Sylvan Lake won Kraft Hockeyville and got to host a preseason game between the Calgary Flames and Arizona Coyotes. They weren't disappointed, as both teams combined to put on a hell of a show for them - especially a number of Flames prospects fighting to make the roster.
It was the Coyotes putting on the pressure to start the game. Much of the game's beginning was spent buzzing around the Flames' net, but Joni Ortio was able to foil the Yotes' chances at the beginning.
Down on the other end, it should go without saying just who it was getting most of the Flames' chances. (Hint: his name starts with J, and ends with ohnny Gaudreau.)
With all the early pressure Arizona (Arizona!) had, however, they were bound to strike first. Ortio made the initial stop, but Patrick Sieloff was unable to clear the rebound and Matt Kassian, who is with the Coyotes on a tryout, buried it to put them up 1-0.
Keeping up the pressure, the Coyotes who got the first opportunity on the powerplay as well. David Wolf, who is supposed to be truculent, showed that he was - a little too much, as he was called for roughing. The Flames did a good job limiting the Coyotes' chances with the extra man, however. In fact, the best chance on the entire powerplay came courtesy of Max Reinhart, who took the puck into the Coyotes' zone on his own and got a shot off.
He didn't score, but the penalty was killed. It didn't matter too much, however, as yet another Ortio rebound would go sour. The young Finnish netminder tried whacking the puck to clear it, but Joe Vitale was right there, and with some good hand-eye co-ordination, hit it out of mid-air and in.
Sven Baertschi and Michael Ferland combined to try to respond, but couldn't capitalize. Turner Elson drew a penalty, but the Coyotes killed it; however, after a Brian McGrattan shot and some grit courtesy of David Wolf, the Flames got another powerplay chance. Mikael Samuelsson took a delay of game near the end of the period, and a Flame was finally able to capitalize it.
That Flame was Deryk Engelland, already working to earn his contract. His point shot went through traffic and in the back of the net, cutting the lead to 2-1. Morgan Klimchuk nearly scored right after as the Flames had a strong finish to the end of the first, outshooting the Coyotes 14-8.
Calgary took that momentum and added to it as they came back for the second. Markus Granlund, who absolutely should be the leading candidate to replace the currently injured Mikael Backlund, dished an amazing feed across the ice to McGrattan. McGrattan had a wide open net to shoot at, and thankfully, he didn't miss, tying the game at 2.
The tie wouldn't last long, however, as with a lot of traffic in front of the net, Ortio was slow to react to a chaotic puck, and the Coyotes took the lead, 3-2, after it bounced off BJ Crombeen's leg and in.
Penalties were exchanged throughout the period - including one taken by Gaudreau! He was called for hooking - but, despite the Coyotes' lead, the Flames were actually outshooting them 25-14.
Just as the period was ending, Baertschi picked up the puck and carried it into the offensive zone on his own. In the dying seconds, he took a shot that Mike McKenna should have had, but didn't. The Swiss prospect, fighting for a roster spot, scored to tie the game at 3.
The Flames were down a man to start the third, as it was announced Klimchuk, himself an injury replacement for Mason Raymond, would not return to the game with an upper body injury. In his absence, some other highly rated Flames prospects - notably, Granlund and Gaudreau - worked to generate some excellent scoring chances.
Sheldon Brookbank started getting shots on net, trying to join Engelland and McGrattan in the night of weird goal scorers. The Flames continued to pepper shots on net, including some excellent combinations from Gaudreau and Baertschi, with Joe Colborne centring them. Reinhart was in on the scoring attempts as well, providing a good showing from much of the Flames' older prospects.
The Flames closed out the period with several penalties: Brookbank a little too aggressive; Brett Kulak, who had a pretty good night, getting a little too involved; and finally, in the dying 1:30, Patrick Sieloff closed his hand on the puck, resulting in a delay of game. The Flames' penalty kill remained perfect all night, however; and Doug Carr, who stepped in for Ortio for the third period, held strong throughout to send the game to overtime.
The Flames had about half a minute left to kill on the powerplay, and they jumped into it with gusto. Colborne stripped Shane Doan of the puck and charged into the offensive zone, but was unable to capitalize. The Flames killed the penalty, however, and followed it up by drawing one of their own as Granlund battled to maintain control of the puck along the boards.
Gaudreau nearly ended it off a Curtis Glencross pass, but Brendan Burke denied him. Gaudreau, along with Kris Russell, showed outstanding patience on the powerplay. Russell's patience paid off, as he found a lane, and Glencross tipped it just below the crossbar for the game winner, 4-3 Flames.
- Gaudreau is so good. He is. So. Good. The small but almost certainly NHL-ready forward dazzled all night, showing poise, patience, and skill every shift. He generated a number of scoring chances as well, although his teammates weren't able to capitalize on them. In fact, Gaudreau was leading in shots early on, having four in the first period alone. He made his linemates better, and gelled with pretty much everyone he shared the ice with. Switch out that #53 for #13, now.
- As for the Flames' other high quality left winger prospect, Baertschi had quite a night for himself. Much improved from his first preseason game, Baertschi was a force throughout the game, and that's not even counting his goal, which was the result of excellent individual effort. Baertschi was a combination of physicality and skill, going into the boards and corners, hitting opposing players, and making skill plays to work with his linemates all at the same time. It's interesting that both he and Gaudreau were on the ice together, centred by Colborne, and the three of them had an outstanding shift. Baertschi is fighting for an NHL spot, and if he keeps having that kind of performance, it'll be hard to say no; that aforementioned line could possibly exist in the NHL.
- Keeping up the talk on skilled prospects, Granlund had a hell of a game. He was picked after Baertschi in 2011, but at this point in time, has a leg up on him: everything Baertschi did, Granlund did just slightly better. Granlund was another Flames forward who was a force throughout the entire game, including setting up McGrattan for his goal with an outstanding pass, and drawing a penalty in overtime that led to the game winner. Watch for him to start the season in the NHL, because he looks ready.
- Turning to different kinds of prospects: Ferland showed a bit of offensive flair, but if the Flames want grit, Ferland is the kind of guy they should be targeting. He's strong, and used his size to force his way around opposing players while chasing the puck. He complemented more skilled players well, and while not scoring, was in on a few chances. Ferland can use his size to create opportunities. He's a key candidate for an injury call up.
- Reinhart had a similar showing, including quite a few quality scoring chances, both at even strength and on the powerplay. He could start his season in the NHL as well, and after getting a few glimpses over the past few seasons, just might be ready.
- Josh Jooris is much more understated, but he was bursting with speed throughout the night. On at least three separate occasions, he blew into the offensive zone - both at even strength and on the penalty kill - so fast that he lost his footing. He's a little rough, but the potential is there. Jooris left college after his junior year to sign with the Flames, and he has one year left on his contract. He had 27 points in 73 games in the AHL last season, and with the preseason he's currently having, it wouldn't be crazy to assume he's going to improve on that.
- Switching to defence: Raphael Diaz had the game's first star, and he absolutely earned it. He, along with Russell, was outstanding for the Flames all night. Diaz was mostly paired with Engelland, but on the powerplay he manned the blueline with Russell, and the two were outstanding together. Diaz was cool under pressure, chased the puck well, and got shots to the net. The Flames need to sign him. They flat out need to. The good news is, it sounds like Bob Hartley - who was coaching in Switzerland before he joined the Flames, and Diaz is Swiss - really likes him. Maybe he'll be with Engelland in the NHL, maybe Russell, but he should be paired up with another Flame no matter what.
- On the other end of the spectrum, Sieloff had a rough night. It's obvious he missed a whole year, but he simply needs to be better; fortunately for him, the Flames are so thin on defensive prospects, he should be playing some big minutes in the AHL.
- Brookbank was a mixed case: on a night in which Engelland and McGrattan scored, he got some good shots on net as well. On the other hand, he got burned a few times, and took a penalty while being a little overzealous. If it's between him and Diaz, it simply has to be Diaz.
This game showed just how much preseason is heating up, and the competition for spots is intense. It'll continue when the Flames host the Vancouver Canucks at 5 p.m. MT tomorrow night.