The Calgary Flames have not trailed in a hockey game since the season opener.
Flames fans may have a hard time comprehending that little nugget, given the team’s history of poor starts to games and seasons.
But then, who would expect anything less from a team that possesses two lads atop the NHL’s scoring lead?
Yes, another hard-to-fathom fact, as Andrew Mangiapane and Elias Lindholm tied Alex Ovechkin with their seventh goals of the year in Tuesday’s 5-3 win in New Jersey.
While both Flames snipers have played a significant role in the team’s four-game win streak, scoring first has done well to pave the way.
Milan Lucic scored early Tuesday, marking the fourth-straight game on this road trip the Flames have struck first.
It allowed the Flames to closely follow a script of first period dominance that saw them go up 2-0 in Detroit, 3-0 in Washington, 1-0 in Manhattan and 4-0 against the Devils.
From there, solid goaltending and a focus on defensive play have allowed the Flames to remain perfect on this eastern roadie.
Despite opening the season with a pair of losses, the 4-1-1 Flames are now just one point behind Edmonton atop the Pacific division.
It’s a surprising development for a team that spent the last handful of training camps talking about the perils of trying to play catch up in today’s NHL.
“I think that’s been key to our success the last five games -- we’ve been able to get that first goal and roll from there,” said Lucic, including the team’s overtime loss in Game 2 as part of their point streak.
“I think we’re doing a good job with our preparation and establishing our play right from the drop of the puck. It’s the players, but (Coach) Darryl (Sutter) puts a lot of emphasis on us having a good start. That’s always huge. Your confidence, your ability to make plays, your swagger, it’s always easier and better when you have the lead. It’s something we need to continue to emphasize moving forward.”
The leads have allowed Sutter to roll four lines and for the players to play within the system without having to take chances with an eye on erasing deficits.
“That’s been the difference so far this year and what we didn’t have last year -- we’d get frustrated and try to do too much,” said Lucic, whose club seemed to forever be behind early last season.
“It’s never going to be perfect, so you just have to stay within the system and the game plan and that’s when you give yourself the best chance to win.”
Having the two hottest scorers in the NHL helps too.
Mangiapane recorded his second-straight two-goal game to sit atop the NHL scoring lead with a fella named Ovechkin and Lindholm, who also scored Tuesday.
Mangiapane’s first was a reward for causing a turnover he finished in tight, while the second was a breakaway he finished with an all-world backhand-to-forehand deke.
Lindholm’s goal was a deflection on the power play that came in the midst of a dominant opening frame in which the Flames out-shot the hosts 10-4.
“I think it starts with their compete level in the scoring areas, winning battles, making plays and, most importantly, finishing plays in those areas,” said Lucic when asked about a run that has seen Mangiapane score 12 goals in his last 10 NHL games, as well as seven goals in seven outings as World Championship MVP.
“A lot of his goals are from the crease in, because he’s willing to get there. He’s scraping for rebounds and getting inside on guys. That’s where guys get rewarded.”
Daniel Vladar picked up his second win, making 27 saves in a game that saw the Devils score two late goals to make things interesting.
SHUTDOWN TRIO FORMING
For the second-straight game, the team’s top checking line stood out, as Mikael Backlund, Blake Coleman and Tyler Pitlick continue to epitomize what Sutter wants most from his players: attention to defensive details.
“All three of us are solid, two-way players, responsible players and at the same time we can all score goals in this league,” said Backlund, who has long been the team’s shut-down centre. “We’re hard on the forecheck, so it should be a line that’s hard and frustrating to play against. That’s our goal.”
The early lead made the trio’s task easy Tuesday, as they easily stymied the Devils.
A night earlier in Manhattan the lads combined for 13 shots and a pair of goals, which were products of a forecheck that hemmed the opposition in their own zone all evening.
“We’re all proud, two-way guys who focus our games most importantly on keeping the puck out of our net, but we all want to contribute offensively as well,” said Coleman, who led the team with a whopping 12 shots on goal the last two nights.“We have the instincts and abilities to do so.
"It reminds me a little bit of our line in Tampa in the sense that we can play big minutes and play d-zone faceoffs and be relied upon defensively but at the same time contribute offensively. We’re building chemistry but I like the way it’s going.”
High praise from a lad whose line – Barclay Goodrow, Yanni Gourde and himself – was widely considered to be the final ingredient needed for the Lightning to win two-straight Stanley Cups.
“If there’s a secret recipe for it I would say you’ve all got to be goal-oriented players who want to establish the same sort of game,” added Coleman. “With Pitter and Backs they’re proud of their defensive game and they know what’s expected of them. Chemistry is a weird thing – sometimes you have it and sometimes you don’t.
"That’s why lines get shuffled so much. When you do find it you try to hold onto it because it’s hard to find. They work hard, have great offensive instincts, you don’t spend much time in your d zone because they’re quick to pucks and strong in battles.”
HOMECOMING OF SORTS FOR COLEMAN
The game marked Coleman’s first in New Jersey since being traded by the Devils Feb. 16, 2020 for Nolan Foote and a first rounder.
A popular player who was, at first, crushed by the move, Coleman was welcomed back by a video and ensuing applause from the crowd.
“Nothing but really good memories for me in Jersey,” said Coleman, who admitted for the first time a return to Jersey was seriously considered as he mulled over all the offers he received as a free agent this summer. “They drafted me (third round) and it was my first pro team and pro experience.
"We made the playoffs the first full year there. A lot of good memories. They’re a first-class organization in the sense that they take care of their players. It’s kind of crazy it has been so long and I haven’t been back there.”
Since his time in Jersey, his life has been, um, eventful.
“Whirlwind is a good word,” said Coleman, 29. “It’s been chaotic, and exciting, and just crazy at times.
"Obviously I was pretty upset when I got traded. I was very happy in Jersey and my family was happy and we were about to have our first daughter. It’s one of those things where at the time you can’t see the big picture, but it all worked out pretty great. Had a great experience in Tampa, had two daughters, went through a global pandemic.”
The Flames wrap up this five-game trip with their third roadie in four nights Thursday in Pittsburgh.