Derek Wills is the Calgary Flames radio play-by-play announcer on Sportsnet 960 The FAN. He shares his views about the Flames’ latest game.
The Flames wrapped-up a season-long seven-game home stand with a 7-4 victory over the Central Division and Western Conference-leading St. Louis Blues in a wild one at Scotiabank Saddledome on Monday night.
1. BOTTOM-SIX BREAKOUT
After finally getting some offensive help from their third and fourth lines, who chipped-in with two goals and four points in last Thursday’s 6-3 triumph over the Red Wings, the Flames’ bottom six exploded on Monday night.
Four days after recording his first-career NHL goal and point, Mark Jankowski scored his second and third goals of the season and added an assist. Sam Bennett, who has been as snakebitten as any player in the league this season, finally scored his first goal while assisting on another. Last but not least, Jaromir Jagr, playing on a line with two guys who weren’t even alive when he made his NHL debut, picked up another helper, his fifth point in eight games this season.
The fourth line even got in on the action. Kris Versteeg scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal, while Troy Brouwer and Curtis Lazar recorded assists. In total, the Flames bottom-six forwards had nine points. In the first 15 games of the season, forwards playing in a bottom-six role for Flames scored zero goals. In the last two games, they’ve tallied six times.
2. HOME, SWEET SADDLEDOME
After winning their home opener, the Flames lost four straight games on home ice, including a 2-1 setback versus the Dallas Stars in the opening game of their seven-game homestand. Since then, the Flames have gone 5-1 in the friendly confines of Scotiabank Saddledome with victories over the Capitals, Penguins, Devils, Red Wings and Blues.
The team’s only loss in its last six home games was versus the Canucks. Not only did the Flames finish their longest homestand of the season with an impressive 5–2 record, they also scored 21 goals in the last four games of their Saddledome stay, great news for a team that was struggling to score earlier this season.
With that said, while Glen Gulutzan is really happy with the number of scoring chances that is team is generating and goals they’re scoring, the bench boss isn’t happy with the number of scoring chances and goals against. The Flames tend to play a simpler, tighter brand of hockey on the road, so it’s probably a good thing that after finding ways to win five of the last seven games at home, Gulutzan’s group will hit the road on Tuesday. They travel to Detroit, where they’ll start a season-long six-game trip versus the Red Wings on Wednesday.
3. FLAMES WIN ONE, LOSE ONE
The Flames won Monday’s game, but they may have lost a very important player in the process.
Almost a quarter of the way through the 82-game regular season schedule, Mike Smith has probably been the team’s most valuable player – although you could make a pretty strong case for Johnny Gaudreau, as well. Smith made his seventh straight start on Monday and has started 16 of the team’s first 17 games. Unfortunately for the Flames, their No. 1 goaltender didn’t finish the game. After playing the entire first period, Smith was replaced by Eddie Lack to start the second period and wasn’t seen for the rest of the night.
The team didn’t provide any additional information on Smith’s condition following the game, so fans will likely have to wait until Tuesday to find out what happened to the goaltender and if he will be available for Wednesday’s game against the Red Wings. In relief of Smith, Lack stopped 13 of the 15 shots that he faced in the final 40 minutes in what was his third appearance of the season. If Smith is unavailable for Wednesday’s game against the Red Wings, the Flames will have to recall either Jon Gillies (4-3-1, 1 SO, 2.50, .918) or David Rittich (4-1-0, 2 SO, 2.20, .928) from the AHL’s Heat.
After missing three games with a lower-body injury, Travis Hamonic returned to the lineup on Monday night. After starting the game in his usual spot on the right side of the team’s second pairing with T.J. Brodie, the defenceman was replace by Michael Stone and spent the rest of the night playing on the third pairing with Brett Kulak.
Hamonic only practised once before returning to game action and wasn’t his usual steady self versus the Blues. Following the game, Gulutzan called Hamonic’s demotion an “in-game adjustment” and said that he would be back with Brodie in Wednesday’s game against the Red Wings.
With Hamonic at 100 per cent, the Flames top four defencemen are as good as any in the NHL. Gulutzan is comfortable playing Giordano and Hamilton or Brodie and Hamonic against any lines and pairings in the league. Because of last change, matchups are easier to get at home than on the road, so getting Hamonic back in the lineup and back up to speed at home before heading out on the road was important for the Flames.
5. HAIL, LITTLE CAESAR!
Joe Louis Arena was a great place to watch hockey, but built in 1979, it was time for The Joe to go. Detroit not only needed a new arena, the city needed something to revitalize its derelict downtown. Less than three months after opening its doors, Little Caesars Arena has already started to do that.
It’s such a shame longtime Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch passed away last February before watching his beloved Red Wings play their last game at Joe Louis Arena, their first game at Little Caesars Arena and, more importantly, before seeing the rebirth of the downtown core in the city that he loved. I’ve heard great things about the NHL’s newest arena and can’t wait to see the rink that Mr. I built for the first time on Wednesday night.