This season, the Pacific Division isn't quite what we thought it would be. Instead of the California teams powerhousing their way through it, there's a mass clump of teams all within a few points of one another, and from the looks of things, just one of them isn't going to make it. The Calgary Flames are currently on the outside looking in, but their matchup against the San Jose Sharks ended up being a rather pivotal one when it came to the standings. And, well...
... the Flames clearly want to be back on the inside. Within just the first minute, they had a 1-0 lead, courtesy of Dennis Wideman. Sean Monahan had chipped the puck in, and beat Brenden Dillon to it to start the cycle. With Markus Granlund, fresh off a healthy scratching, standing pretty right in front of Antti Niemi, the Flames had the lead just 40 seconds into the game. For once, Wideman's shot didn't go wide, and he scored his first goal since Dec. 4.
And then he almost scored again. But he didn't. Instead, the Flames did something they haven't done in over a week: take a penalty.
With the Sharks' powerplay at 20.7% - eighth in the league - and the Flames' penalty kill, so rarely put into practice, at 76.2% - things could have been very, very bad. But instead they were very, very good! The team did a great job at keeping the Sharks away from the net, and to top it all off, their final clear resulted in a whole lot of good.
Matt Stajan brought the puck into the offensive zone. While Brent Burns was able to retrieve it, his pass up to Joe was incredibly ill-advised. He meant to pass it to Joe Pavelski, but instead, Joe Colborne took it. And streaking to the net, beating out Burns, he out-deked Niemi to put the Flames up 2-0, shorthanded.
The Flames were easily the dominant team all period, although the Sharks had a couple of close calls. Joni Ortio got caught hugging his post too tight, leaving Logan Couture free for an amazing wraparound chance. The only reason it didn't go in was thanks to Wideman's stick substituting for Ortio. Also, any time Mark Giordano loses his stick is a very scary, dangerous time.
Tyler Kennedy went off for slashing against Ladislav Smid, and as you could guess, the powerplay was terrible. Wideman got a decent shot off, but that was the only notable thing about it. At least the Sharks didn't get any shorthanded chances!
While the Sharks spent most of the period unable to receive a pass to save their lives, they did close it out with a very long and scary shift in the offensive zone. While that gave them the corsi edge, 21-20, the Flames did a pretty handy job of outshooting the Sharks 11-4.
Well, Todd McLellan must have spent the intermission either screaming at his team or telling them how disappointed he was in all of them (whichever works best on them, I'm not in their locker room I don't know them), because the Sharks came out and absolutely nailed the Flames to the wall.
It took just 12 seconds for them to get on the board, as a Couture shot Ortio probably wishes he had went in farside, cutting the lead 2-1.
And then the Flames took a too many men penalty courtesy of overeager players and very lazy line changing. Burns charged through all the Flames, only to be stopped by Ortio, but it was for not. Pavelski came in, and while Ortio held strong against him, he was powerless against the rebound that went right to Joe Thornton. With nobody on him and not many aware of where the puck actually was, Jumbo tied the game with ease on the powerplay, 2-2.
And they weren't done there. While things had cooled down a bit, the Sharks were still in control. Pavelski threw a cross-crease pass right over to Melker Karlsson. It got over there because Kris Russell was down on the failed block, and Wideman was clueless on the "defence" part of being a "defenceman". Karlsson didn't receive the pass cleanly, and it ended up going in off his foot. While it looked like it may have been kicked in, it was called a good goal on the ice, and the ruling confirmed it.
Things didn't calm down until the Flames finally had the chance to have some pretty passing of their own. Jiri Hudler brought the puck into the offensive zone and sent it over for Giordano. Girodano chipped it up to Mikael Backlund, and from him, the puck bounced off a Shark and right to Hudler. Hudler then rifled it, tying the game back up at three and stopping the chaos and bloodbath.
The period played itself out from there. It was a complete reversal of the first: while the Flames somehow out-corsied the Sharks 20-16, the Sharks outshot them 10-6.
After the craziness of the second, things had calmed down substantially, although the Sharks remained the better team. Still, things didn't get particularly exciting until Patrick Marleau, courtesy of a flat-footed Wideman, got himself in behind everyone and all alone on a breakaway. But Ortio, being a Turku goalie, had ice in his veins, and stuck with Marleau to keep it a tied game. It was awesome.
And then Lance Bouma and Matt Tennyson got tangled up. The end result was Tennyson off for two for hooking. It was a slightly less terrible powerplay, in that the Flames, courtesy of Giordano, Monahan, and almost Colborne had some good looks, but of course, they failed to score.
The powerplay helped kick the Flames back in gear, though, as they worked to put pressure back on the Sharks. Marleau was probably the most noticeable guy all period, though, where in addition to his breakaway, he danced through every Flame on the ice for a prime scoring chance. It's just that Ortio once again stayed with him, both on his initial shot and the rebound attempt.
With the game ticking down, the exhausted Flames iced the puck yet again. Hartley very smartly (I did a rhyme!!) called a timeout, and thankfully, Colborne won the ensuing faceoff and the Flames managed a line change. Time ticked down as Marleau aside, the game seemed destined for overtime: and to overtime it went, with the the Sharks outshooting the Flames 8-4 over the period, but corsi dead even at 16.
The game began with Monahan - beating the Sharks to the puck early on - and it ended with him - an overtime goal. Just 24 seconds in, he won the faceoff in the Sharks' zone, sending the puck back to Giordano. Gio sent it on net, and Monahan scooped up the rebound and neatly tucked it away to give his team its third straight win, 4-3.
Flame of the game
This one's going to Joe Colborne. Trusted to play the game with two healthy scratches, he helped kick off the scoring on the Flames' initial cycle, and he had that absolutely gorgeous shorthanded goal. Seriously, that shorty alone is pretty much enough to give him the honours. But he was also the best Flame on faceoffs - 80% - and the fifth most played forward, with 16:33 of ice time. He had four shots on net during that time, tied with Marleau for most frequent shooter honours. He was even a positive possession player, with 58.82% CF at even strength, the best of the more-played forwards.
- It took the Sharks over five minutes to get a shot on net in the first. It took the Flames almost 10 minutes - and three Sharks goals - to get their second shot on net in the second. And it took the Flames 10 to get their first shot on net in the third period. Not exactly a bunch of world beaters, here.
- The Flames took no penalties against the Arizona Coyotes and Vancouver Canucks. They're the least penalized team in the league, as prior to this game, they've only been called for 105 penalties. (Next best: the Carolina Hurricanes, with 119 calls against over 45 games. It's a pretty big difference.) The penalty kill was obviously a mixed bag - a shorty for and then a powerplay goal against - but they're really not used to being on it. The last time the Flames had two calls in one game was Jan. 7, with back-to-back hooking calls on Gustav Nyquist, who had just been fined for embellishment right before.
- Healthy scratched wonder twins Granlund and Mason Raymond had some very noticeable jump to their games. Granlund was setting up shop in front of the net a lot, and Raymond was constantly on the lookout for shooting attempts. They, along with Colborne, were some of the best Flames possession-wise on the night - although they were heavily sheltered, with 100% offensive zone starts. Neither deserves to sit next game, though.
- Lots of praise for Bouma lately, as he's playing more and more with Curtis Glencross' injury. But, uh, he was the Flames' worst possession player. The Sharks are not the Coyotes, and Bouma is not built for top line time.
- Backlund has a point in every game he's played since coming back. While his four-game goal-scoring streak came to an end, his assist on Hudler's goal keeps him with a five-game point streak, seven points in that time. He's the best.
- Back when the Flames were totally dominating the first, a number of them deked or split through multiple Sharks. Colborne did, David Jones did, TJ Brodie did. Brodie is a defenceman so it is bizarre he pushed his way through two Sharks players driving to the net, but hey, when you can skate...
- While Brodie can contribute offensively, Smid and Deryk Engelland can contribute by... scrumming. And playing only a little over 10 minutes each. Somebody! Get! Giordano! And! Brodie! Some! Help! Because they weren't perfect either, but remain by far the best options.
- I mean, Russell and Wideman had some horrific defensively plays. Russell nearly got burned by his numerous shot blocks, as he blocked a Tommy Wingels shot with his hand, lost his glove, and basically put the Flames down a man for a bit there. They were lucky to escape it it unscathed. And while Wideman had some pretty good scoring looks and one excellent defensive play on Couture's failed wraparound, that Karlsson goal was very much on him.
- Speaking of teams being down a man without really being down a man, Couture got some abuse tonight. He lost part of a tooth thanks to Brodie's stick, and a shot block of his own left him down with play ongoing around him. Although his prone body did inhibit the Flames.
- Colborne got the Flame of the game, but Monahan and Ortio were up there as well. Also notice how Monahan and Ortio both have beautiful, constantly perfect hair? This has nothing to do with anything. I just like their hair. They both have very nice hair.
... we switched Backlund and Monahan? Put Backlund in the shutdown role, feed Monahan the easier minutes. Things are okay right now, but you should always be on the lookout for what could make things better. Historically, Backlund's been able to handle tough minutes. Give Monahan a chance to help get Johnny Gaudreau back in a good groove, because they've had some success together.
... the Flames got another top four defenceman?? I'm going to cry about this until it happens. It's seriously so bad.
The Flames still have two more road Pacific Division games to play before the All-Star break. The Pacific Division is TIGHT, and an overtime win over the Sharks just makes it all the tighter. Up next is the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 19, an 8:30 p.m. puck drop. They're right in there with the cluster of teams fighting for the playoffs, so it'll be another big one.