After getting shutout by the Nashville Predators at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Saturday, the Flames’ offence exploded for six goals on Sunday, when they wrapped up a stretch of three games in four nights with a decisive 6-1 victory over the Canucks at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.
Expectations were high for Sam Bennett going into his third full season in the NHL, but to say things didn’t start well for the 21-year-old would be an understatement.
Pointless in the first 15 and goalless in the first 16 games of the season, Bennett didn’t record his first point until Nov. 9 or score his first goal until Nov. 13. However, since getting those monkeys off his back, Bennett has been a different player.
The fourth-overall pick of the 2014 NHL Draft has been getting better and better since late November and was in “beast mode” Sunday when he equaled his career-high with four points, scoring one goal and adding three assists.
In 11 games since Nov. 28, Bennett has four goals, eight assists and 12 points.
Bennett is at his best when he’s playing like a bulldog, and right now he’s playing like a rabid one. Bennett looks fantastic playing on the left side of Mark Jankowski – who is looking more and more like the Flames’ number three centre of the present and future.
With Jankowski and Bennett playing the best hockey of their lives, the Flames appear to have a third dynamic duo to go with Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, and Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik.
The Flames have been really good at even strength and pretty good on the penalty kill for quite some time, but the team’s biggest Achilles heel since late November has been the power play.
While there are a number of reasons why, one of them is the absence of Kris Versteeg, who has been an important part of the team’s first power play since early last season. Going into Sunday’s game, the Flames were 3-for-37 on the power play in 11 games without the playmaking veteran.
The power play finally broke through in the third period versus the Canucks, when Micheal Ferland scored with the man advantage to snap his team’s 0-for-20 streak on the power play.
Prior to Versteeg’s injury, the Flames’ power play was productive, operating at well over 20 per cent. Assistant coach Dave Cameron, who runs the team’s power play, made some changes on Sunday, putting Matthew Tkachuk in front of the net, Mark Giordano on the blue line on the first power play, Ferland at forward and T.J. Brodie on defence on the second unit.
Special teams tend to go through good and bad stretches. After going through a long haul where nothing seemed to work with the man advantage, the Flames are hoping that Ferland’s goal will get their power play going.
SEVEN IN 12
The Flames wrapped-up a seven-game-in-12-day stretch Sunday, one that included two three-in-fours.
The Flames picked up at least a point in five of the seven games, going 3-2-2. Every team in the league has difficult stretches in their schedule and, in my opinion, the Flames played better in their last seven games than their record would lead you to believe.
Earning eight of a possible 14 points was pretty impressive, especially considering the quality of their competition – every team they faced had a .500 or better record.
The Flames now have a couple of days to recover before they battle the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday.
SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL
While their rivalry isn’t what it once was, I think it’s safe to say most Flames fans don’t like the Canucks and vice versa. With that said, it’s tough not to feel for the Canucks and their fans right now.
Derek Dorsett, after a strong start to the season, was forced to retire, while, already without a number of their top players such as Brandon Sutter, Sven Baertschi, Bo Horvat, Chris Tanev and Erik Gudbranson, the Canucks lost another important player on Sunday.
This time it was Brock Boeser, one of the leading candidates for the Calder Trophy this season.
Going into Sunday’s game, Boeser led the league in rookie goals with 17 and points with 30. With all of their recent struggles and all of their injuries, Boeser gave fans a reason to be excited. Unfortunately, after taking a Giordano slapshot off the outside of his left foot, Boeser went to the dressing room and didn’t return.
What may have been more telling than the Canucks rookie crawling off the ice were the reactions of general manager Jim Benning and head coach Travis Green when they appeared to receive some bad news on Boeser, who was spotted wearing a walking boot and on crutches after the game.
The hardest thing to do in the NHL is score goals. Boeser is a gifted goal scorer. Here’s hoping that his injury isn’t as serious as it appears to be.