Led by their new-look first line, the Flames bounced back from a 7-3 loss to the Golden Knights in Las Vegas on Wednesday with a 5-2 win in Arizona over the Coyotes on Thursday.
SAM’S THE MAN
In Wednesday’s lopsided loss to the Golden Knights, the Flames’ top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Micheal Ferland had one assist, no shots and a minus-seven rating. Head coach Glen Gulutzan decided to change things up on Thursday, demoting Ferland to the third line and promoting Sam Bennett to the first line. Bennett, who has played well with Gaudreau in the past, fit in like a glove.
After losing a tooth when he took a stick in the face on his first shift, Gaudreau briefly went to the Flames dressing room. When he returned to the ice at Gila River Arena, he took over the game. After assisting on Bennett’s ninth goal of the season, Gaudreau scored his 20th before adding another assist on Monahan’s team-leading 28th. With Bennett and Monahan both adding helpers, the Flames’ new-look first line combined for three goals, four assists, seven points, eight shots and a plus-three rating.
It’s probably safe to assume that Bennett will be back with Monahan and Gaudreau when the Flames face the Avalanche at Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday afternoon.
MUST WIN/CAN’T LOSE
Following three straight losses, the Flames were four points out of a playoff spot when they took to the ice on Thursday. Some called the game against the last-placed Coyotes a “must win,” while others called it a “can’t lose.” Either way, it felt like a game that the Flames had to have.
For the second straight night, Calgary looked sluggish when the game started and the Coyotes capitalized by scoring just 57 seconds in. Slowly but surely, the Flames, who didn’t arrive at their team hotel until 2:30 a.m., started to find their legs.
The Flames fought back by scoring five straight goals, two in the first period, one in the second and two more in the third before the Coyotes responded with a meaningless goal late in the third period to make it 5-2.
While the Flames weren’t at their best on Thursday, they were considerably better than a Coyotes club that went into the game with season-long four-game winning and six-game point streaks.
GILLIES THE GOALIE
With Mike Smith out with an undisclosed injury for an undetermined amount of time, David Rittich struggling in two of his last three starts and with his team playing on consecutive nights, Gulutzan gave Jon Gillies the start in goal on Thursday. While it was Gillies’ third appearance of the season, it was his first start this year and just the second of his NHL career.
Gillies looked a little shaky early on but seemed to settle in as the game went on. In the end, the 24-year-old stopped 35 of 37 Coyotes shots to improve to 2-0-0 as an NHL starter.
I’m anxious to see what the Flames decide to do with Gillies, who I’m told is quite coveted by a number of NHL teams. With Smith under contract for another season, the emergence of Rittich as a good No. 2 goaltender with No. 1 potential and a blue chip prospect in 2016 Memorial Cup and 2017 World Junior champion Tyler Parsons in their system, the Flames have a lot of depth in goal.
Depending on the severity of Smith’s injury, the Flames may or may not be in the market for a veteran goaltender. Either way, I can’t help but wonder if Gillies will be on the move before Monday’s NHL trade deadline.
THE FLAMES WON FOR THEIR MOMS
After a lopsided loss to the Golden Knights on Wednesday, Flames players really wanted to win Thursday’s game against the Coyotes, the finale of the team’s first-ever Mom’s Trip. The sons didn’t disappoint the moms.
When I watched the moms proudly watching their sons at Wednesday’s morning skate at T-Mobile Arena, I couldn’t help but wonder how many practices and games the moms took their sons to over the years to help them get to the NHL. Hundreds? Thousands?
Regardless of how old we get, most of us never stop trying to make our parents proud. After watching the Flames players around their moms this week, I can confidently tell you that it’s the same for them.
Thursday’s win was an important one of the Flames. Not only did they really need two points, they really wanted to win one for their moms – and they did.