Tonight was a matchup between two teams trending in opposite directions. The Flames, who are 4-0-1 in their last five, hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs and their dismal 1-15-2 road record in 2015 (the one win was the game where both of Florida’s goalies were injured, so it doesn’t really count). The Leafs are an unmitigated disaster right now; they traded away their best defenceman, they openly hate their best players, and have voluntarily scratched Nazem Kadri for forgetting Daylight Savings Time. It couldn’t get much easier for Calgary.
After puck drop, things began a little bit ominously for the Flames. As they often do, Calgary was playing down to their competition. The Leafs were the better team for the first few minutes, nearly scoring on one good opportunity. It looked like one of those games that was closer than it should be, but one shift changed that.
The Flames gained the zone and Drew Shore had a good chance of getting his first NHL goal, only to be denied by James Reimer. While still in the offensive zone, the tired Raymond-Shore-Colborne line went for a change. In prime position to take the puck away from the Flames and start a rush, the Leafs did nothing and let the Gaudreau-Monahan-Hudler line out on the ice; a deadly mistake. Fresh off the bench, Sean Monahan passed to Jiri Hudler, whose shot rang off the iron and fell nicely onto Johnny Gaudreau’s stick for a quick goal. 1-0 Flames.
Here’s a freaky stat: Johnny Gaudreau is the only player born on a Friday the 13th to score on Friday the 13th. He also wears #13. Cue the X-Files theme.
The Flames wouldn’t step down after just one. Drew Shore really wanted his first goal as a Flame, and TJ Brodie felt like helping him. Not even two minutes after the first goal, the blueliner got a hard wrist shot on net, and the young centre buried the rebound. 2-0 Flames.
After the sluggish start, the Flames came out fired up. Some more so than others. Brandon Bollig channeled his inner caveman and shoved Dion Phaneuf from behind into his own net for no apparent reason. Bollig is a chump, but Phaneuf is an even bigger chump, so it kind of cancels out. Bollig would be assessed a two minute minor for interference.
The good karma Bollig built up quickly disappeared during the ensuing penalty kill. Despite some good early penalty killing, the Flames looked absolutely goofy. Jake Gardiner was allowed to enter the zone unopposed, and Morgan Rielly pretty much just walked right up for a high quality shot that deflected off of Richard Panik for the Leafs’ first goal. The Flames had their early lead halved, but still led 2-1.
The game started to look a bit more competitive than it was three minutes prior. The Toronto momentum got a big boost after Lance Bouma hit Brandon Kozun in a knee-on-knee collision. After the mandatory fight with Zach Sill, Bouma was assessed 20 minutes in penalty: five for fighting, five for kneeing, and ten for the game misconduct. The collision looked incidental, and it would be surprising if Bouma faced any discipline, so exhale Flames fans.
The Leafs, down one, now had a five minute powerplay in which they could easily take control of the game. Hoo boy. Peter Holland attempted a drop pass for Jake Gardiner at the blue line, but an attentive Mikael Backlund noticed it before Gardiner did and went streaking down the ice. The man who scored four shorthanded goals last year worked his magic, and it was immediately 3-1 Calgary.
The Leafs still had three minutes left on the powerplay, but were not able to do much. The penalty kill smartened up after their gaffe on the earlier PK, and shut it down. During the entire five minute man advantage, the Leafs were only able to get six shot attempts off.
The Flames’ penalty kill struck again. TJ Brodie recovered the puck after a lengthy battle behind the net, and sent one of the most beautiful passes of the year. It’s hard to describe how perfect a pass this was. Brodie lifted it and placed it to where Tyler Bozak and Dion Phaneuf couldn’t get to it, but Sean Monahan could without reaching back. The silky-handed centreman fooled James Reimer, and buried it in the back of the net. 4-1 Flames, with two goals coming shorthanded.
It was the most disastrous few minutes for the Maple Leafs since the Boston game two years ago.
The game was more or less decided, and both teams kind of stopped trying. The remaining five minutes of the period saw three combined shot attempts by both teams. The Flames led in shots 14-6 and corsi 20-19 at the end of the first.
After a well-deserved break, the Flames began the second re-energized, and began to look for new ways to embarrass Canada’s longest running national joke. Kris Russell cleared the puck to centre, where Johnny Gaudreau was waiting for it. After a quick pass to Jiri Hudler, the veteran made a sleek pass around a sliding Maple Leaf to Monahan. As we have seen many times this season, Monahan waited for exactly the right moment, and then scored. 5-1 Calgary.
The first line, after nearly 22 minutes of game time, had three goals and six points between them. Just a friendly reminder that two members of that group are under 22 years old.
The Leafs, looking to emulate the character and hard work of the Flames, tried their hand at making a comeback. David Booth, of all people, got the puck in the Flames zone and held onto it forever. Drew Shore tried to muscle him off the puck, but Booth was strong enough to go around the net and put the puck behind Jonas Hiller. 5-2 Flames.
The Flames reacted with slight indifference and some slightly audible chuckling. The first line went back and nearly got their fourth goal of the night had it not been for Morgan Rielly, who chose to hold back Hudler on the odd man rush rather than let him score.
The Flames went on the powerplay for the first time this game. People wondered if Toronto was awful with an extra attacker, what would they be like a man down? The answer is still bad. The penalty kill was porous, but James Reimer stood on his head for most of it. After a decent save, the ensuing faceoff saw Dennis Wideman string a nice pass right onto the stick of Jiri Hudler for the tip-in goal. 6-2 Calgary.
Very little happened from here on out. Toronto tried hard to get a bit of a comeback, and Calgary allowed them to try. Peter Holland even once had a scoring chance, but Jonas Hiller stuffed him on an excellent save. The Flames then got a rush and almost made the game 7-2, had it not been for Reimer.
Late in the period, the Leafs found themselves victims of another odd man rush. Once again, they opted to take a penalty rather than allow another goal, and Brandon Kozun was sent off for a hook on Drew Shore.
The powerplay seemed pretty lethargic. You can do that if you’re up 6-2. Toronto was killing penalties effectively during this two minute break, and got off a little bit early after Joe Colborne elbowed his former captain in the forehead (in his defence, there’s not much to miss). The remaining 19 seconds would be played 4-on-4. The ensuing Leafs powerplay turned the screws on the Flames, but they couldn’t crack the Calgary defence.
The second was all Leafs, who led 15-6 in shots and 28-12 in corsi. This was mostly due to Calgary being up 6-2. Hooray for score effects!
The third began with little expectation for good hockey. The crowd was quiet, and the players looked like they had turned their dials back. Both teams have games tomorrow, and this one was essentially over. But Toronto was still trying to capture the essence of Calgary’s character. Thirty seconds in, Toronto’s player of the game David Booth waltzed into the Flames zone, and took a weird bounce shot that went into the net, deflected off of the net-cam, and back out. It didn’t look like a goal on the ice, but video replay confirmed that Booth had scored. 6-3 Calgary.
To make the game a little bit interesting, Michael Ferland and TJ Brennan had a little pushing-and-shoving, and were sent off for coincidental minors. Bob Hartley pulled the fourth line trick on Peter Horachek, initially sending Matt Stajan and Brandon Bollig out for the faceoff. Horachek responded by sending out Zach Sill and Joakim Lindstrom out, bracing for some rough stuff. Then Bob Hartley, with the ability to make the last change, sent out Monahan and Hudler. The oldest trick in the book! Hartley should get the Jack Adams just for doing that. This was the most entertaining part of the third, by the way.
The Flames nearly made it 7-2 again, as TJ Brodie again sprung Johnny Gaudreau free on a stretch pass. Despite a lot of room, Gaudreau didn’t score. It was disappointing. Deryk Engelland also nearly got his first as a Flame, with a slap shot ringing off the iron. M&G had $150 riding on him scoring tonight, and yet he couldn’t do it despite Bob Hartley giving him 11 shifts in the third.
A scary moment happened midway through the period. Jiri Hudler and Morgan Rielly went into the corner to battle for a puck, and it appeared that Hudler ran him head-first into the boards. Upon further review it appeared that Rielly actually tripped over himself rather than Hudler hitting him, but he was sent to the box anyways.
The powerplay resulted in nothing much happening, though the Leafs found themselves facing another odd man rush after the puck was cleared right to Hudler when he was exiting the box. Hudler streaked in for a good scoring chance, but was denied by Reimer. The Leafs should probably start working on preventing these sorts of things from happening.
Michael Ferland also channeled Mikael Backlund by forcing a turnover at the blue line, and streaking in alone against Reimer, but was unable to get his first NHL goal.
The rest of the third period was a whole lot of nothing. Neither coach felt like playing their first or second lines, and the bottom halves of the team battled it out till the end. The Flames once iced the puck three straight times. It wasn’t very fun. The Flames led 6-5 in shots, but the Leafs led 18-8 in corsi and 1-0 in goals.
And so concluded the game. The Flames were victors by a score of 6-3. The shots were tied at 26 apiece, and the Leafs won the corsi battle 65-40. Calgary won two vital points, moving them up to second in the division with 81 points. Toronto won zero vital points, and remains fifth in the McDavid race. So I guess both teams won.
- To milestones! A lot of players reached a few important ones this game. Sean Monahan passed the 50 point plateau, and had his first three point game in the league. Jiri Hudler hit 60 points for the first time in his career, and Johnny Gaudreau moved into a tie for first in the rookie scoring race with Filip Forsberg, both having 53 points. Jonas Hiller also won his first game against the Maple Leafs, and Dion Phaneuf still hasn’t scored on his former team.
- In case I haven’t praised the first line enough, here’s some more: they’re ridiculously good and fun to watch. Remember when Johnny Gaudreau was on the shutdown line? That was stupid.
- Lance Bouma was gone for the entire game, but it didn’t affect anyone. The penalty kill scored twice with him in the press box, and Mikael Backlund still carried whoever his linemates were.
- The Flames ran a twitter contest, asking their followers to name the #FlamesUnsungHero. Mikael Backlund is pretty much the only guy deserving that title. Mike discussed him at length this week, and it’s very clear that the Flames need to sign this man for a while (please read those articles- they're awesome).
- Brandon Bollig took a stupid penalty leading to a goal and was pretty much useless for the entire night. Stajan’s back must hurt from carrying him.
- David Jones hasn’t done anything recently. On a team where he is literally the only right winger, you’d figure he’d want to do something related to offence. His role tonight was causing unnecessary ruckus after the whistle had gone.
Anaheim beat Minnesota 2-1 in regulation, keeping them even with Calgary at 81 points. Dallas is still very much on the outside looking in, but a good run could keep them in wild card contention. They beat Washington 4-2 tonight, and moved just a little bit closer to the last few spots in the West. It doesn’t really matter, but Edmonton lost in the shootout to Columbus. Those three point games at the bottom are music to Toronto’s ears.
The Flames are hustling to the airport as I type, playing Colorado tomorrow evening at 8 PM Mountain Time. We hope to see you in the gamethread!