From healthy scratch to hero.
Drawing back into the lineup due to an injury to Matthew Tkachuk Monday night, Zac Rinaldo brought much more than just his trademark grit and energy to the fold against the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday.
He chipped in a goal, an assist, two drawn penalties and a game-high four hits in a 5-2 win that had just about everybody in Calgary Flames togs involved once again.
Just as he did Saturday when he scored his first as a Flame and got hoofed for a fight during a TV timeout, the 29-year-old PTO signing helped set the tone for a Flames club devoid of passengers en route to its sixth-straight win under Geoff Ward.
His interception off a Jordan Oesterle pass two minutes into the game led to a nifty setup of Michael Frolik’s game-opener – the second in as many games for the fourth-liner.
Two minutes later, a Johnny Gaudreau slapper beat Annti Raanta and the rout was on.
Rinaldo got involved again five minutes into the second to make it 3-0 with a one-timer in the slot off of a nice feed from Frolik.
Sean Monahan extended his point streak to seven games for the Flames’ fourth late in the period before the Coyotes finally solved Cam Talbot in the dying seconds of the frame.
By night’s end, the Flames moved to within two points of the division lead held by the Edmonton Oilers and Coyotes with a 5-2 win that included Milan Lucic’s third goal in four outings to give the lads 15 of 16 points their last eight.
An incredible turnaround for a team winless in six near the end of November while a cloud hung over the franchise due to the Bill Peters investigation and departure.
Plenty of kudos to go around for a Flames bunch that won back-to-back roadies and now returns home for a date with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday.
THE BIG TAKEAWAY
Cam Talbot was a monster, stopping 46 shots in a game where he was clearly the first star.
In a season full of stiff tests, why wouldn’t Talbot have to come up big a mere 20 seconds in? A Nick Schmaltz tester prompted the 32-year-old Flames backup to make a low glove save that set the tone for his best outing of the year.
Picking up his second win in three games and just his third of the season, Talbot is providing the type of goaltending the Flames will need if they are going to confidently spell off David Rittich with more regularity.
Three of the Flames’ goals came mere moments after big Talbot saves on a night in which he made just his eighth start. Fifteen of those came in the first period, allowing the visitors to get off to an early 2-0 lead thanks to Frolik and Gaudreau.
Rinaldo’s goal early in the second period came minutes after Talbot got a big of a break when a bouncing puck prevented Phil Kessel from converting on a great opportunity net-side.
A brilliant toe-save by Talbot through traffic set up Monahan’s goal to put the Flames up 4-0.
• Tkachuk injured his right shoulder or arm after an awkward hit he threw on Nikita Zadorov Monday in Colorado, prompting him to leave the game immediately. He returned to finish the contest, but wasn’t able to play Tuesday, setting the table for the very first NHL call up for five-foot-eight, 160-pound Matthew Phillips. The 21-year-old Calgary native, who sits seventh in AHL scoring with 25 points in 22 games, was not inserted into the lineup.
The hole left in the roster by Tkachuk’s absence was filled by Tobias Rieder, who played on the top line alongside Elias Lindholm and Andrew Mangiapane. Tkachuk’s spot on the top power-play unit was filled by fourth-liner Mark Jankowski, who got his first point in 28 games on Monday against the Colorado Avalanche.
• Also drawing into the lineup was Michael Stone, who replaced Oliver Kylington.
• Goal scoring, which was the biggest problem for the Flames early this season, has not been an issue during this eight-game point binge. The Flames have now scored three or more goals in eight of their last nine.
The Flames head home to host the Maple Leafs Thursday.