The Calgary Flames and Boston Bruins played the first of two China games last night/this morning in Shenzhen. The Bruins took a 3-0 lead in the first period, before the Flames fought back all night long, eventually tying it with under a minute left while on a 6-on-3 powerplay. Boston would go on to win in the shootout despite the Flames having opportunities to close the door with a goal or a save.
All in all, it’s good to have Flames hockey back, and here are 10 observations from opening night.
1. Both Teams Were Going Hard All Night
That game really didn’t have the feel of a pre-season game. Maybe it was because the Flames dressed a roster that will be almost identical to the one they open October with, which is a rarity in the pre-season usually. I was thoroughly entertained throughout the contest, and I’d imagine the fans in China were too. I can’t think of a better way to grow the game than displaying 3-on-3 OT on the world stage.
2. Shades of 2017-18?
We all screamed a little bit after the Flames dominated most of the first period but proceeded to give up three goals in 1:55 for the Bruins to take a commanding 3-0 lead.
We all screamed a little bit about Jaroslav Halak could somehow be in sparkling form despite having one practice. Halak ended the night with 40 saves on 43 shots and Tuukka Rask also had three saves in relief duty during the third. Again, a backup goalie was pelted with shots but somehow turned into a Vezina trophy calibre goalie for one night, against the Flames, just like most of last year.
The final shot total was 46-20 for Calgary, and yet they lost. It felt a lot like the Glen Gulutzan era at times.
3. Derek Ryan and Austin Czarnik Showed Some Great Chemistry
Despite both players being brand new to the team, both players really gelled together quickly last night and set each other up with some fantastic plays. I was really impressed by Ryan at both ends of the ice, as well as his ability to consistently win faceoffs which is something the Flames haven’t had in as long as I can remember.
I might have turned into a Czarnik lover with last night’s game. I had heard bits and pieces about him in practice, or from Bruins fans, but he was absolutely flying last night and making some great plays along with having some glorious chances to score. He also had some edge to his game and drew at least one penalty that I can remember. This kid might be a very good pickup for the Flames.
4. Sean Monahan’s Wrist Looks Just Fine’
Monahan’s buzzer beater goal in the first period was a big step in the Flames getting back into the game. Despite Bill Peters saying that he would be limiting Monahan’s faceoffs in pre-season, Monahan was out there taking draws and doing quite well. Monahan had some other really great chances and was starting to gel with newcomer Elias Lindholm as the game continued.
5. Noah Hanifin Skates So Smoothly
I think you could say that Hanifin was probably the player I most wanted to watch heading into last night’s game. He made some really good plays, especially on breakouts and getting the puck into the attacking zone. However the thing I remember most about his Flames debut was how effortlessly he could get from Point A to Point B with his skating. I’m very excited that the Flames have him.
6. Matthew Tkachuk is still Matthew Tkachuk
You’d think that because it’s just a pre-season game and it’s in China that Tkachuk may have been on his best behaviour? You thought wrong. While it may have been slightly dialed back from his regular season form, Tkachuk was still out there throwing hits and starting scrums, along with getting some good looks offensively. His shootout goal was an absolutely disgusting dangle around Halak.
7. Captain Gio and T.J. Brodie Reunited at Last
I wasn’t watching them super closely and there weren’t an advanced stats from last night’s game, but just judging by the eye test, they look quite comfortable back together again. They played a strong defensive game, and Giordano scored two third period goals to tie the game. So far so good.
8. A Powerplay that isn’t Pure Excrement
Sure, when it’s all considered 2/8 doesn’t look like a fantastic game for the powerplay, but compared to last season, it was night-and-day difference. They were consistently getting chances with both of their 1-3-1 powerplay units, and the two goals were just a bonus. A reminder that between Games 62-81 last year, the Flames only had two goals on the powerplay. So I’ll gladly take 2/8 in one game.
The penalty kill also looked solid last night in the three opportunities they were tested, including an extended 5-on-3.
9. The Fourth Line Had Their Flashes
It’s a good look for the Flames depth when last year’s third line has essentially become this year’s fourth line. Sam Bennett and Mark Jankowski had their flashes last night, but didn’t receive a ton of ice time due to the extended PP time the Flames had. Garnet Hathaway was okay, but I couldn’t help but think how Dillon Dube could look on that line.
10. Can’t Wait to Do This Again
The two teams travelled to Beijing for the second game of their China series which will be played on Wednesday. There were moments last night that started to get heated, and I expect Wednesday’s game to be even better with both teams getting some practices under their belt.