By Derek Wills (@Fan960Wills)
1. In Wednesday’s 3-0 loss to the Oilers, the Flames were not only out-shot, out-chanced and out-scored, they were out-worked. Surprisingly, the Flames looked flat in their season-opening “Battle of Alberta” versus the Oilers. Even though the Flames looked better offensively in the first period of their home-opener versus the Jets on Saturday, truth be told, defensively, they looked just as sloppy as they did on opening night. With his team trailing 3-1 through 20 minutes, Glen Gulutzan’s message to his team was simple – start playing your game. Don’t worry about Connor McDavid’s speed or Patrik Laine’s shot or about what the Oilers did or the Jets are doing – just play your game. The Flames response? Five unanswered goals and a 6-3 come-from-behind win. In the final 40 minutes on Saturday night, the Flames looked like the team that I thought they would be this season. Between one of the NHL’s best puck-playing goaltenders and one of the leagues top defence cores, the Flames were efficient getting the puck out of their zone and into the Jets, where a talented group of forwards did a lot of damage.
2. With his team struggling four periods into the season, Head Coach Glen Gulutzan decided to juggle his lines. The Flames bench boss put Sam Bennett between Johnny Gaudreau and Curtis Lazar (?) and Sean Monahan between Kris Versteeg and Micheal Ferland. The result? Gaudreau scored a goal and assisted on three others, equalling his career-high with four points. Lazar, playing in his first game of the season recorded an assist, equalling the number of assists and points that he produced in 33 games with the Senators before being traded to the Flames last season. As for Bennett, he was somehow held off the scoresheet, but deserved better. For whatever reason, Bennett has had a hard time producing points on nights when he plays his best hockey – tonight was one of those nights. Versteeg, who may be the team’s best playmaker, had a goal and an assist, while Ferland scored a goal and Monahan had an assist. With Jaromir Jagr, who has more points in NHL history than any player not named Wayne Gretzky, likely to make his Flames debut either in Anaheim versus the Ducks on Monday or in Los Angeles versus the Kings on Wednesday, and with Mark Jankowski scoring three goals and adding two assists in two games for the Stockton Heat this weekend, General Manager Brad Treliving will have some tough decisions to make with the Flames roster and Gulutzan will have to decide who plays with who when the team returns to the ice. These, by the way, are good problems to have.
3. Welcome back, TJ Brodie! Between looking like a pylon on McDavid’s second goal on Wednesday and his struggles defensively in the first three-and-a-half periods of the season, some wondered if Brodie, once considered to be the team’s best skater, had lost a step. Well, based on his performance in the final 50 minutes on Saturday, the answer to that question is NO! It really is amazing what a goal, and the confidence that comes with scoring one, can do for a guy. Fans at Scotiabank Saddledome were loudly chanting “BRODIE, BRODIE, BRODIE” in the third period when he was trying to add to his career-high two goals and four points. That’s a far cry from how Flames fans felt for much of last season when Brodie struggled to find his game and the team struggled to find him a defence partner. While Michael Stone made TJ Brodie, in Travis Hamonic, Brodie has a partner who could really help him flourish offensively. Brodie was a different player after scoring the Flames’ first goal of the 2017-2018 season. He looked like an elite defenceman. If the Brodie-Hamonic pairing becomes as effective, or even close to effective, as the Giordano-Hamilton pairing, the Flames top-four on defence make life miserable for most teams on most nights.