Johnny Gaudreau scored the game’s only goal and Mike Smith stopped all 28 Edmonton Oilers shots in the Calgary Flames‘ 1-0 win in the Battle of Alberta at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Tuesday.
SMITH STEPS UP
In just his second game since returning to the lineup after missing 13 games with a lower-body injury, Smith nabbed his third shutout of the season and the 36th of his NHL career.
Injured with 1.1 seconds left in the Flames’ 3-2 win in Brooklyn on Feb. 11, Smith looked a little shaky in the first period of Sunday’s game against the Islanders, his first in exactly one month. After getting the rust off in the opening 20 minutes, two-time all-star looked a lot more comfortable and confident in the final 40 minutes of the 5-2 loss and that carried over into Tuesday’s game against the Oilers.
Smith was outstanding in both stopping the puck and playing it. The 35-year-old showed some incredible athleticism in the third period, when on a perfect pass from Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins one-timed a shot towards what appeared to be an open net. Somehow, Smith stretched out and got his right pad on the puck to keep the Flames in front, making one of the best saves that I’ve seen this season.
While I wouldn’t say Smith stole Tuesday’s game versus the Oilers, he was definitely the Flames’ best player.
For a number of reasons, I called Tuesday’s game against the Oilers a “must-win” for the Flames.
1. In their last two home games, the Flames’ 103 shots and 181 shot attempts led to three goals and no points in 3-1 and 5-2 losses to the Rangers and Islanders, respectively. With just two wins in their last 11 home games, the Flames had to stop the bleeding by finding a way to win at home.
2. The Flames had lost seven straight games to the Oilers. While the Battle of Alberta isn’t what it was back in the 1980s and early 1990s, games between Calgary and Edmonton are still special. Losses to the Oilers are a little more bitter while wins are a little more sweet. This could kickstart the Flames.
3. The Flames picked up two much-needed points to stay within striking distance of second and third place in the Pacific Division and the two wild-card spots in the Western Conference. Not only did the Flames help themselves, they got some help on the out-of-town scoreboard from the Montreal Canadiens, who doubled up the Dallas Stars 4-2, and from the Arizona Coyotes, who knocked off the Los Angeles Kings 4-3 in a shootout.
The Oilers seemed to lose Gaudreau, who took a perfect pass from Sean Monahan and waited for Cam Talbot to make a move before backhanding the puck over the goaltender’s right shoulder to give the Flames a 1-0 lead 5:18 into the second period. With the tally, his 22nd of the season, Gaudreau reached the 80-point plateau for the first time in his career and stretched his point streak to five games.
INS AND OUTS
After falling backwards over the back of Mathew Barzal and hitting his head on the boards late in the third period of in Sunday’s setback versus the Islanders, Matthew Tkachuk missed Tuesday’s game against the Oilers. Before the game, Glen Gulutzan said his sophomore star is day to day. Tkachuk wasn’t the only second-year pro out for the Flames on Tuesday.
Mark Jankowski was a healthy scratch versus the Oilers. With Tkachuk and Jankowski out, Sam Bennett was promoted to the second line with Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik. Nick Shore took Jankowski’s spot on the third line with Troy Brouwer and Garnet Hathaway, and Chris Stewart drew in on the fourth line alongside Matt Stajan and Curtis Lazar. I thought all three lines were effective versus the Oilers.
While I thought Shore, who Brad Treliving acquired from the Senators for a seventh-round pick at the NHL’s trade deadline, played pretty well in his Flames debut on March 2, I thought he was even better in his second game. Shore is a smart, defensively-responsible player who the Flames believe has more to offer offensively.
As for Stewart, after a pair of pretty uninspired performances in his first two games with the Flames on Feb. 27 and 28, I thought he was way more engaged and effective in his return to the lineup on Tuesday, especially in the first 40 minutes.
With two days in between games, the Flames are hoping that Tkachuk and Kris Versteeg, who hasn’t played since Nov. 24 after deciding to have hip surgery, will both be ready to return to the lineup for what I’m calling their biggest game so far this season, a proverbial four-pointer versus the San Jose Sharks, on Friday.
While Tkachuk’s certainly a question mark, I think there is a strong possibility that the two-time Stanley Cup champion Versteeg will play.