Flames Weekly offers a look 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.
It was a week that started with such promise. Heading into Tuesday’s tilt against the Florida Panthers, the Flames had lost four in a row and looked completely outclassed on their Eastern Conference road trip. When they blew the doors off the big cats on home ice, it bode well for the latest installment of the Battle of Alberta this past Saturday in Edmonton.
However, the boys in red failed to take advantage of an Oiler squad that is in absolute free fall and completely ripe for the picking. Instead, Calgary gift-wrapped their provincial rivals a much-needed lifeline that could energize the slumping team that has fallen out of the playoff picture. So much for the Flames actually building on one of their best efforts of the season.
Flames Finally Put Together a Complete Team Effort vs. Panthers
In last week’s Flames Weekly, I mentioned that the Flames’ game against the Florida Panthers “scared the bejeezus out of me, “… and for good reason. Heading into Tuesday night’s tilt at the Scotiabank Saddledome, the Panthers were the NHL’s hottest team, riding a nine-game point streak and averaging six goals a game since the start of the New Year. I feared one of the true ‘beasts of the east’ would crush Calgary and extend their season-long four-game losing streak. I could not have been more wrong.
Johnny Gaudreau had an impressive four-point night that propelled the team’s struggling power play to a two-goal outing. That included the Flames’ first goal of the night, just four minutes into the contest courtesy of the previously snake-bitten Rasmus Andersson. When the young Swede potted his own rebound on the home team’s first goal of the night, his emotional first-pump told the story. Expected to pick up the offensive slack in the absence of former captain Mark Giordano, that goal was Andersson’s first of the campaign and just the 11th from the entire D-core.
While Calgary’s first line has been producing offense at an elite level all season, the rest of the lineup has been struggling to add depth scoring. A lot of fingers had been pointed at the team’s former sniper Sean Monahan, who may have (temporarily) silenced his critics with a two-goal night, easily his best outing of the season.
Matthew Tkachuk also had another strong performance, including an otherworldly tip-in goal in the third period that had everyone scratching their heads and saying: “how’d he do that?” Overall, the huge 5-1 win proved that the Flames could still play the brand of hockey that saw them on top of the Western conference a month into the season.
NHL Releases Revamped Flames Schedule
Ever since the Flames organization was overwhelmed with positive COVID-19 cases last month, the team’s 2021-22 regular season schedule has been in complete disarray. Coming out of protocols in late December, the team had a tough grind, playing five times in nine nights. Since then, more postponements due to capacity restrictions have seen the Flames suit up only three times in the past 17 days. On Wednesday, the league rescheduled the 10 postponed games and finally offered a clear picture of the remaining schedule.
The Flames originally had a single home game at the Scotiabank Saddledome in all of February, with a three-week Olympic break running through the middle of the month. However, a boatload of dates became available after the NHL and NHLPA agreed to withdraw from the Olympics. Eight of the 10 games rescheduled will be at “Dome Sweet Dome,” which is good news. But, here’s the downside: the new compressed schedule will see Calgary play 51 games in 99 days to finish the 2021-22 campaign. That’s crazy busy.
Flames Miss Their Chance to Bury the Oilers
When you have an opponent on the ropes, you have to knock them out when you have the chance. On Saturday night, the Flames had a reeling Edmonton Oilers squad down 2-0 but couldn’t find a way to finish them off in the latest installment of the Battle of Alberta. Still, up by a pair of goals in the second frame, the visitors from Calgary handed the home team two power plays within four minutes, and it was just the spark the badly outplayed Oilers needed to get back into the game. Back-to-back markers with the man advantage completely turned the tide in Edmonton’s favor.
The two Alberta rivals traded late second-period goals, knotting the contest up at three apiece and setting up a winner-take-all final frame. While the Flames threw everything they could at embattled Oiler goalie Mikko Koskinen, the big Finn stood extra tall, stopping 44 of 47 shots. When a much less “pissy” Leon Draisaitl scored with five minutes left in the game, I think all the remaining air was let out in the Flames’ tires at once. A late empty netter made the final 5-3 Edmonton. After the game, first-period goal scorer Milan Lucic effectively summed up his team’s effort.
“It’s one of those things, they get life on the power play and they get themselves back in it. It’s very disappointing. We did a lot of things right. We came out with a good start and created a lot of chances. Even in the third we spent the majority of time in the o-zone and only gave up 4 shots. It’s disappointing with the effort we gave and how well we played.”Milan Lucic
Flames head coach Darryl Sutter also lamented his team’s missed opportunities, but the bottom line after the dust settled on this tilt is crystal clear. Not only did Calgary whiff on a glorious chance to step on the throat of a hated rival that was limping into the game, but they also missed out on gaining ground on the four Pacific division teams ahead of them in the standings. This game was a massive letdown on many levels for a team that lost nine of its last 12.
The Week’s Winners and Losers
For the first time in almost a month, the Flames didn’t have any games postponed, but they still only suited up twice this week. However, there was no shortage of storylines to follow, so let’s dive in and see who made the biggest impressions, positive or negative.
- Last week I wrote about Gaudreau getting the nod to play in his sixth NHL All-Star Game, but there was still an outside chance that he would be joined by teammate Tkachuk; as he was the Flames’ candidate for the “Last Men In” vote. I must give the team’s social media crew full props for trying to get a second Flame into the game by joining forces with the St. Louis Blues and the Ottawa Senators in a three-team pact to try and vote in each of their respective representatives. Despite the savvy move, the plan ultimately failed and the Anaheim Ducks Troy Terry received the most votes. Boooooo!
- In a very classy move, Calgary welcomed back Sam Bennett on Tuesday night with a video tribute, even though the six-year Flame requested a trade out of cowtown last season. When asked how he wants to be remembered by fans in the C of red, Bennett told reporters: “I just hope they know me as a player that gave it my all every single night. Whether I had success offensively or not, I prided myself on competing every single night and sticking up for my teammates.” Since joining the Panthers, the former first round draft pick has basically become a point-a-game player.
- Andersson finally got off the schneid this week and scored his first goal of the season against the Panthers. Because it took him so darn long to find the twine this season, Flames’ leading goal-scorer and longtime friend Andrew Mangiapane decided the fourth-year defender deserved some not-so-gentle ribbing for the “momentous occasion”. Andersson explained to the media that “(Mangiapane) kept telling me today and yesterday that he had the puck for me.” Sick burn. For the record, the young Swede scored his first-ever NHL goal in his first full season with Calgary back in 2018-19.
- When Gaudreau posted a four-assist game on Tuesday, he passed the 40 point mark… again. The Flames leading scorer has racked up at least 40 points in every season since he turned pro in 2014-15. And speaking of that four-assist night, Gaudreau matched his career high in assists – a feat he first achieved on Feb, 21, 2017. But wait, there’s more! The 5-foot-9 dynamo wasn’t done with reaching milestones, as he moved up to fifth place on the franchise’s all-time 3-plus point games list. ‘Johnny Hockey’ has now scored three or more points 42 times, trailing only Jarome Iginla (88), Theoren Fluery (72), Kent Nilsson (68), Al MacInnis (65) and Joe Nieuwendyk (54). Well done.
- Now that we’ve talked about the Flames most prolific scorer, it’s time to focus on the other end of the spectrum. Brett Ritchie‘s offensive output is still stuck at zero goals and zero assists after suiting up 15 times. Granted, the gritty winger missed a few weeks due to injury, but as the team nears the halfway point of the 2021-22 season, he’s the only forward on the roster who has yet to register a single point. Even the goalies are beating him in the scoring race, as both Jacob Markstrom and Dan Vladar have each recorded one assist this season. In the 2020-21 campaign, Ritchie finished with four goals and four assists in 32 games, so maybe there’s hope he can snap out of his scoring slump.
Flames Week Ahead
It doesn’t get any easier for the Flames this week. First up, the boys in red face off against the surging St. Louis Blues Monday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome before hitting the road for a back-to-back against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday and then St. Louis again on Thursday. A hectic week wraps up on Saturday night when Calgary hosts a much-improved Vancouver Canucks squad.
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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.