The preseason series was already 1-0 in the Flames' favour when the Colorado Avalanche came to Calgary. They may have been hoping to even it up, but the Flames dressed the better roster. Still, as the game ticked down, the Avs gave it their all... but they just don't have a Johnny Gaudreau on their side.
While there wasn't any scoring in the first, both teams ensured there were plenty of stoppages in play by virtue of penalties. Brandon Bollig got the ball rolling with a tripping call, but the Flames' standard aggressive penalty kill prevented the Avs from getting much done.
Most of the second half of the period, however, belonged to the Flames. It began when, with about eight minutes to go, Duncan Siemens was called for holding on Curtis Glencross. The Flames enjoyed a fair amount of additional time with the extra man as they kept the puck away from the Avs, generating shot attempts all the while. Our usual standout pair, TJ Brodie and Mark Giordano, were of course the main drivers on that, but Jiri Hudler and Gaudreau did a fair amount of work as well.
Come the actual powerplay, the four defencemen who are most likely to line up on the point were present: Brodie with Rafa Diaz, and Giordano with Dennis Wideman. Brodie, in particular, seemed to be shooting more, both during the delayed call, and while on the powerplay as well.
The Avs killed the penalty, and got some chances of their own as bodies scrummed all around the Flames net; Jonas Hiller, however, was able to keep it out in a sequence in which he never gave up on the play.
The Flames were soon back on the powerplay when Brett Kulak drew a hooking call on Jesse Winchester. It was killed, but that apparently didn't satisfy Winchester, as he immediately took another call, tripping Wideman right as he got out of the box.
The Flames ended the period with that powerplay, and while they weren't able to score, there were some impressive showings from the players: in particular, Sven Baertschi. At one point, Baertschi dug the puck out of the corner and drove it to the net his own. He was a force as the period ended, generating some of the Flames' best scoring chances as Calgary led 11-7 in shots, and 3-1 in powerplays.
Sven came right back out roaring to start the second. He had consecutively excellent setups to both Glencross and an extremely good one to Sean Monahan, but neither was able to capitalize. Baertschi was absolutely killing it to start the period, continuing an NHL-worthy performance to show he deserves a spot.
The Flames, however, did have quite the icing problem this period. After several calls, Gaudreau broke free, nearly opening the scoring after some nice passing plays courtesy of Glencross and especially Giordano. Reto Berra, however, was doing something he never did much in the Saddledome before: holding strong.
He didn't do that for much longer, though. Enter Johnny mfin' Gaudreau, getting to feel the Saddledome's flames for the first time:
It was Gaudreau's first preseason goal, accomplished at long last after 13 shots in three games.
Johnny Hockey immediately followed it up with another chance, driving to the centre of the ice and utilizing Avalanche defenders as a screen. Berra made a nice save to stop him... this time.
Monahan joined Baertschi and Gaudreau in being yet another young, exciting prospect to really rack up the chances on the Avs, but Berra held strong in keeping his more inexperienced team within striking distance. The shots at the end of the second were 20-16 for the Flames.
The third saw the Avs claw their way back into contention. The Flames were dominating throughout the first two periods, but that couldn't last forever, especially with the Avs down just one. Sena Acolatse and Colborne fought to negate their turnovers, including some excellent use of their bodies: Colborne's got size and reach, but Acolatse's stocky and knows how to use his weight.
And then, there was Lance Bouma. The 24-year-old was tenacious on the forecheck, frequently fighting for the puck, and using his body to separate it from his opponents. He and Bill Arnold combined for a great scoring chance, and when that didn't work, they fought to get it back, and give Giordano a shot as well. They didn't score, but had some great chances, and really limited Colorado at the same time.
Unfortunately, it wasn't to last. Brodie drew a penalty when Marc-Andre Cliche elbowed him, which was negated with about 16 seconds to go when Monahan took a high sticking call. The Avs had some dangerous pressure throughout the powerplay, and especially once it was over, but once again, Acolatse was able to prevent any damage, this time with a timely clear.
It was pretty much all Colorado to end the game. Were it not for Gaudreau's goal, Hiller may have had the highlight of the night with a beautiful left pad save to completely stone the Avs. He fought valiantly to preserve the Flames' one goal lead.
Hiller was rewarded by none other than Bouma. With the final minutes ticking down, Bouma was out, defending on the ice, and powered through with 47 seconds to go to score the empty netter. His outstanding work at the game's end helped Hiller preserve the shutout, as the Flames won 2-0, outshot 28-24.
Your three stars? All pretty obvious, but entirely worthy candidates:
- Jonas Hiller, he who kept the shutout
- Johnny Gaudreau, he who keeps dazzling us
- Lance Bouma, he who is the perfect fourth liner
- Okay, so. In our preview it was reported that one of the Flames' lines was going to be Gaudreau - Monahan - Baertschi. This... did not happen, as the game mostly utilized Gaudreau - Colborne - Glencross, and Baertschi - Monahan - Hudler. Still the intended top six - and a pretty good one at that - but without quite all that youth on a single line.
- What's really interesting about that combination, though, is the fact that Glencross, noted LWer, was put on the right, and Gaudreau and Baertschi were allowed to play in their natural position. At this point, both deserve to make the team, but there are too many LWers. There also aren't enough RWers. Was Glenny shifted over to make room for the kids? His contract is coming up, but the Flames need to start giving space to their prospects, and they're deep on the left side.
- Someone who's had some really noticeable improvement: Colborne. He doesn't play timid anymore. He's huge, and now he knows it. Colborne uses his reach to try to score goals. He uses his body to drive to the net. His rookie season was a little bumpy, but he could come roaring back for his sophomore year. He played 4:35 on the powerplay and 1:30 on the penalty kill as well, the most out of all Flames forwards.
- Bouma is seriously everything you want in a fourth liner. He's tenacious, he's gritty, he's physical. He's truculent, yeah. He uses his body wisely, and he's one of those guys that's just pure heart. It helps he can actually play, too. He was right behind Colborne in penalty kill time, and he really earned that empty netter.
- I'm not totally sure what the point of Bollig is? He can grow a nice beard? Bouma's already outscoring him, and he's three years younger. And like $500,000 cheaper. And not signed to an overpaid three year deal. And just plain better. I get the desire to have your prospects prove themselves, and I guess because this is the Flames they need to have truculent insurance, but come on.
- Brodie is shooting more, but out of the four defencemen used on the powerplay, he got the least amount of time - almost half of what Wideman played. It's preseason, and Brodie has offensive talent waiting to show itself. He should really be out there more.
- Acolatse, a 5'11", 203 lb. castoff from the Sharks, performed rather well. He's not going to make the NHL team, but he should be useful in the AHL. The Flames have so little in the way of defence prospects that if he performs well down there, he could find himself being called up. He's only 23 years old - could be a hidden gem.
- Kulak, meanwhile, had a quiet, invisible night, in a really good way. This year's Tyler Wotherspoon? Yeah, maybe.
- Are we surprised that Gaudreau led the Flames in shots with 5? Or Giordano was right behind him with 4?
- Fancy stats! The Flames led the way most of the night, until the Avs really piled on with shot attempts as they tried to even up the game. Your Calgary corsi winner for the night was Monahan, finishing a +4 in even strength. It took the Avs over a period to get an even strength shot attempt against the Flames when Giordano was on the ice, and he finished a +2. Baertschi and Glencross were both +1 overall, while Gaudreau and Brodie finished even. Everyone else was a negative in the battle to preserve the 1-0 lead. You can find the full data here.
The Flames have tomorrow off, so there may be some more cuts then. Or there might not, I don't know. They'll take back to the ice for their first of two games against their final preseason opponent, the Winnipeg Jets, on Thursday, Oct. 2, at 7 p.m. MT in the Saddledome. October! That means preseason is almost over...