Despite Flames’ inconsistencies, still too early to hit panic button

Bryan Little scored in overtime as the Winnipeg Jets beat the Calgary Flames 2-1 at the Heritage Classic.

The 2019 Tim Horton’s Heritage Classic was a ton of fun. The game was good. The setting was great.

Thankfully, my experience in Regina was a lot better than this song, which has unfortunately been playing non-stop in my head since the boys on Boomer in the Morning on Sportsnet 960 The FAN played it over and over and over again last Friday. Thanks a lot, guys.

When the Calgary Flames and the Winnipeg Jets arrived in Regina on Friday, it was plus-17 Celsius and there wasn’t a flake of snow to be found. Temperatures dropped overnight and northwest winds blew in just enough snow to make Mosaic Stadium look magical under the lights on Saturday night. Over 33,000 fans filled the home of the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders for the NHL’s first-ever neutral site outdoor game in Canada.

Following a scoreless first period, Elias Lindholm gave Calgary a 1-0 lead with his team-leading seventh goal of the season 14:47 into the second. Thanks in large part to the stellar play of David Rittich, who was selected as the game’s second star after making a career-high 44 saves — the most-ever in an NHL outdoor game — the Flames took that one-goal lead into the final five minutes of the third.

But with Mark Giordano sitting in the penalty box, Calgary native Josh Morrissey tied the game for Winnipeg with 4:11 remaining in regulation time. Fans who braved the wind and the cold — it was minus-4 Celsius and felt like minus-14 with the wind chill — were rewarded with some three-on-three overtime before Bryan Little scored to complete the Jets’ comeback.

Kudos to the NHL and to the City of Regina for hosting a first-class event.

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WINDS OF CHANGE

The 40 kilometre-per-hour winds that blew through Mosaic Stadium at the Tim Horton’s Heritage Classic were nothing compared to the winds of change that left the Flames’ four forward lines looking like they’d skated through a tornado on their way to the outdoor rink in Regina.

For the first time in years, the Flames started a game with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan on separate lines. On the first line, Gaudreau moved from left wing to right wing, Lindholm shifted from right wing to centre and Matthew Tkachuk was promoted to the first line left wing. Monahan played between Andrew Mangiapane and Sam Bennett on what I’ll call the 2A line. On the 2B/new-look 3M line, Mikael Backlund centred Milan Lucic and Michael Frolik. Derek Ryan skated between Alan Quine and Tobias Rieder on the fourth line.

Even though his team failed to scored a 5-on-5 goal in Saturday’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Jets, Flames head coach Bill Peters liked a lot of what he saw.

On Monday morning, the Flames put Rieder on waivers. As a result, he didn’t practice with the team on Monday afternoon. Here’s what the Flames lines and pairings looked like at practice:

PANIC BUTTON

While managers, coaches and players will all admit that the team hasn’t started the new season the way they wanted to, the defending Pacific Division champions are still in decent shape. So step away from the panic button, Flames fans!

Only 13 games into the regular season the Flames — in my opinion — haven’t played a great game. At least not by their justifiably high standards. The way I see it, they’ve played three really good games (3-2 W at Stars on Oct. 10, 3-1 L at Sharks on Oct. 13, 2-1 W at Ducks on Oct. 20) and two really bad games (6-2 L at Golden Knights on Oct. 12, 4-1 L at Kings on Oct. 19). For me, the other eight games fall somewhere in the middle.

The Flames really haven’t played a game where all four forward lines, all three defence pairings and their goaltender have played to their potential for 60 minutes. They’ve only played a handful of games where the effort and the execution have both been at high levels. In one sense, the team’s lack of consistency early in the season is a bad thing (obviously). In another sense, it’s a good thing.

Here’s why. The Flames haven’t even been close to being at their best and yet, going into Monday’s games, they were in a playoff spot and just three points out of first place in both the Pacific Division and the Western Conference.

While the Flames have been the first ones to admit that they have to play better, with 69 games remaining on their regular season schedule, there is plenty of time to improve and to put themselves in a position to do what they didn’t do last season — be at their best in the spring.

Pinder & Steinberg
Daily Flames Roundtable: Lindholm's position, Rieder to waivers and the Heritage Classic
October 28 2019

THE WEEK AHEAD

The 6-5-2 Flames will wrap-up a season-long five-game, 10-day road trip with four games in six days this week.

On Tuesday, the Flames will face the 7-3-1 Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. Shutting down Dougie Hamilton will be a key. The former Flames defenceman leads the Hurricanes in goals with six — most by a defenceman in the NHL this season — and in points with 12 in 11 games. With a 4-1-0 record at home this season, ‘Canes fans have had plenty of chances to practice the Storm Surge already.

On Thursday, the Flames will play the 7-3-1 Nashville Predators. Going into Tuesday’s game against the Blackhawks, the Predators had a 5-1-1 record at Bridgestone Arena in a home-heavy first month of the season. Much like the Hurricanes, the Predators have been getting plenty of offence from their defence with Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis tied for the team-lead in points with 13 in the first 11 games. The Flames will have to buckle-down defensively against a Predators team that went into Monday’s games leading the league in goals for with 4.09 per game.

On Saturday, the Flames will battle the 5-4-2 Columbus Blue Jackets. After losing forwards Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel in free agency, the Blue Jackets have had to rely on a more balanced attack this season. No Blue Jackets player has recorded more than seven points in the team’s first 11 games but 11 skaters have posted four-or-more points. In goal, Joonas Korpisalo (.896 save percentage) and Elvis Merzlikins (.863) have struggled to replace two-time Vezina Trophy-winner Sergei Bobrovsky.

On Sunday, the Flames will wrap-up their road trip against the Metropolitan Division-leading 8-2-3 Washington Capitals. A league-best 6-1-1 on the road this season, the Capitals have struggled at home, going 2-1-2 in their first five games at Capital One Arena. Leading the way for the 2018 Stanley Cup champions this season is defencemen John Carlson, who scored two goals in his team’s 5-3 victory over the Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome on Oct. 22 and is tied for second in the Art Ross Trophy race with 21 points in 13 games.

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