Three games in and things are looking good for the Calgary Flames.
Despite having seven new faces in the lineup, the team came together quickly with a core group that has shown some character in overcoming a few horrific periods to claim five of six points.
Not bad for a notoriously slow-starting team.
Sure, it’s a small sample size, but with the team in the midst of a (quirky) five-day break, it’s a good time to reflect on what we’ve learned so far:
Jacob Markstrom looks good in red
The Flames’ Six Million Dollar Man has made an immediate impact, playing a prominent role in all three games thus far.
He opened against the Winnipeg Jets with several huge saves late in a tie game to save the loser point.
He then crushed the souls of Vancouver Canucks fans by shutting out his former team, before coming up with a heroic first period two nights later that set the stage for a rousing comeback.
The man plucked out of Vancouver to give Calgary stability and star status in net is 2-0-1 with a 1.99 GAA and .935 save percentage.
So far, so good, leading long-time friend, countryman and teammate Elias Lindholm to joke, “for now, he deserves the contract.”
Although blessed with a serenity akin to the unflappable Miikka Kiprusoff, the six-foot-six Swede plays such a quietly efficient game he isn’t likely to pull off many of the circus stops the retired Flames superstar made nightly.
He’s just a steady, calming influence for a team that couldn’t have asked for a better start from the 30-year-old, who has five years left on his $36 million deal.
The Flames have a new top line
This is in no way a commentary on the former top guns, led by Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. They are both off to a great start with four points apiece.
However, they’re still in search of the man who can replace Lindholm on their right side to make them the team's most formidable threat 5-on-5.
Josh Leivo started alongside them but after missing a full year to recover from knee surgery, it may take some time for him to find his niche in Calgary.
Dominik Simon now has the gig and was instrumental in causing traffic on a key Gaudreau goal to kickstart Monday’s comeback win.
We'll see if he's capable of complementing them as he did in Pittsburgh alongside Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby at times.
Meanwhile, Dillon Dube’s brimming confidence made him a great fit with Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk before he left Monday’s game early in the second period with a lower-body injury. The team said it doesn’t expect his injury to keep him out long, and used Andrew Mangiapane on the top line in Thursday’s practice.
Separating Lindholm from the big duo and putting him in the middle has had its desired effect, forcing teams to debate which trio deserves the most defensive attention.
The Flames' power play is potent
The Flames have scored at least one power-play goal in each game, including all three in their win over Vancouver on Saturday.
Two more came in Monday's 5-2 win, giving the team six goals in 16 man advantages, good for a fourth-place tie in the league at 37.5 per cent.
Coach Geoff Ward figures the early success has plenty to do with the familiarity both units have with one another.
Rasmus Andersson has fit right in as Erik Gustaffson’s replacement on the first unit with Gaudreau, Monahan, Tkachuk and Lindholm.
Mark Giordano mans the top on the second unit with Mikael Backlund, Milan Lucic, Mangiapane and Dube.
The quarterbacks for each group also possess big shots and have done well to move the puck around quickly while Tkachuk and Lucic provide solid net-front presences.
Chris Tanev steps in for TJ Brodie
A career-high eight blocks in the team’s 3-0 win over his former team marked Chris Tanev’s first appearance at the Saddledome as a Flame.
Signed to a four-year, $18-million contract hours after the Flames lost Brodie to the Leafs, locals weren’t sure whether it was an upgrade or not.
It’s still way too early to tell, especially since they play different styles, but Tanev’s defensive prowess appears to mesh well with Noah Hanifin on a second pairing that has also shown flashes of offensive upside, with key pinches and the odd rush.
The arrival of the 31-year-old Canuck has allowed Andersson to move up to the top pairing, where he was fit in well with Giordano.
Tanev has already demonstrated to be especially proficient as a penalty killer alongside Giordano, as the two have anchored a short-handed unit that ranks fourth in the league at 91.7 per cent.
The big boys are all rolling
All the Flames' best players on paper have been the team’s best players on the ice.
Keep that up and the division crown is a very real possibility for this group.
Again, it’s early, but so far there the team has avoided the type of slow start it is known for.
Gaudreau, Monahan and Lindholm all have four points, while Tkachuk and Andersson have three apiece. Dube, Backlund and Giordano all have a goal and a helper.
Yes, the team’s depth gives it an advantage over most — all top-nine forwards have hit the scoresheet at least once — but it’s the top guns who need to continue shining to be successful.