CALGARY – The grin was a gnarled mess, but what prompted it was a thing of beauty.
Two days after a puck to the mouth loosened several teeth and complicated conversation, Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano scored a Norris-Trophy-type goal he punctuated with an animated celebration.
“You don’t get too many of those ones – that’s why the celly was what it was,” smiled Giordano of a forehand-backhand deke he completed after driving the net from the left side.
“The boys were giving it to me a bit on that one. But if I’m going to score one like that I’m going to make the celly count for sure.”
It wasn’t disrespectful, nor was it over the top. Just arms raised in the air like a triumphant prize fighter as his 13th put the Flames up 2-1 in a game they eventually won 5-2 over Arizona.
Giordano’s latest two-point effort came with a surprise defensive partner revealed shortly after puck drop when 22-year-old Rasmus Andersson filled in for late scratch TJ Brodie, who should be back Wednesday.
Andersson, who started the season in the minors, was the obvious replacement despite the fact he has just 67 NHL games to his credit.
He’s been that impressive this season.
“I got to the game, looked at the lineup and didn’t see my name in the third pairing, so I looked up and there I was,” beamed the Swedish second-rounder.
“It’s just real simple to play with Gio – he’s one of the best players in the league. It’s always a privilege to play with him.”
Indeed, the 35-year-old captain has a history of making everyone he plays with better. But it was the first of two assists by Andersson that revealed just how savvy the youngster is.
Retrieving the puck on his own goal line, he looked up and saw Matthew Tkachuk at the opposition’s blue line, prompting a lengthy bank pass past Johnny Gaudreau and onto Tkachuk’s stick. Pulling up after entering the Coyotes’ zone, Tkachuk spotted a trailing Giordano and fed him a gem the defenceman finished off by cutting in from the left side, beating Calvin Pickard to the middle and placing it into the empty cage.
Giordano’s 57 points is second in the NHL among defencemen, which is the 15th-highest point total in a season ever scored by a blue liner aged 35 or older. Yet, his praise was directed elsewhere.
“You can’t teach poise and he’s got it,” said Giordano, of Andersson, one of three defenders under age 22 regularly in the Flames lineup this season (with Noah Hanifin and Oliver Kylington).
“I don’t know what he does before games but he’s so calm and that’s one of the qualities I wish I could have out there. I’m more of a high-strung guy on the ice. He never panics. Same with (Juuso) Valimaki too – our young guys all have it. I don’t know what they’re doing in training these days.
“He’s (stepped in) before. He’s played a lot of minutes here on a bunch of nights. He never really looks out of place.”
Depth like that has been the hallmark of a Flames team that has surged to tops in the Western Conference after missing the playoffs last year.
While the defence has been solid, their success has revolved largely around an offence that can come from anywhere, as nine different Flames have double-digits in goals this season.
The next goal the Flames score will tie the total of 218 they had all last season. Keep in mind, there are still 23 games left.
In a rare Monday afternoon tilt at a Saddledome filled with kids for the Family Day holiday, Derek Ryan picked up his second goal and eighth point in eight games since the prolonged break.
Michael Frolik and Mikael Backlund also scored for the Flames in a game tied 2-2 late in the second period, before Austin Czarnik scored for the second straight game to put the Flames ahead for good.
Czarnik, who has spent the bulk of the season in the press box, is filling in for the injured James Neal, whose injury status hasn’t yet been revealed since he left the game Thursday in Florida.
It all speaks to the depth issue GM Brad Treliving addressed in the off-season with much success. The team is averaging a full goal per game more than they did last year when they finished 27th in scoring.
They currently sit second in that department.
Yet, there was coach Bill Peters swapping Tkachuk with Elias Lindholm on the top line in an effort to get the top six going after several games of being carried by the depth charges.
Mike Smith made his third straight start for the first time since October, making 27 saves in yet another sharp outing. He, too, was impressed by the new top duo in front of him.
“Gio makes a lot of other players better but Rasmus does an unbelievable job to play big minutes with us tonight,” said Smith.
“He’s got poise to hold onto the puck and make plays. I think it gets overlooked some nights because he’s on the third pair, but it shows what kind of tools he does have when he gets bumped up with Gio. He’s improved a ton this year from when he was called up.”
Peters was thrilled with how the team played in front of Smith.
“I like the fact we were tighter here defensively – we haven’t been as tight as we would have liked in the last couple games and I think that is going to be something that gets talked about a lot down the stretch,” said Peters, who said Brodie needed a game off.
“I think he is going to be fine. I think we should have him ready to go by Wednesday. Day off tomorrow so today was a good opportunity to give him some rest after getting a little dinged up on the road. We wanted to buy him some time.”
Flames host the Islanders Wednesday.