CALGARY – Eight hours before puck drop, Bill Peters set the stage when he spoke frankly of the Calgary Flames No. 1 issue of late:
Six games into the season, only four Flames forwards had found the net, which was in stark contrast to the ten lads who had struck by this time a year earlier.
“It’s a concern right now for sure,” said the Flames coach after Tuesday morning’s pre-game skate.
“We haven’t scored as much as we’d like to in general. We haven’t scored enough five-on-five, or on the power play. It’d be nice for (the team’s depth players) to get one – tonight’s a great opportunity to do that.”
Message delivered, especially to Michael Frolik, who celebrated his 800th NHL game by answering the coach’s challenge with a goal in a 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night.
“I guess not bad huh?” beamed the 31-year Czech winger, sporting a bloodied lip.
“Get a goal and get a win — it’s something special and I will never forget it for sure. The win is the most important. We can see ourselves that there wasn’t much scoring from the bottom guys. It’s still start of the season and some guys need a little more time to settle in. It’s good timing it happened tonight.”
Frolik’s first of the year came on the game’s second shift, just 95 seconds in, when he beat former Flame Brian Elliott far side with a shot in close. Spending his second consecutive game back on the second line with Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk, Frolik buried what was just his fifth shot on net all season.
“He finally shot it, so it’s good for him,” smiled fellow Czech David Rittich, whose own shooting prowess came under question after the game.
“He has a good shot and if he shoots it more and more he’s going to get more goals. But he has to figure out if he can shoot or not.”
The same might be said of Rittich, who attempted to score his first NHL goal with 1:11 left in the game, leaving his long-range attempt a good 15 feet wide for an icing call.
At the time the Flames were clinging to a 2-1 lead thanks to a late second-period goal from Andrew Mangiapane.
While the Saddledome crowd got a kick out of it, the coach was less than impressed.
“Ya, that’s a good question,” said Peters, chuckling when asked what he thought of Rittich’s risky attempt.
“We’ll have to talk about that and look at it. Ritter is a really good goaltender. We’ll continue to work on game management situations, touches and things like that with him. He’s getting better all the time. It might have been nice to check that up a little bit and maybe not go for icing.”
Rittich explained that he didn’t really go for the white of the net as he saw two Flyers clogging up the middle, forcing him to compromise his aim.
“It was weird bounce off the wall (from the dump in) and I had it on my tape, and I thought I would try to chip it out,” said Rittich, who made 21 saves and got plenty of help from dedicated defenders who blocked endless shots during the Flyers’ late press.
“If I freeze it, it’s the same, a faceoff in our zone without a change. I just tried what I did.”
The Flames held the opposition to under 30 shots for the first time all season (37-22), helping Rittich stop all but Matt Niskanen’s blast from the high slot early in the third to make the finish interesting.
Backlund, one of the game’s premier shot-blockers, took one in the foot late that prevented him from skating off the ice under his own power. It looked serious. After disappearing into the Flames dressing room with the help of staffers for a good ten minutes, he returned to defend against the final flurry.
Peters said he wasn’t ready to breathe a sigh of relief until he’s confident that after another 24 hours the damage to Backlund’s foot isn’t worse.
Mangiapane’s goal was a muffin he one-timed from inside the blue line, deflecting off of Travis Sanheim before beating Elliott for the eventual winner. It demonstrated that the second- through fourth-liners needed to shoot more in order to reverse their early misfortunes.
The goal came after Milan Lucic, of all people, won a draw that quickly got back to Mangiapane for the shot.
“Hockey is all about confidence and when all those other guys score they’re going to get confidence,” added Frolik, whose goal marked just the second time in seven outings this year the Flames have scored first.
Tkachuk, incidentally, was the only other forward outside the top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm to have scored before Tuesday’s win.
Surprising, given the Flames pride themselves on being deeper than they’ve been in decades.
Lindholm’s empty netter, his fourth goal of the year, iced the win with 11 seconds left.