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 wasn’t all that long ago when many fans in the C of Red were ready to push the panic button. From Dec. 7 to Jan. 18, the Flames were spiraling, winning only three of 10 games, prompting many to wonder if the team’s hot start to the 2021-22 season was merely a mirage. Well, it appears the boys in red have definitely righted the ship since hitting rock bottom, going 8-2-0 while dramatically closing the gap on the division-leading Vegas Golden Knights.
Markstrom Magnificent in Back-to-Back Statement Games
You could call Wednesday’s tilt against the Golden Knights a “measuring stick” game or a “statement” game, but in the end, I would simply call it an important game. Heading into the contest, the Flames were on a heater, winners of five of their last six contests. However, the visiting squad provided a tough test and was a good measuring stick to see if the Flames are a true contender in the Pacific Division. While the home team came out firing in the first period, putting three goals past Robin Lehner, it was Calgary’s netminder that completely stole the show the rest of the way.
Jacob Markstrom faced a barrage of high danger chances from the Golden Knights in the second period and third periods to secure his league-leading eighth shutout of the season. That puts him just two goose eggs shy of matching Miikka Kiprusoff’s franchise record of 10, set in 2005-06. After a game that saw the Flames explode for six goals against the best team in the division, head coach Darryl Sutter was only interested in heaping praise on his number one goaltender.
“A Jacob Markstrom statement game,” Sutter told the media after being asked if this was a statement game. “It’s really about a 6-5 game.” The head coach wasn’t willing to give a whole lot of kudos to his goal getters, but he can’t stop me from doing so. Mikael Backlund had an NHL career-high four points (one goal, three assists), Andrew Mangiapane potted two more to lead all Flames’ goalscorers, and Matthew Tkachuk chipped in with an incredible trick goal and two assists. Not too shabby.
Markstrom was back between the pipes for his 11th consecutive start the very next night against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Showing no signs of fatigue, the big man put on another goaltending clinic against an elite team, stopping 46 of 48 shots en route to a thrilling 5-2 win over the buds. The Flames were outplayed by Toronto, but a combination of opportunistic scoring from the D-core and otherworldly goaltending saw the home squad extend their league-leading winning streak to five.
Balanced Offence, Smothering Defence Beats the Islanders
I’m starting to think that we might see Dan Vladar’s face on a milk carton soon. Calgary’s backup has not made a start since early January, and he didn’t see the net on Saturday night either. Sutter continues to ride the hot hand between the pipes, but Markstrom didn’t face many shots as the Flames kept the New York Islanders at bay for most of the evening. While the Flames got more goals from the back end, a young Slovak center found himself the belle of the ball.
Adam Ruzicka scored his third goal of the season and set up Mangiapane’s 24th of the year to register his first multi-point performance of his young NHL career. The first-year Flame has now suited up 14 times for Calgary this season, and it looks like he’s found a permanent roster spot. When asked about taking a spin on the ice as the game’s first star, the 22-year-old was exceedingly humble. “To be honest, I don’t really care about the points. I care that we won the game.” Good answer.
Mangiapane Finally Heats up at Home
It was an oddity without a satisfactory explanation. Mangiapane set an NHL record this season by scoring 19 of his first 20 markers on the road, but it simply didn’t make sense why the “Bread Man” couldn’t replicate his road success at the Scotiabank Saddledome. It took a while, but the Flames leading goalscorer is finally finding the twine on home ice, potting four goals in his last three games.
Before Mangiapane’s recent surge of “Dome” goals coming back from the All-Star break, the last time he found the back of the net in front of a home crowd was way back on Nov. 9 against the San Jose Sharks. The recent turnaround has been a welcome sight for the Flames’ head coach. “Mange hadn’t been himself at home compared to the road,” Sutter told the media after Saturday’s win. “Now he’s being a little more assertive at home.”
23 of Calgary’s final 37 games are at the Scotiabank Saddledome, so Mangiapane couldn’t have picked a better time to start scoring at dome sweet dome.
The Week’s Winners and Losers
With three games in four nights coming off the NHL All-Star break, the Flames had a busy finish to the week. As always, there was no shortage of storylines to follow, so let’s dive in and see who made the biggest impressions, positive or negative.
- Plus/minus is a stat that can be interpreted many ways. Some people call it useless, while others think it holds significant weight. I don’t really care which side of the debate you fall on, I just want to point out that three Flames are in the top five this season. Johnny Gaudreau is first with plus-36, Elias Lindholm is second at plus-34 and Tkachuk is fifth at plus-30. It’s no surprise that those three guys all play on the team’s top unit, and are probably the best line in hockey right now. The next Flame to appear on the list is Oliver Kylington at number 12 with a plus-25.
- Ice? Who needs ice? The Flames share the Scotiabank Saddledome with multiple tenants, including the Western Hockey League Hitmen and the National Lacrosse League Roughnecks. But even when the ice surface is replaced by green carpet, that didn’t stop a handful of Flame players from hitting the turf prior a Roughnecks game this week, getting in on the shoot-around. Two players that actually looked like they knew what they were doing were Sean Monahan and Brett Ritchie, who were actually junior lacrosse rivals in Ontario. Ritchie played for the Orangeville Norsemen while ‘Mony’ suited up for the Brampton Excelsiors, and now they play on the same line in the NHL. What are the odds?
- Not only is Markstrom closing in on Kiprusoff’s franchise mark for shutouts in a season, the 6-foot-6 netminder matched another other long-standing Flames’ record this week. In Thursday night’s 5-2 victory over the Leafs, Calgary’s number one puck-stopper tied for the most saves made in a home game with 46. That equaled the record set by Dwayne Roloson in 1998 and beats out Reggie Lemelin’s 45 stops recorded in back in 1986. Nice one “Marky.”
- There were a few other notable milestones set this week in Flamesland. First up, Thursday’s victory over the Leafs was Sutter’s 674th as a head coach, moving him past John Tortorella for 13th on the all-time win leaderboard. Thursday’s tilt also marked Monahan’s 635th appearance with the Flames, moving him past T.J. Brodie for ninth in franchise games played. And because I haven’t mentioned Markstrom enough in this week’s column, I also have to mention that Calgary’s game against Toronto marked the big Swede’s 350th career NHL game. Congrats to one and all.
Flames Week Ahead
The Flames continue a seven-game homestand in which they’ll be playing a bunch of the games that were rescheduled due to COVID-19 protocols or arena capacity restrictions. On Tuesday, the boys in red entertain the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Scotiabank Saddledome, and the very next night, they’ll host a Pacific division rival, the Anaheim Ducks. The week wraps up on Saturday night, with Calgary welcoming back a very familiar face. Former captain Mark Giordano makes his regular-season debut at the Dome as a Seattle Kraken, so that should make for a memorable evening.
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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.