In a spooky turn of events, the Calgary Flames have all of a sudden become a very injured team, and it showed as they hosted the Nashville Predators, facing off against the Music City squad (do they like George Canyon there? It seems like they should?) for the second time in two and a half weeks. While the injuries didn't stop, the Flames took advantage of their opportunities, and came away with as much reason to feel good as a group of guys who don't get to eat a bunch of candy on Halloween can.
Michael Ferland's first ever NHL shift? A heavy hit on Paul Gaustad. Welcome to the NHL, Ferland! He nearly recorded his first shot soon after, right after a smooth toe drag to elude Seth Jones and open up a lane.
Both teams exchanged scoring chances early on, from a Gabriel Bourque and Eric Nystrom 2 on 1 that Jonas Hiller played perfectly to a Sean Monahan chance just moments later. Ferland and his fellow linemate Markus Granlund, now spanning two leagues, were able to play the puck and generate a few chances as well, although they spent most of their time in their own zone.
If anyone was really giving the Flames fits, it was the Predators' top line, although Hiller had no problems handling them. At times, they trapped the Flames in their own end, and there was one particularly notable moment with Filip Forsberg fed James Neal with an excellent stretch pass, sending Neal on a break. Mark Giordano caught up to him, however, and while Neal got a shot off, Giordano successfully took him out without taking a penalty.
To counter, the Flames had, well, Johnny Gaudreau. He was able to singlehandedly carry the puck into the offensive zone, and completely deke out Anton Volchenkov, turning the Preds' veteran defenceman inside out as he slipped right by him to get a shot off. Pekka Rinne denied what would have been an amazing goal, and kept the game scoreless as Gaudreau nearly scored in the final minute as well.
The period ended with the Flames outshooting the Preds 10-8, but they were out-corsied 26-20.
A Roman Josi slapshot nearly opened the scoring, but the Flames got bailed out. With Calgary's bottom line and defence pairing stuck out there, Josi fired it from the point through traffic, beating Hiller. It was called off, however, as Colin Wilson, who was jockeying for position with Ladislav Smid at the top of the crease, was called for goaltender interference.
Wilson's actions still led to the opening goal, though. Forty-three seconds into the powerplay, with Monahan set up in his office - the front of the net, where he's scored many, many goals over his short NHL career - he corralled the puck from Dennis Wideman and snuck it right past Rinne, putting the Flames up 1-0.
Calgary's kids helped keep the pressure up, as Granlund and Ferland came in to the offensive zone controlling the puck and playing off one another. Ferland got his first recorded NHL shot on goal in this moment.
It wasn't to last, though. The Predators took the puck back, and Ryan Ellis got it at the point. He shot it towards the traffic gathered around the net, and Craig Smith was the first to get a handle on it. Just like that, he roofed it over a sprawling Hiller, tying the game at 1.
The Predators really started to pull away as the period went on, and it didn't take long for them to get the lead. Mike Ribeiro won a faceoff in the Flames zone, and he fed it right to Neal. Neal, without hesitation, shot the puck, beating Hiller fivehole and giving the Preds a 2-1 lead. Nashville continued its dominance for pretty much the rest of the period, with Calgary getting just a few chances here and there.
Just as the period was ending, Volchenkov caught Ferland late. He hit him high, with his elbow directly contacting the rookie's jaw. That halted play as Ferland took a moment to get back up, eventually walking down the tunnel, looking a little worse for the wear. There was no penalty on the play, and the period ended with the Flames somehow outshooting the Preds 20-17, but the Preds up 59-38 in corsi.
Volchenkov's headshot on Ferland ended the rookie's first NHL game, stopping him at just two periods played.
Gaudreau took over his spot on the line with Granlund and Jiri Hudler, and it paid off right away. With the puck in Rinne's crease, Gaudreau dug it out. Granlund grabbed it, and quickly dished it cross-crease to Hudler, who was standing with a wide open net. He had no problems tapping it in, tying the game at 2.
That line was right back at it, with Gaudreau driving to the net again, and he and Granlund nearly taking back the lead. They didn't, but Gaudreau drew a penalty when Mattias Ekholm tripped him in the aftermath. It only took seven seconds for the Flames to lead once again, as Monahan found TJ Brodie uncovered in the left circle. David Jones was standing just behind Shea Weber and Rinne in the crease, but Brodie didn't need him: he threw the puck on net, and it deflected in off Weber's skate, putting the Flames up 3-2 on the back of a perfect powerplay.
And... they weren't done. Just over two minutes later, Gaudreau carried the puck in, as he had been doing the entire game. Smith was trying to stop him, but Gaudreau was simply too quick and nimble for any Predator to have any affect as he streaked down the wing. Gaudreau threw it on net from a bad angle, and... beat Rinne over the shoulder, scoring the insurance goal to make it 4-2 in a quick turnaround.
Gaudreau's new line was rolling, but it was Hudler who took the Flames' first penalty of the game by interfering with former Flame Olli Jokinen. The Flames had a good start on the kill, including Paul Byron just being thwarted by Josi on a near-breakaway, but ultimately, no team's penalty kill had it going this game. Neal once again found the back of the net with a perfect shot, bringing Nashville back within one with a 4-3 score.
Byron tried to add to the lead with yet ANOTHER attempted breakaway, but he was not only sandwiched by two Preds, but had Rinne waiting to stop him. He couldn't get back on the scoreboard this game, but he'll get back there eventually, don't worry. At least he's doing all the little thing sright.
With Nashville still trailing by one, Rinne was pulled with fewer than two minutes left in the game. The Flames were never quite able to get control of the puck, but they did a fine enough job holding off the Predators, denying them shots and sealing the game with a 4-3 win. The Flames were outshot 31-30 and out-corsied 90-51, so toss Hiller, Brodie, and Giordano a bit of extra thanks for the victory.
Flame of the game
Yet again: Johnny Gaudreau. Is it premature to say that he has finally arrived? Even when he isn't putting up points - and he still scored two this game - he looks amazing, and forces the opposition to work to stop him, which they can't even do half the time. Over 17:22 of ice time, he led the Flames with five shots on net and four takeaways. He. Is. Good. Opposing teams: watch out.
- Really like Hudler playing with the rookies. Granlund and Ferland have spent the last little while playing with one another, and it showed through the game, but Hudler added a stable, skilled veteran presence to their games. He did the same when Gaudreau took over on the line, just as he has while playing alongside Monahan in ideal circumstances. He's a pretty good player in his own right, but his ability to work with and encourage the Flames' younger players is pretty great.
- As for Ferland specifically: it really, really sucks that someone who has worked so hard to make the NHL had his first game cut short with a headshot. Ferland only played 9:43 over two periods, and was trailing Granlund a bit in ice time while they played with one another. He finished his night with a shot and two hits, while playing no special teams time. He looked good in his NHL debut, though, and his chemistry with Granlund was evident.
- Linemate Granlund, meanwhile? Got penalty kill time! Forty-six seconds, to be specific, tied with Curtis Glencross and Smid for the team lead. His return to the NHL saw him put up an assist, two shots on net, two blocked shots, and a takeaway over 17:57 of ice time, behind only Monahan for centres. Not bad.
- Last season, Brodie scored a career high four goals. This season, it took him just 12 games to match that total. His increased powerplay time has helped for sure - just one powerplay goal last season, and now two this year - but he's just developing incredibly. Brodie's already elite defensively. Now that he's adding offence to his game, watch out for him, too.
- Yet again, the Flames' top four played about 22 minutes each, while Smid and Deryk Engelland topped out at around 15-16. There's a very clear hierarchy here, and this season, the Flames' third and fourth highest paid defencemen are at the bottom of it.
- And that three of that top four blocked 16 shots (Brodie blocked none). The rest of the Flames blocked 19. The Flames block a lot of shots.
- Several Flames media folk pointed out that Gaudreau was taking hits, and expressed concern for him. I would like to take this moment to remind people that hockey is a contact sport, and as a result, typically, players throw and receive hits. Sure, that's not a key point of Gaudreau's game, but it's something that's going to happen, whether or not you add "toughness" to his line.
- Please just keep in mind that the likes of Brandon Bollig and Brian McGrattan don't have a hope in hell of keeping up with Gaudreau, and would not only cause detriment to his game, but won't stop him from getting hit, either. Ferland's a pretty big, tough kid, and he got knocked out of the game with a bad hit. Probably the only thing the Flames' goons would - could - do is jump on the guy who hits Gaudreau. That isn't preventing him from getting hit, it's merely immediate retribution. The damage already gets done. There is literally nothing to gain.
- The narrative that big, useless players will protect kids is complete and utter bullshit. Gaudreau thrived all game, but broke out offensively when he was put with Granlund and Hudler, neither of who is particularly big or physical, but both of who are skilled. Also note that Lance Bouma took over Gaudreau's old spot with Byron and Devin Setoguchi, while Bollig and McGrattan were done for the night. Not because of injuries, but because they're bad at hockey and have nothing worthwhile to contribute. And then the Flames scored three goals.
- The only reason the Flames aren't rolling four lines of skilled, potentially impactful players and prospects is because they're too stupid to because they keep buying into an easily disproven narrative.
Next game wishes
Unrealistic: Stop dressing goons. Stop dressing goons. Stop dressing goons. Oh wait, two of them inexplicably have three-year contracts. Nevermind.
Realistic: Josh Jooris barely played against the Canadiens, only really getting into the game when Joe Colborne had an early exit. Maybe the level of play in the NHL was catching up to him, or Hartley simply saw something he didn't like. Whatever it was that kept him out, maybe he can come back now? He's better than certain fourth line options, and maybe sitting this game out will help him in a similar manner it helped Gaudreau.
While Rogers' next edition of Hometown Hockey is in Red Deer this Sunday, Nov. 2, the Flames will be in Montreal for a quick, avenging rematch against the Montreal Canadiens. Puck drop is 5 p.m. MT - see you then!