The Flames were picked to finish higher up the table than I thought them capable by the punditry and experts, and the Canucks were picked way further south. Most of that hot air and “expert” opinion is usually proven wrong ( the big secret of sports media “hot takery”? No one remembers what you said at the end of the year anyhow, so say whatever crazy thing pops into your head. It is all content anyhow ), but regardless, this game, and the one tomorrow night would put the Canucks up on the Flames with a sweep of both.
You never need much “juice” to be added to a Flames / Canucks game anyhow, but this one promised to be a game where both teams were enthusiastic. It was all that and more. Tomorrow should be even more interesting. And guess what ? Even though the Kings have two games in hand, at the halfway mark of the season, the Canucks hold the second wild card in the West. Suck it, Damien Cox and the rest of the Eastern Hockey Media Mafia !
- First, last and foremost, Ryan Miller was the reason the Canucks won this game. They played well, and tried ( tried, more on that down in a bit ) to keep the shots to the outside and of the low percentage, but the Flames got on a roll, and because the Canucks were in the lead from the 13:07 mark of the first onwards, score effects and a team used to playing defensively meant that one team was going to get more shots than the other. But this was ridiculous. The Flames ended up with 45 ( broadcast said 46, ESPN here says 45 ) shots on totals of 11-6 in the first, 12-4 in the second, and a mind-blowing 22-3 in the third. Miller robbed a guy like Chaisson so many times he will probably talk about the post he had on his first good chance as a big accomplishment ! Gaudreau, Wideman, Giordano all felt dejection and frustration at the hands of the cool and composed Miller. His rebound control was great, his reading of the play and challenging at the right time was on point, and like most goalies on a roll, he had some luck ( a Backlund shot on the back door on what looked like an empty net hit the goalie late to get his head around instead ), but that was a wonderful performance. Markstrom will probably get the back to back start tomorrow in Calgary, but DAMN Millsy. Thanks for the effort.
- It was not just all him. His team did a great job under pressure of collapsing to the net, having great sticks, playing with hustle at both ends ( mostly their own end, obviously ), and back checking like demons. The Flames were very aggressive once they got their tails up, and it took some great work by everyone on the ice on front of Miller to deny shots to the net with their sticks, desperate dives ( like Tryamkin on a wonderful back check for Big Nik’ ) defensively, and blocking shots like heroes. That one by Sutter late was a brave one. Everyone can bring it almost 100 MPH these days, and that was flush from 3 feet. They blocked 26 shots ( 26 -6 ) tonight.
- Ben Hutton had 5 of those, but the other hero in this game was Alexander Edler. On a defense down to five men for most of the game, Eagle blocked 6 shots, had a team high 24:57 TOI ( it looked like he was on for the entire two minutes on a couple of those kills, but it was “only” 4:10 SH TOI for him. An assist, as well as being a leader all night. The Canucks are now ( technically ) 10-2-1 with both Tanev and Edler in the lineup. Tanev probably won’t be in tomorrow ( no reports as of this writing, but he did not return, and took a high shot in the back / ribs that looked painful. They’ll need more nights like this one from their #1 defenseman ( was he #2 behind Tanman before this, or still the #1 ? Talk amongst yourselves ).
- One more note on the defenders tonight. Troy Stecher had an interesting night ( his fall led to a goal, and he had a couple another where an unlucky puck off his skate resulted in a great chance ), but he also battled through that well. Luca Sbisa had 22:47 TOI, 2 blocks and 3 hits, and was working hard all night. Ben Hutton was a force in his own end with a variety of partners, and Big Nikita Tryamkin had himself a game as well. The Flames are pretty quick, and everyone is going to have plays you can point to negatively on a night where you give up 45 shots. But they all made smart and poised play after smart and poised play as well.
- Speaking of smart and poised, I was appreciative of those aspects of Anton Rodin’s game as well. He earned more ice time even after Burrows comes back from illness. His 1 shot and 9:14 TOI belied his contribution. A couple times under pressure in his own end, he broke the pressure with poise, and you can see his smarts offensively with Sven Baertschi and Bo Horvat. More please.
- Markus Granlund and Sven Bartschi might get a little more “juice” from playing against the team that drafted and gave up on them both. Its was Granlund tonight, with two goals to sink his former team. His first was a snipe show shot with all sorts of time from the high slot, and the second a great tip on an even better play by Tryamkin at the line ( he held the puck in under pressure, held the line, and got a quick wrist shot off that was tipped ). With his assist on Loui Eriksson’s 2-1 goal, he had a 3 point night, and his 18:21 TOI led all forwards tonight.
- Brian Elliott has been good recently for the Flames, but he gave up 4 goals on 13 shots. ( Actually, it was 4 on 12 shots, before making one more save the rest of the way ). You want to get more shots, and while the Flames were dominant territorially and on the stat sheet, credit the home team with cashing in on their chances by executing, as well as breaking the confidence of a hot division foe. Hell, if they win tomorrow, they have the second first wild card spot, against a team that has played the same number of games that they have. Not bad for the team picked to bring up the rear of the NHL. Willie Desjardins has got them playing hard and dealing well with the pressure of close games.
- Some interesting numbers from tonight : Sean Monahan had 5 shots, ( many of them solid chances ). TJ Brodie was on the ice for 27:29. Gaudreau, Chaisson, Monahan, Giordano and Hamilton were all -2 as well. Not sure it is what we want from the Sedin’s winger ( they were in their own end a helluva lot tonight though, like most of the team, though they did have some spells of play at the other end as well ), but Jayson Megna had 3 hits to lead the forwards. With every centre over 50%, the Canucks won the draw battle 33-27, and the best number ( for him, and for the team, of course ) was Chaput getting his first goal as a Canuck.
- Getting back to that style of play thing. The media will talk incessantly about the number of shots, and how the Canucks got ( it will be some version, depending on the language and bias of said media type ) “lucky”, but don’t you believe it. The Canucks were under fire all night, to be sure. And long term, that is not good. But those shot totals were a bit deceptive as well. The Flames were basically shooting from anywhere and trying to get traffic to the net, all night. Defenders, both on the blue line and up front, did a great job boxing out, giving the goalie a look, and clearing opponents and pucks. The blocked 26 freaking shots, FFS. Sure. Some of the chances were high percentage, and Miller was wonderful on those. But the game was also more back and forth than the number of shots would make it seem. Before that third period, while there were definitely parts of periods where the Flames were ascendant, there was more back and forth periods of the game as well, and in those, the Canucks were funnelling players to places on the ice where a bunch of those shots were low percentage, or under pressure from players checking the shooter. To me, that is a hard working, EARNED win. Miller was the first star, of course. But even if the hard work was more at the defensive end, it was still hard work.
- Do you think the players noticed that Willie Desjardins put Granlund out there on a late power play to see if he could get his first ever hat trick ? I bet they did. Players love playing for a guy that gets them, and that is just one of those little things ( like starting Burrows with the Twins on his 800th game recently ) that makes players want to work hard for their coach.
- Speaking of coaches, what the hell was the Flames’ coach thinking on that challenge ? The contact was so obvious, it was just a waste of time. The second one ( both short handed rushes, they have 7 of that kind of goal so far ) was just stupid, with Giordano pushing the arm in after another dazzling save by Miller, but the first one was a waste of a challenge.
- Don’t buy the “ we won’t make the playoffs playing like that” answer from Willie that will get a ton of play tomorrow. He was secretly proud of his team and the way they battled. Of course, any coach is going to react that way when you are outshot more than three to one, and, like I said, long term, this is not the way to go. That was a message to his team for tomorrow as much as anything. And even if he was really mad, I was still proud of the effort tonight...
I fully expect the team to get more shots tomorrow, even as this is a team they seem to struggle to do that against recently. A Saturday night game against a division rival, a hated foe, where they can show everyone that they may have been wrong against them ? Yeah, the effort will be just as intense tomorrow. Just that I think it is more at the other end.
Go for seven straight boys !