Flames’ Mangiapane capitalizes on expanded role in Lucic’s absence

Calgary Flames left wing Andrew Mangiapane (88), scores a goal against the Washington Capitals. (Al Drago/AP)

Andrew Mangiapane had a goal, an assist and an incredible opportunity to prove he belongs amongst the Calgary Flames top six forwards Sunday.

The 23-year-old winger was elevated to the team’s second line alongside Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk, creating several good scoring chances including one which landed him his third goal of the year.

When Mangiapane ended his contract impasse early in training camp it was with an eye on affording him the type of assignment he had Sunday night.

It’s a role he’s earned of late with relentless forechecking that translated into his goal, which opened the scoring five minutes into what would be a 4-2 loss Sunday in Washington.

He later assisted on Elias Lindholm’s 10th of the year as part of an evening in which he got some time filling in on the second powerplay unit in Milan Lucic’s absence.

“He’s got a lot of energy, he’s tenacious, he’s on pucks and he hangs onto pucks and looks to make plays,” said coach Bill Peters following the game.

“Real nice play on his goal and all three guys on the line found a way to contribute on the goal. Mangy is starting to come. He’s a confident player. He gives us a lot of pace on that line, so he’s been good. We had an opening on the powerplay and Mangy has been good so he deserves to be in there.”

THE BIG TAKEAWAY

The Calgary Flames left town nine days ago a fragile group, unsure how or if the swagger of a year ago would return.

The final game of their five-game road trip in Washington Sunday demonstrated just how far they’ve come, as all but two players recorded shots on goal and the Flames were tied 2-2 until late in the second period when Jakub Vrana completed his hat trick.

A powerplay goal early in the third sealed the Flames’ fate, but the outing was to be applauded against a deep Caps squad that’s rolling.

Sure, the Flames lost 4-2, but the effort, the confidence and the feel-good sense this team now has is evident.

What’s missing is still what has ailed this previously potent club most of this season: goals.

The Flames are well behind the scoring pace they set this time last year when they began their assault on the Western Conference.

Perennial 30-goal scorer Sean Monahan has scored once in his last 15, Johnny Gaudreau is scoreless in 12 and the supporting cast that made the Flames so strong last year has been slow to chip in.

Yet, the team’s ridiculous comeback from a three-goal deficit in the third period in Nashville midway through the trip appears to have done exactly what fans had hoped it would. It put a little bounce in their steps, prompting them to roll over the Blue Jackets in Columbus Saturday 3-0, before ending the trip in D.C. with a 2-2-1 record thanks to stops in Regina, Carolina, Nashville and Columbus.

“I thought we were good,” said Peters of the final game of a grueling trip that ended with three games in four nights.

“We started on time and all four lines going. We’re getting closer.”

It’s a feeling they didn’t have two weeks ago when the coach questioned the team’s work ethic twice in a week.

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QUICK HITS

• Hours before the game Milan Lucic was handed a two-game suspension for what the league essentially deemed a sucker punch on Columbus call-up Kole Sherwood Saturday. Lucic took exception to Sherwood’s extra stab at a puck smothered by David Rittich and punched him in the face with his glove on. Lucic’s history with the player safety committee factored into the two-game sit-down, which GM Brad Treliving took the time to respectfully disagree with. Treliving figured the double-minor handed to Lucic for the incident was sufficient punishment.

Given Lucic’s history of such punches the league was right to sit him, but the team will continue backing players who stand up for teammates regardless of the consequences.

• Even though Rittich got the shutout Saturday, the plan all along was for Cam Talbot to make his second-straight start against the Capitals — a tough task he fell short in once again. Alas, this wasn’t on him as the Flames got caught being overly aggressive on several plays resulting in good goals. All told Talbot made 28 saves.

WHAT’S NEXT

The Flames fly home after the game and have the day off Monday before returning Tuesday at home against Arizona for that clichéd trap game — the first game back after a long roadie.

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