CALGARY — Last year, the Calgary Flames‘ home record cost them a playoff spot. This year, the lads are hell-bent on making sure a little Dome cooking helps turn their playoff fortunes around.
So far so good.
Two nights after an emotional, third-period comeback at home against the Oilers, the Flames rode the wave into a matchup with visiting Vegas, leading 5-0 after one.
In a nod to their Grey Cup-bound Stampeders brethren, the Flames upped the spread to a touchdown after two. By night’s end, the thorough whipping by the hosts landed at 7-2.
It marked the Flames’ fourth win in their last five at home and gave them points in five of six in Calgary since last month’s 9-1 humiliation at the hands of the visiting Penguins.
At 6-3-1, the Flames still have a long way to go to make the Saddledome a daunting date for travellers. After all, teams still remember them for their 17-20-4 mark a year ago.
But what the Flames put on display Monday gave a solid glimpse of what opponents are finding intimidating here.
“I think what you intimidate now with is work ethic and speed — that’s intimidating,” said coach Bill Peters. “They’re sitting there saying, ‘I can’t turn it over against this team because they’re real quick in transition.’ Maybe you squeeze the stick a little more.
“Intimidation has changed over the years. I know this is a great building to play in because the ice is good — some of the best ice in the league, and we want to play fast and we’ve talked about that from Day 1 on. When we move our feet and move the puck we have an opportunity to be a really good team.”
They certainly did that Monday against a team that used to be known for exactly that — a Vegas team that waltzed into Calgary and dished out one of the most humbling losses last year, a 7-3 stunner last February.
“The first period was awesome — we were scoring goals left and right,” said Tkachuk, who finished the night with two goals and two assists. “We want to be a tough team to beat at home and we want this to be a place people don’t like coming into. We want it to be a big advantage and right now we’re playing really well.”
One of the new ingredients they’ve thrown into the mix for home games this year is a juiced-up power play. The Flames entered Monday’s spanking with the sixth-best home power play in the league — a far cry from the 29th-ranked unit at home last year.
They finished the night with three goals on the man advantage, including Tkachuk’s 10th strike, Monahan’s team-leading 12th and a bouncer off Sam Bennett’s pants.
All told, the Flames were three-of-six with the extra man to be the fifth-ranked home power play at just over 30 per cent now.
“Last year, we weren’t very good at the power play — we lost momentum in important parts of the game,” said Gaudreau of his club, which finished 29th in the loop last year 5-on-4. “This year, we’ve been much better.”
Out-hit this season by every team but the Nashville Predators, the Flames aren’t built to intimidate many other ways than through spend and offence. They’re hoping to make teams pay via special teams, which isn’t the craziest idea given the team draws more penalties than almost any other club.
Should this power play continue to click, the future is bright.
That has plenty to do with the full-time addition of Tkachuk on the first power-play unit (four power-play goals) and Elias Lindholm, who also has four. The chemistry of the Flames’ top trio was on full display throughout the first period, but highlighted by a tic-tac-toe passing play started by Lindholm while five-on-five.
“Smart play by a smart player,” said Gaudreau, who finished the play with his seventh goal of the year. “He’s 20 or 30 feet ahead of us and has a one-on-two — he pulls up and finds Monny and it’s a 2-on 2, and then I’m coming in on the play and next thing you know, it’s a 3-on-2. In that lone goal you can see his intelligence on the ice.”
The top trio finished with eight points, pushing Gaudreau and Monahan into the NHL’s top 15 scorers midway through the night’s action, with 24 points apiece.
The Flames face a stiffer test Wednesday when Winnipeg comes calling.
You can bet the netminder will be David Rittich for the third straight game, thanks to a 20-save effort that included his fourth breakaway stop in the last two outings.
The blowout gave Dillon Dube a chance to up his minutes to more than 16 after the coach wondered aloud Monday morning if perhaps the youngster might be better served playing more minutes in the AHL for a bit.