45 games into the 2018-19 season, the Calgary Flames are sitting at 27-13-4 which puts them first in the Western Conference with 58 points and second place overall in the league.
Simply put, the Flames are playing their best hockey in this era of the Flames, and perhaps their best hockey since the 80’s. That’s not an exaggeration either.
Calgary has gotten scoring from their big five players in Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm, Matthew Tkachuk, and Mark Giordano. They’ve gotten superb goaltending from David Rittich, and strong defensive play from their D core. Pretty much every Flame has found their role in the lineup and has executed well, allowing the team to step up as one of the league’s premiere teams.
However things didn’t always look this way. There was a time this season when the Flames were looking to be decent, but nothing special as they were only 5-5-1 after their first 11 games, but there was one game that changed everything.
November 17 2018, Edmonton Oilers at Calgary Flames. Coming into the game, the Flames were sitting second in the Pacific Division with a 10-8-1 record but were coming off two losses to the Sharks and Canadiens.
The first period of this game was very memorable with the number of big hits and fights taking place as the Battle of Alberta heated up. For all of 2017-18, everybody said the Flames lacked the grit and fight needed to win.
On this night, even without typical grit/fighter guys in the lineup, the Flames matched the Oilers hit-for-hit and punch-for-punch. It was a period where you could start to see that the Flames were really a different team, and a team that clearly had each other’s back.
However that first period wasn’t the turning point, it came in the second period.
With the Flames down 2-0 against a rival who always seemed to have their number, things were looking bleak. That’s when Jujhar Khaira was gifted a breakaway by a stumbling Mark Giordano, seemingly on the verge of sealing the game for Edmonton.
David Rittich would have other ideas making another tremendous shorthanded save on a breakaway, and then gesturing to his guys to get going, clearly showing frustration with their lacklustre play.
On that same powerplay, the Flames second unit would convert with Derek Ryan scoring a goal off a rebound. It was a goal that re-energized the team, the fans, and gave a believe that the team could come back.
Calgary would go on to tie the game very early in the third period with Sean Monahan striking home his tenth goal of the season. Then Elias Lindholm would score twice to give the Flames a 4-2 lead and the victory.
It was another comeback win for the Flames, a scenario that’s played itself out many times this year. It was downing their provincial rivals who had dominated them for a number of years, and it was a big win to snap a losing streak that could’ve easily snowballed.
After that victory, the Flames won two straight games with back-to-back five goal first periods as they started to emerge as a dominant team. Calgary would pick up 17 out of a possible 20 points in their next ten games and pull ahead in the divisional race.
That game would also allow some of the top guys to turn a hot start to the season into a truly scorching start. Here are some numbers from players and the team since that game:
- Johnny Gaudreau, 20 G + 25 A in 25 Games
- Sean Monahan 14 G + 21 A in 25 Games
- Elias Lindholm 11 G + 20 A in 25 Games, also a +29 since that night
- The Flames are 17-5-3 since that game (2nd most points in the time)
The Flames learned a lot about themselves that night, as it foreshadowed a lot of what was to come this season. Had that third goal gone in, the Flames probably would’ve lost the game, and maybe the season would’ve went in a dramatically direction.
Instead the Calgary Flames are 2nd place in the entire NHL, and are in the Contender conversation. Obviously one night can’t totally change a season, but a lot can go back to that one fateful Saturday night against Edmonton where the Flames really emerged into the team they are today.