The Calgary Flames win one, lose two on their road trip, Johnny Gaudreau reaches another milestone and Bill Peters shuffles the bottom six.
Here’s where things stand for the team:
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE BETTER
After starting their three-game road trip to Dallas, Las Vegas and San Jose with a thrilling 3-2 come-from-behind shootout victory over the Stars at American Airlines Center on Thursday, the Flames played probably their worst game of the season on Saturday.
Trailing 1-0 following the first period, the Flames scored two quick goals early in the second to take their first lead in five visits to T-Mobile Arena. The lead was short-lived. The Golden Knights scored five unanswered goals en route to a convincing 6-2 win.
After the game, Head Coach Bill Peters said, “We didn’t play hard enough. Until we start to play hard and play hard for 60 minutes, it’s going to be up in the air all night long or you’re going to get blown out. We’ve got to develop a little bit of a work ethic here.”
His players responded on Sunday — their first of nine back-to-backs of the season — playing as close to a full 60 minutes as they have all season in a 3-1 loss to the Sharks at SAP Center.
Despite the loss, Peters was pleased with the way his team competed. “Much better effort. Some things we can build off, for sure.” said the Flames’ bench boss.
Agreed. If the Flames consistently play the way they did on Sunday, they’ll win way more games than they lose this season.
400 FOR JOHNNY HOCKEY
More often than not, players selected in the fourth round of the NHL Draft aren’t expected to play many, if any, games in the league. For example, of the 30 players picked in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, only 10 have played a game in the NHL and only five have played more than 100 games.
On Sunday, the 104th overall pick in 2011 played in his 400th-career NHL game. While that’s quite an accomplishment for a player thought by many to be too small to play professional hockey, what’s more impressive is that Johnny Gaudreau has been almost a point-per-game player and could hit the 400-point plateau before the end of the week.
A tip of the cap to former Flames scout Rob Pulford, who saw something special in Gaudreau at the age of 16, and to the team’s Director of Amateur Scouting, Tod Button and Assistant General Manager Craig Conroy, for convincing former GM Brian Burke to roll the dice on the small but skilled forward. One can only wonder where the Flames would be without No. 13.
BOTTOM SIX STRUGGLES
One of the Flames’ greatest strengths last season was their forward depth. This season, that simply hasn’t been the case — at least not yet.
Six games into the season, the Flames bottom-six forwards have produced a total of two points. Sam Bennett, who has also spent some time playing in the top six on a line with Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk, has one assist. Derek Ryan also has an assist. The other forwards who have spent time playing in the bottom-six; Austin Czarnik, Michael Frolik, Mark Jankowski, Milan Lucic, Andrew Mangiapane and Tobias Rieder, have yet to record a point this season.
While goals, assists and points don’t always paint an accurate picture of how a player is performing, the Flames need some help offensively from their third and fourth lines.
Czarnik, Jankowski and Rieder have all been healthy scratches for at least one game. With seven players fighting for bottom-six minutes in the NHL– and some good options in the AHL, including Byron Froese and Glenn Gawdin, who are tied for Stockton’s team-lead with four points in three games, and of course, Dillon Dube, who I’m convinced will spend more time with the Flames than with the Heat this season, there should be plenty of internal competition to push everybody to be better.
In my opinion, the Flames were better from top-to-bottom in Sunday’s game against the Sharks, which is a promising sign going into a two-game homestand to start the week.
If the Flames are going to achieve their goals this season, more secondary scoring, to support strong starts to the season for Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm and Sean Monahan, is a must.
Based on what I’ve seen, I suspect this will be the week that the bottom-six finally breaks out offensively. Feel free to call me out at this time next week if I’m wrong!
THE WEEK AHEAD
The 2-3-1 Flames will play four games this week, two at home and two on the road. All four games are against teams that failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, so it’s an opportunity for the Flames to deposit some points in the bank and get to the right side of .500 before they hit the 10-game mark.
Tuesday’s tilt looks like the toughest of the four on paper, with the 2-0-1 Flyers visiting Scotiabank Saddledome. Travis Konecky leads the team with six points in three games and Carter Hart has been great in goal, posting a 1.62 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage.
On Thursday, the team will wrap-up a two-game homestand when they host the 3-2-0 Red Wings. The Flames will be tasked with trying to slow down Anthony Mantha, who is off to a fast start with six goals and eight points in five games.
On Saturday, it’s round two of the season series between Matthew Tkachuk and the Flames and Drew Doughty and the 2-3-0 Kings. After getting a fortuitous bounce on the game-winning goal in the Kings’ 4-3 overtime win at the ‘Dome’ on Oct. 8, Doughty said: “Good things happen to good people and to good teams.” His team has gone 1-2-0 and has been out-scored 17-11 in three games since. Tkachuk was by far the Flames’ best player in Game 1 of the season series, but he’ll need a lot more support from his teammates in Game 2. I can’t wait for this one.
On Sunday, it’s another back-to-back for the Flames, who will wrap up a two-game road trip when they take on the 4-2-0 Ducks. These aren’t the same old Ducks. Long-time Flames foes Corey Perry, who was bought-out and signed with the Stars, and Ryan Kesler, who has been shut down for the 2019-2020 season and may never play again, are gone.
The Ducks are younger and faster and they play at Honda Center, where every fan gets a Harvey The Hound voodoo doll and unlimited pins when the Flames come to town (not really, but it has felt that way for a decade). We’ll see if the Flames can exercise their demons in what has been a house of horrors for them.