The only thing tougher than stopping the Calgary Flames Thursday in Buffalo would have been selecting the three stars.
Did Andrew Mangiapane’s two-goal, eight-shot effort deserve top billing in a 5-0 whitewash of the Sabres?
After all, his 11th and 12th catapulted the 25-year-old breakout star into second amongst NHL goal scorers, which includes an NHL-best 11 on the road.
#Flames Andrew Mangipane has been an even-strength force on the road since the start of last season
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) November 19, 2021
What about the three-point efforts by both Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau, whose chemistry was on full display throughout a cakewalk that opened with a long bomb from the former that was finished top shelf by the latter.
Lest we overlook the 27-save shutout by Jacob Markstrom, who extended his league lead in bagels to five.
Poor ol' Oliver Kylington, who has rightfully received a healthy dose of adulation of late, doesn’t even get consideration for extending his eye-popping point binge to 12 points in his last 12 games.
On a road trip in which the Flames probably deserved better than one win in their first four games, the Flames head into the homestretch of their seven-game jaunt with a reminder they are capable of scoring in bunches.
With an eye on altering the fortunes of an offensive group that had been stumbling of late, coach Darryl Sutter opted to replace Sean Monahan with Mikael Backlund on the second line between Blake Coleman and Mangiapane.
It worked, as the veteran made a brilliant return pass on a 2-on-1 to give Mangiapane his second of the game, opening the door for a series of late passes aimed at trying to get the team’s scoring sensation his second career hat trick.
It wasn’t to be.
"We all wanted him to get it," Tkachuk said. "In the second and third, he had like a million shot attempts. He wanted it, too.
"He played really well tonight. Still a very humble kid and just kind of scratching the surface of what he can be. He’s starting to show the rest of the hockey world that he’s one of the best in the NHL."
You can bet the brass at Hockey Canada took notice, once again, as Mangiapane is now tied with Alex Ovechkin, Kyle Connor and Chris Kreider for second in the NHL.
His 10 even-strength markers are second only to Connor.
OK, we’ve convinced ourselves, Mangiapane gets first star.
THE BAGEL BUNCH
The Flames entered the game the second-stingiest team in the league defensively, behind the Carolina Hurricanes.
Six of the Flames’ nine wins have come via shutout, as backup Dan Vladar has one as well.
#Flames are the first team in modern NHL history (since 1943) with 6 shutouts through their first 17 games
Last team to do so was the 1938-39 Bruins pic.twitter.com/UyC9w9xVmS
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) November 19, 2021
With a previous career high of three shutouts, Markstrom now has five in 13 starts, putting him on a pace to shatter the franchise record of 10 by legendary Flames netminder Miikka Kiprusoff, set in 2005-06.
Kiprusoff started 74 games that season, which clearly won’t be the case for the Swedish star this year.
He wasn’t called upon to make too many big saves Thursday, as he once again fit perfectly into a defensive-minded system aimed at limiting the sort of chances the team had allowed two nights earlier in an overtime loss to Philadelphia.
To put in perspective the dominance, Markstrom has more shutouts than four teams have wins this year.
With apologies to Mangiapane, Kylington continues to be one of the best breakout stories of the NHL season.
Playing with a poise and confidence that is allowing him to take reasonable chances offensively, the 24-year-old’s point per game pace the last three weeks speaks to his newfound consistency.
He’s been held off the scoresheet just once in the last dozen games, while being a minus player just twice all season.
"Just try to be as reliable as I can in my own zone and chip in offensively when I can,” said Kylington of his philosophy.
“Just trying to be a good two-way defenceman and be as consistent as possible. I feel I can open it up and I can use my offensive instincts. But everything starts in our own end. You have to be good there to get opportunities offensively."
You can bet he's thanked the hockey gods for a partner like Chris Tanev, whose defensive-mindedness can help atone for potential missteps.
“I just try to do what I'm good at, and what I know that I'm good at, and he's really good defensive defenceman and we complement each other really good out there,” said Kylington, who leads all Flames defencemen in points.
"I would say, looking back, he's one of the better or the best guys I've been playing with as a defensive partner. He's on me, though. He's really on me, and I'm appreciative of that, and really try to do it as a pair and really work as a pair and help each other out. That helps a lot when you communicate a lot and try to improve some small details in our game all the time. As a friend, and as a teammate, it's not being hard on you like 'I'm mad at you!' It's just helping each other out and we're trusting each other and we're making plays."
With points in seven of their last nine, the Flames will help the New York Islanders open their new arena Saturday before finishing a seven-game road swing in Boston on Sunday.