In a game that featured no goals on the first 70 shots and three goals on the last eight shots, the Calgary Flames found a way to win their second straight game, defeating the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 in overtime at Scotiabank Saddledome on Thursday. Here are five thoughts from the victory.
In 1913, Harry Houdini escaped from a Chinese water torture cell. In 1983, David Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty disappear on live television. In 2017, Mike Smith led the Flames to a 7-6 record to start the season. Unlike Houdini and Copperfield, Smith’s act isn’t an optical illusion, although there has been some slight of hand involved—just ask opposing players.
Smith is the main reason why the Flames are a game above .500 this season. On Thursday night, the Penguins had 19 shots and 13 scoring chances in the first period…the Flames had eight shots and three chances. The score through 20 minutes? 0-0. As he’s done so many times this season, Smith kept the Flames in the game and gave them a chance to win. Thirteen games into 2017-2018, you could make a pretty strong argument that the Flames’ best goaltender since Miikka Kiprusoff should be considered for the Vezina and Hart trophies. Smith has been one of the best goaltenders in the NHL and you’d be hard pressed to find a player who has been more valuable to his team.
HEART AND SOUL
Speaking of Smith, following Thursday’s 2-1 overtime victory the 35-year-old Flames goaltender called 19-year-old forward Matthew Tkachuk the “heart and soul of this team.” That’s hard to argue. Smith and Tkachuk have something in common – their burning desire to win. After getting clobbered by big, bad Ryan Reaves late in the second period, Tkachuk went immediately to the dressing room, and moments later was followed by the Flames’ medical staff, including team doctor Ian Auld.
It looked like Tkachuk might be seriously injured. Even if he wasn’t, there was no way was going to return to the game, right? Well not only did he come back to start the third period, he picked the pocket of Penguins captain Sidney Crosby in overtime and made a perfect pass to Flames captain Mark Giordano on the game-winning goal. The Flames have a lot of good players who would be hard to replace. In my opinion, Tkachuk is at the top of that list.
It was another outstanding night for the Flames’ “3M Line” of Tkachuk, Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik. On Sunday, they did a great job neutralizing the Capitals’ line of Jakub Vrana, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. On Thursday, they were even better against the Penguins’ No. 1 line of Conor Sheary, Crosby and Patric Hornqvist. Backlund and his linemates dominated Crosby and Co. almost all night.
MORE OR LESS
More disciplined, less time penalty killing and less power-play goals against. Check, check and check. The Flames were taking way too many penalties early in the season, going shorthanded 35 times in the first seven games. Thanks in large part to Smith, the Flames killed off 31, but when the Flames’ discipline got better, their penalty kill got worse. The hockey gods seem to have a way of evening things out over time.
The Flames surrendered at least one power-play goal in five straight games and two power-play goals in three consecutive contests prior to going 2-for-2 on the PK in Sunday’s victory over the Capitals. Unfortunately, they couldn’t capitalize on their two power-play opportunities, either. On Thursday, the Flames only gave the Penguins, who came into the contest with the league’s second-best power play, one opportunity with the man advantage – and they killed that penalty off. The Flames also scored a power-play goal for the first time in four games, going 1-for-4 on the PP and snapping an 0-for-13 streak with the man-advantage.
Calgary has been playing well 5-on-5 for a while, but poor special teams play was killing them. On Thursday, the Flames won the special teams battle—and the game. There is still work to be done on both sides of special teams, but after spending significant time working on both the PP and the PK at practice, the Flames are making progress.
HOME, SWEET HOME
After winning their home opener, the Flames lost four straight games at Scotiabank Saddledome. On Sunday, the Flames snapped that losing streak with an impressive 2-1 victory over the two-time defending Presidents’ Trophy winning Capitals. On Thursday, they started a winning streak with their hard-fought triumph.
Prior to the last two games, the Flames’ best hockey of the 2017-2018 season had been played on the road. Head Coach Glen Gulutzan asked his team to bring that simpler, more straight forward brand of hockey home with them and the Flames have done that. With a 2-1 record three games into a season-long seven-game home stand, the Flames have finally started making the ‘Dome a tough place to play and after beating two of the top teams in the league, they’ll be full of confidence and have some momentum going into Sunday’s contest versus the New Jersey Devils.