There's been a little bit commotion surrounding the Calgary Flames as of late. First, Jiri Hudler fell ill, and was unable to play against the Edmonton Oilers. Then, right when he got better, Mikael Backlund found himself too sick to dress tonight against the Winnipeg Jets.
So who got to finally dress in one of the best Flames' stead? Sven Baertschi, that's who. What an honour for Mark Giordano's 500th NHL game!
Sven even got to start the game, dressed alongside Joe Colborne and Mason Raymond. Bless.
Unfortunately, that line also started with Deryk Engelland and Rafa Diaz. And it was that defence pairing that stayed on the ice when Andrew Ladd passed it back to Bryan Little, who dished it to Blake Wheeler, who put the Jets on the board just 69 seconds in with a perfect shot. Engelland was too busy pointlessly chasing Ladd (and running into David Jones on the way) to properly defend, leaving Diaz to chase Little, leaving nobody to cover Wheeler. It was all... something.
But it didn't take too long for the Flames to get it right back! Giordano's 500th NHL game was already shaping up to be a great one. A stretch pass up the ice to Jones, and in charged one of the Flames' biggest players, using his size for good. Poor defence on the Jets' part gave him a break, and he went right in on Michael Hutchinson, slipping the puck fivehole and using his sheer strength to push it all the way into the net, tying the game at one.
Also Engelland gave up the puck to Evander Kane right on the blueline. Engelland let him go streaking in on a clean break, and it was by the good graces of a missed shot that the Jets didn't take the lead right back. It's not like the Flames have a capable defenceman sitting, healthily scratched, in the pressbox, or anything... ... Wait, what? You're joking! For how long?! Since before the All-Star Break, you say? Oh.
But also, the Jets took the first penalty of the game when they were called for too many men on the play. Sean Monahan nearly put the puck in the net, but Hutchinson's pad was out to stop him, and the man advantage ended in the Flames' zone. Monahan had the chance again at even strength when Ben Chiarot gave the puck to him, but he was cut off by the Jets speeding back. Hutchinson rebounded his angled shot, and it only just missed Hudler; otherwise, that probably would have been a goal.
And then, terror struck.
With the first period ending, Little fell on Johnny Gaudreau. Gaudreau popped back up, but immediately skated to the bench holding his wrist. Cue an intermission of uncertainty and fear, as the Flames outshot the Jets 8-6 over the first, but were out-corsied 21-18.
And it turned out, things were okay after all! The earth continued to rotate, undisturbed on its path around the sun, for Johnny Hockey was not injured and right back on the bench. And then the ice, dekeing around Toby Enstrom . He's so great.
Total skill play chaos was the theme of the period's beginning, as Mark Scheifele went HAM around every Flame on the ice, going through absolutely everybody en route to Jonas Hiller before completely missing the net. The puck then ended up right back down at the Jets' blueline, with both Baertschi and Raymond racing in for it. Raymond reached it first, and with Baertschi using his body to block out the pursuing Jets, he absolutely wired it past Hutchinson to give the Flames their first lead of the game, 2-1.
That was all the goal scoring action for the second, but man, there were a lot of tries after that. Kane passed right to Adam Lowry, who was sitting right in front of the net, and continued whacking at it (and Hiller) until Hiller put a stop to that. Jones and Lance Bouma returned the favour to Hutchinson down at the other end.
It was all harmless fun until Little pushed Josh Jooris, and consequently, was gone for interference, giving the Flames their second powerplay of the game. While Gaudreau initially tipped it wide, and Michael Frolik gifted him and Monahan with another scoring chance right after, the Flames weren't able to capitalize despite the Jets' sloppiness.
And then... oh no... Baertschi tripped Scheifele. His teammates bailed him out as they killed the penalty, but Baertschi didn't see much more ice after that.
The period closed out with a lot of Flames pressure. Monahan chipped it up to Gaudreau, and he and Paul Byron went on a two-on-one break. Gaudreau made an absolutely beautiful, perfect pass to Byron, and Byron took the shot... and pulled a Byron.
The Flames maintained pressure and shots after that, but all that was left in the period was for a massive scrum to break out when Dustin Byfuglien hit Jones behind the net after the buzzer. Byfgulien and Bouma took coincidental roughing minors for it, to be served at the start of the third.
Shots were once again 8-6 for the Flames, and this time, they were only out-corsied 18-16.
The third period was a period of firsts. Going into the third with a lead, what the heck were the Flames gonna do? Get some first Flames goals, that's what.
Hudler and Dennis Wideman nearly combined for a beautiful goal when Hudler tipped it right to Wideman, and Wideman directed it right onto Hutchinson's pad. The Flames sure do love and excel at their four-on-four play.
Mathieu Perreault reached out with his stick, bringing Byron right down and giving the Flames their third powerplay of the game. And things got intense at the powerplay's end. With just one second left, Bouma and Colborne were crashing Hutchinson and the net. The puck ended up back at the point. Diaz winded up, waited, and then absolutely blasted it, extending the lead and finally scoring his first as a Flame.
The Apocalypse did not begin because of Diaz. But it was nigh.
So, Byron poked the puck into the offensive zone. Colborne picked it up and started a two-on-one with Brandon Bollig. A pretty little pass connecting with Bollig's stick, and he roofed it, giving the Flames a 4-1 lead and chasing Hutchinson on his first goal as a Flame. Only took 51 games into the season.
We're proud of you, Brandon. You did it. You finally did. I really hope this isn't the end of the world.
The Flames, still in awe, promptly let the Jets take control. Ladd threw the puck on net, and with both Wheeler and Little present, Little corralled it and roofed it to cut the lead in half.
And then Matt Stajan, not paying attention and following through with his stick, smacked poor Chris Thorburn right in the face. He went off for high-sticking, as the Jets saw an opportunity to get right back in the game with just under half a period left. They didn't succeed, though - the Flames were very willing to sacrifice their bodies to keep it away, Giordano in particular - and it got to the point where the Jets honest to goodness iced the puck on their own powerplay.
So it was killed, and all was good.
With three minutes to go, the Jets were really, really pressing. An absolutely insane scramble in front of the Flames' net resulted in bodies everywhere. Hiller kept the bottom solidly covered, and the puck ended up on Monahan's stick. He and Gaudreau brought it out and Monahan potted the empty netter, sealing the 5-2 victory.
And just to cap things off, Byron and Stajan got a two on one. Byron kept the puck. He got the shot, but not the goal, as Ondrej Pavelec crushed his hopes and dreams. Classic Paul!
The Flames closed out with a pretty decent third period. Going into it with the lead, they outshot the Jets 12-7, even though they were out-corsied 24-18.
Flame of the game
Twelve Flames were in on the scoring! So let's roll with the man of the hour. No not you Brandon sit down you did it once. Mark Giordano. In his 500th NHL game, the Captain led all Flames with 25:08 in ice time, most of which was against the Jets' top players. He was one of the Flames' top possession players: 55.56% in even strength CF, second to only Byron. And his stretch pass on Jones' goal was pretty nice. Giordano has reached a whole other level ever since being named captain, and he's still just getting better and better. Here's to another 500! (As a Flame!) (Also some Norris Trophies!)
- A couple of general things for you first: Don't think Kris Russell is gonna be back on the powerplay any time soon. He has no goals on the season. Diaz has one. And what a shot he has!!
- (Russell blocked nine shots what the heck is he going to be okay.)
- Wanna talk physicality? Gaudreau threw a hit on Byfuglien, and it was awesome. His seventh hit of the season!
- Wanna talk physicality? Byron had a hit, and also singlehandedly battled three Jets in their own corner on their powerplay. I suspect the constant breakaways are why we're always expecting more out of him, but maybe he's just not a scorer. Maybe he's a good bottom sixer who won't hurt his team and will mix it up and hit and scrum when the situation calls for it. Being listed as 5'7 doesn't stop that.
- OKAY NOW ARE YOU READY FOR SOME SVEN BAERTSCHI OBSERVATIONS?
- Baertschi was an honest-to-goodness top six forward for the first two periods. He was second only to Jooris in ice time after the first period, and was still fifth out of all Flames forwards after two. I'm not sure if his penalty really did get him benched or not, but prior to that, he was getting regular shifts, and he was looking good.
- He was definitely raring for a goal. He, Raymond, and the Colborne/Jooris tag team did a good job cycling the puck in the offensive zone rather often. When Baertschi wasn't going after the puck he was often setting himself up right in the slot, ready to receive a pass and equally ready to start skating back at any moment.
- He really wanted that goal. In the first he went completely charging in on the Jets' net, wiping himself out right at the corner before he could get a shot off.
- He was willing to do pretty much anything to chase for a goal. Baertschi spent some time digging in the corners for the puck alongside the opposition, getting right in the rough and dirty areas. (This did result in him getting the puck back to Giordano for a shot.)
- He was also able to carry the puck into the offensive zone a couple of times. At one point with nobody else around, and ultimately being forced behind the net and down as he tried to beat two Jets in the offensive zone. Zach Bogosian ended up taking him down on his solo effort, but he did buy his teammates time to get set up.
- Baertschi finished the game with 13:17 played, his highest total all season. After being a leader in the first two periods, he only played 1:44 in the third.
... Baertschi got to play in the top six for the entire game? I know Bollig got a goal and Baertschi didn't, but Baertschi created way more offensive opportunities, and had way more jump to his game. His two periods were great, and I sincerely hope that penalty isn't spelling the end of his time on the ice. He's definitely someone who deserves a consistent chance. It'll come. He has a lot of potential, and with his entry level contract up after this season, it would be beyond stupid to just throw it all away.
... Tyler Wotherspoon actually got to play? Engelland is bad. He is not good. What do you think Wotherspoon is learning by watching him give up sad turnovers and giving the opposition breakaways? Either play him or send him down. There's no possible way he could be any worse than the Flames' big, unfortunate free agent signing that was supposed to have hidden value or some other such nonsense.
Well, that was a big game. And next game is also pretty important! Wednesday, Feb. 4, at 8 p.m. MT, the puck will drop as the Flames host the San Jose Sharks. Those same Sharks who are right above them in the division. It's gonna take some winning to pass them, so might as well keep the streak going, eh?