moved him down the D-man depth chart. This is yet another blow to Välimäki, who signed a two-year contract extension in the offseason and was looking to become a full-time NHLer after being in Sutter’s doghouse for parts of the 2020-21 campaign.
  • It wouldn’t be a Flames Weekly without me writing about the Flames’ resident big galoot, Milan Lucic. The fan favorite may never earn his massive salary or silence his critics, but he continues to be a useful piece of the puzzle since arriving in cowtown in 2019. “Looch” already has four goals in 11 games, which is currently tied with Gaudreau and is more than Monahan, Blake Coleman, Mikael Backlund and Dillon Dube. I know it’s still early in the season, but the hulking winger is actually on pace to score the most goals since his career high of 30 markers in 2010-11.

The Week Ahead

The Flames are set for very busy week. First up, they finish a five-game home stand Tuesday night when they host the surprising San Jose Sharks at the Scotiabank Saddledome. After that, they head east to play three games in four nights against Atlantic division opponents. They face-off against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday, the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday and wrap up the week in the nation’s capital for a Sunday afternoon matinee vs. the Ottawa Senators. While all three of these Canadian teams have had some early-season struggles, Calgary didn’t have much success against any of them last season, so I’m not taking anything for granted.

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