Thursday’s contest in Nashville may have been the Flames’ best of the 2017-2018 season. If it wasn’t the Flames’ best game of the season, it was one of their three best, according to one of the coaches. After playing pretty well in the first period of Tuesday’s game in Boston, it looked like the Flames were out of gas in the second and third periods, when the Bruins scored four unanswered goals en route to a decisive 5-2 win.
Two nights later, the Flames’ tank looked full. By playing well from pretty much start to finish, the Flames improved to 2-0 in Nashville this season, snapped their opponent’s seven-game point streak and handed the Central Division-leading Predators just their second regulation loss in their last 17 games.
After losing in regulation for the first time in eight career NHL starts on Tuesday, David Rittich responded with a really strong performance on Thursday. The 25-year-old stopped 29 of 32 Predators shots to improve to 6-1-2 as a starter. Rittich’s only real faux pas happened with a little less that eight minutes remaining in regulation time. With the Flames leading 4-2, Rittich tried to take a page out of Mike Smith’s book by making a breakout pass up the middle of the ice. Unfortunately for the goaltender and his team, he put it right on the tape of Pontus Aberg’s stick. Aberg found Nick Bonino alone in front of the Flames net and Bonino tapped the puck past Rittich to make it 3-2.
To the rookie goalie’s credit, he bailed himself out by making a number of big saves in the final eight minutes, including two sensational saves on Kevin Fiala with less than 10 seconds left in the third period to preserve the win.
SPECIAL TEAMS SPECIAL
Teams that win the special teams battle win way more often than not in the NHL. On Thursday, the Flames’ much-maligned power play went two-for-three. The penalty kill, which also struggled during the road trip, went a perfect five-for-five versus a Predators power play that was ranked fifth in the NHL — and No. 1 at home — going into the game. Confidence is important in every aspect of the game, including special teams, and with the way they performed on both the PP and the PK on Thursday, the Flames gained some much-needed confidence on both sides of special teams.
While there were certainly some ups and downs during their six-game, 11-day road trip, the Flames will return to Calgary with a 4-2-0 record and eight of a possible 12 points. With Thursday’s win, the Flames improved to 17-7-5 outside of Scotiabank Saddledome this season. The Flames’ 39 points on the road are second-most in the NHL (the Lightning have 40) and their .672 point percentage is second-best in the league (the Bruins have a .720 point percentage away from home). The Flames will play home games against the Panthers on Saturday and the Bruins on Monday before they travel to Las Vegas and Arizona to battle the Golden Knights and Coyotes in a back-to-back next Wednesday and Thursday.
MILESTONE FOR MARK
Mark Giordano played his 731st game for the Flames on Thursday, moving past Joel Otto for fifth-most in franchise history. Undrafted into the Ontario Hockey League and the National Hockey League, Giordano had to jump over a lot of hurdles just to get to the OHL and NHL, let alone become captain of the Flames and develop into one of the greatest defencemen in franchise history.
With 108 goals and 367 points, Giordano has produced more than half a point per game in his career. As good as he has been offensively, I think Giordano has been even better defensively, playing tough minutes against the other team’s top players night after night. In my opinion, to be considered a great player, you have to have the ability to make the guys you play with better. Giordano does that – just ask T.J. Brodie and Dougie Hamilton. Giordano is a consummate professional both on and off the ice and doesn’t seem to be slowing down at the age of 34.