Trailing 2-1 after two periods, the Calgary Flames scored three unanswered goals in the final nine minutes to come from behind to beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-2 at Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday. Here are some thoughts from the game.
On Saturday night, the Flames looked like a team that got home in the wee hours of the morning on Friday after going to a shootout in Wednesday’s game against the Maple Leafs and to overtime in Thursday’s contest versus the Canadiens. All told, they flew from Calgary to Toronto, Toronto to Montreal and Montreal to Calgary all in less than 72 hours. In other words, the Flames looked mentally and physically tired versus the Canucks.
Despite their gruelling schedule, the Flames found a way to win what was a battle of attrition with their Pacific Division-rival the Canucks. While it wasn’t pretty, ugly wins are worth two points, too.
BIG GOAL FOR BENNETT
Sam Bennett is back. After going 15 games without a point and 16 games without a goal to start the season, Bennett has finally found his game. The highest pick in franchise history (fourth overall in the 2014 draft), Bennett scored his biggest goal of the season on Saturday night. With the score tied at two and with less than two minutes remaining in regulation time, the Flames’ third line of Bennett, Mark Jankowski and Garnet Hathaway had the best shift of any line on either team in the game.
After getting denied three or four times by Anders Nilsson, Bennett, through sheer hard work and determination, finally put the puck past the Canucks goaltender to give the Flames their first lead of the game with just 1:10 left in the third period. Bennett’s goal, which was his third in the last five games and fourth of the season, was the game-winner. The 21-year-old now has eight points in his last seven games. More importantly, Bennett appears to have his confidence and swagger back.
500 FOR SMITH
For most of his NHL career, Mike Smith has played for below-average teams – so I think it’s fitting that with a win in his 500th career regular-season game, Smith moved above .500 in the win-loss column. With his parents, Ron and Ingrid, in the “C of Red” cheering him on, Smith stopped 22 of 24 Canucks shots. With the win, the 35-year-old improved to 208-207-62 in 500 career NHL games with the Stars, Lightning, Coyotes and Flames. Smith is as good a person as he is a goaltender – and that says a mouthful.
BIG SKATES TO FILL
Hathaway has done a fantastic job filling in for Jaromir Jagr, the NHL’s second-all-time leading scorer, on the right side of the Flames’ third line. While Jagr isn’t the player that he used to be, Bennett and Jankowski have looked better with him than without him prior to Hathaway’s recall. I think it goes without saying that Hathaway and Jagr are very different players. While both guys are big and strong, that’s where the comparisons end. With that said, while Hathaway isn’t the playmaker that Jagr is, he’s brought different elements to the line.
Hathaway is a good skater who gets in on the forecheck and goes hard to his opponents’ net, as evidenced by his game-tying goal in the Flames’ 3-2 overtime victory over the Canadiens on Thursday. With two assists in Saturday’s game against the Canucks, Hathaway has four points in six games since being recalled from the Stockton Heat. While it’s a small sample size, the 26-year-old has looked like an NHLer.
By playing well with Bennett and Jankowski, Hathaway has bought Jagr and the Flames some time. I still believe Calgary is a better team with than without Jagr, but with Hathaway’s play, there’s no need to rush the 45-year-old back from a nagging lower-body injury before he’s really ready to return. When Jagr is ready, there is a pretty good chance that head coach Glen Gulutzan will put him right back on the right side of the third line – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Hathaway is going to return to the AHL. In my opinion, Hathaway deserves to stay. While the fourth line has been better of late, it has lacked an identity for most of the season. Hathaway has the potential to change that.
REST FOR THE WEARY
The Flames will get a much-needed and much-deserved day off on Sunday. The team will practise on Monday morning before flying to Minnesota on Monday afternoon for Tuesday night’s game against the Wild.