Flames Thoughts: Calgary gets off to so-so start, faces busy week

Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano says they’re in trouble if Matthew Tkachuk isn’t “pissing off” the other players and the other team, that’s his game, and that’s what makes him so valuable.

The Calgary Flames lost one, won one to start the season and will play four games in six days this week.

Here’s where things stand for the team so far:

SO-SO START

After falling 5-3 to the Colorado Avalanche in their season-opener Thursday, the Flames rebounded with a 3-0 shutout victory over the Vancouver Canucks in their home-opener Saturday.

Badly outshot, out-chanced and outplayed in the first period, the Flames played a little bit better in the second and a lot better in the third, but it proved to be too little, too late. After weathering the storm in the third period, the Avalanche put the game away with an empty-netter with just over one minute remaining.

It was an emotional game between two teams who started to build a good rivalry in last season’s playoffs and who are considered by many to be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders this season.

In Saturday’s home-opener, the Flames’ first line and starting goaltender stole the show — and two points from the Canucks — in a 3-0 win, their first of the 2019-2020 season.

Elias Lindholm, Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau scored for the Flames, while David Rittich stopped all 34 Canucks shots.

The Flames’ terrific threesome of Gaudreau, Monahan and Lindholm are off to a fantastic start this season with 10 points between them. Gaudreau, who topped the team in points in each of the last four seasons and had a career-high 99 points last season, leads the way with five points in two games.

At the opposite end of the ice, Rittich became just the third goaltender in franchise history and the first since Roman Turek in 2001 to record a shutout in the home-opener. Head coach Bill Peters said Monday that the 27-year-old Czech will be rewarded with a third-straight start versus the Kings on Tuesday.

YOUNG STUDS

To the surprise of some, including yours truly, the Flames decided to start the season with a young third pairing. With T.J. Brodie back with Mark Giordano on the first pairing, at least for the time being, and Noah Hanifin and Travis Hamonic together, as usual, on the second pairing, the Flames used 22-year-olds Oliver Kylington and Rasmus Andersson together in the first two games.

Taken six spots apart in the 2015 NHL Draft (Andersson was selected 54th overall, Kylington 60th), my broadcast partner for Flames games on Sportsnet 960 The Fan, Peter Loubardias, described pairing as “quietly solid” to start the season. Well said.

Offensively, I think the ceiling is pretty high for Kylington, who is an elite skater, and really high for Andersson, who has excellent vision and a great shot.

Defensively, Andersson has been solid. Truth be told, I think it’s only a matter of time before he’s promoted to the first pairing. As for Kylington, while he hasn’t played mistake-free hockey, he has skated himself out of trouble on a number of occasions.

After a strong pre-season, veteran defenceman Michael Stone was a healthy scratch in the first two games, but I’d be surprised if he didn’t get into a game before the end of the week.

LINE JUGGLING

Here’s what the Flames forward lines looked like at practice on Monday:

The only change from Saturday’s contest versus the Canucks was a promotion for Sam Bennett and a demotion for Michael Frolik.

Bennett, who in my opinion was the Flames’ best skater in last season’s playoff series versus the Avalanche, had a strong pre-season, primarily playing on the second line with Mikael Backlund and Frolik (before Matthew Tkachuk signed a three-year contract on Sep. 25 and played in the team’s pre-season finale on Sep. 28.)

I strongly believed that it was only a matter of time before the former fourth-overall pick was given a chance to play top-six minutes with Tkachuk and Backlund – and it looks like the Flames will give him that opportunity in Tuesday’s game against the Kings.

As for Frolik, who struggled in the season-opener, it appears as though he’ll play on a defensively-strong fourth line with Tobias Rieder and Mark Jankowski.

FOUR-IN-SIX WEEK

It’s going to be a very busy week for the 1-1-0 Flames.

After Matthew Tkachuk and Co. finish-off a two-game homestand versus Drew Doughty and the 0-1-0 Kings on Tuesday, the team will hit the road for their first real trip of the 2019-20 season.

The Flames will start the trip in Dallas, where they’ll clash with the Stars, who are shockingly 0-3-0 to start the season, on Thursday. On Saturday, the team will visit Vegas where they’ll take on the 2-0-0 Golden Knights, before they wrap-up the roadie with their first of nine back-to-backs on their schedule this season in San Jose. Calgary will renew their rivalry with the struggling Sharks, who are surprisingly 0-3-0 with an NHL-worst minus-nine goal differential this season.

You can listen to every Flames game live on Sportsnet 960 The Fan.

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