For the first time in a long time, the Calgary Flames are off to a strong start. After dropping the season opener against the Edmonton Oilers the Flames have picked up points in six straight games and concluded a sweep of their eastern opponents with a 4-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night. There are plenty of positives and Darryl Sutter has the Flames playing some solid hockey in the early going. Here are five takeaways from the team’s 5-0-0 road trip.
Markstrom and Vladar Impressive
Jacob Markstrom struggled with injuries and inconsistency in his first season with the Flames. Over the three games he started on Calgary’s eastern swing, he looked like a man on a mission to put all doubt to rest and reclaim his status as a Vezina Trophy contender. Markstrom pitched two shutouts, including a 45-save blanking of the Penguins, stopping 107 of 108 shots he faced and owning a goals saved above expected of 7.12. The Swedish netminder was nothing short of fantastic.
Markstrom was able to be at the top of his game likely due to adequate rest afforded to him by the fact Dan Vladar gave the Flames two solid starts. It was surprising to see Sutter, known for his proclivity to ride his number one goalie, give Vladar not one but two games over the five-game trip. In two starts, the young and inexperienced Vladar proved he is ready to handle full-time NHL backup duties. He had some hiccups, but for the most part the 24-year-old gave the Flames a chance to win in both of his starts.
Strong Starts and Not Chasing
One area the Flames’ coaching staff has evidently improved on is the team’s readiness for puck drop. Calgary’s starts and opening periods were fantastic over the five-game eastern road swing. Over the last few seasons, the team had earned a reputation for getting behind early and chasing, relying on comeback heroics to pick up wins. It seems Sutter’s structure, insistence on details, and focus on playing with pace has the Flames ready to start hockey games on time this season.
They haven’t been playing perfect hockey as they have allowed opposing teams to fight back into games, specifically with a few poor showings in second periods, but playing with multi-goal leads and keeping things mostly within their control has certainly been conducive to putting points in the bank.
Top Players Have Come to Play
Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm have come ready to play in 2021-22. Along with Andrew Mangiapane, the two have been majorly driving the Flames’ offence and success. Gaudreau has been a playmaking force, leading the way with eight primary assists — tied for the league lead with Victor Hedman.
Lindholm, Gaudreau’s prime trigger man, has been sniping at a rapid clip while also touching many other areas of the game on a nightly basis. With seven tallies each, Mangiapane and Lindholm find themselves both in the upper ranks of goal scorers behind only Alex Ovechkin. Lindholm’s Herculean hat-trick effort may have single-handedly won the Flames a game against the Washington Capitals.
While he’s been somewhat quiet on the score sheet, Matthew Tkachuk was no slouch over the five-game stretch. The Gaudreau, Lindholm, Tkachuk trio has consistently produced solid results at even strength and have found ways to control play and possession over the duration of the eastern swing.
|Player 1||Player 2||Player 3||TOI||GF%||SF%||FF%||CF%||xGF%|
|Elias Lindholm||Johnny Gaudreau||Matthew Tkachuk||79.18||100||51.78||58.01||60.91||61.13|
Entering a contract year, there is an added focus on Gaudreau this season; however, the pressure and looming contract status haven’t affected his on-ice performance in the least. The reunited Gaudreau and Lindholm looked as deadly as they did back in 2018-19 when Gaudreau tallied 99 points.
Mangiapane is the Real Deal
The goal-scoring and impact from Mangiapane have been massive. The 24-year-old winger scored four goals in 24 hours in games against the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils and put his stamp all over the Flames’ winning ways on this road trip. He’s long been a well-kept secret in Calgary and one of the most underrated players in the league. Now, it appears the secret is out as he finds himself near the top of the NHL’s goal-scoring race. He is a dynamic, multi-tool player who can manufacture goals out of thin air. He made the most of every single shift he had over the five-game trip.
Mangiapane’s contributions have long been important to the Flames. Regardless of the role given to him, he has produced strong results and impacted the game positively. If he can continue to be a goal-scoring threat every single night, the Flames’ offence may be far deadlier than originally anticipated.
Timely Secondary Scoring
Blake Coleman, Mikael Backlund, and Tyler Pitlick had multiple contributions as a unit over the 5-0-0 trip as well. Most notably, the group had two major shifts against the Rangers who, after falling behind 2-0, were not going quietly into the night. As the Rangers pushed back to come within one goal, Coleman buried his second goal of the season as a result of strong forechecking and puck retrieval from Backlund and Pitlick. Backlund later sealed the game with a beautiful rush goal. Coleman also scored a huge goal to provide some breathing room for Markstrom and the Flames against Pittsburgh. The former Tampa Bay Lightning stalwart has been a perfect fit thus far in a Flames uniform.
Veteran forward Milan Lucic chipped in with two goals, Dillon Dube has quietly amassed five points, and Oliver Kylington’s offensive contributions from the blue line have been imperative. Heck, even stay-at-home king Chris Tanev found the back of the net. The stars are driving the bus, but the contributions throughout the lineup were invaluable in the Flames’ five-game sweep of the East.
Defence by Committee
How the Flames’ blue line would fare with the loss of Mark Giordano to the Seattle Kraken was of prime concern heading into the 2021-22 season. Over the last five games, the Flames’ current group of defenders have proven to be greater than the sum of their parts. Rasmus Andersson has been relied on heavily and has responded well to the challenge. Andersson leads the team in ice time amongst defenders this season and has produced solid on-ice results at 5-on-5 with a 53.82 expected goals for percentage (xGF%) through seven games. Kylington and Tanev have formed a reliable second pairing and have been quite excellent as a puck-moving duo. Kylington has been a welcome upgrade over Nikita Zadorov, who did not see game action on the road trip.
|Player 1||Player 2||Team||GP||TOI||GF%||SF%||FF%||CF%||xGF%|
|Chris Tanev||Oliver Kylington||CGY||6||59.07||36.27||59.29||56.95||59.89||56.48|
|Chris Tanev||Nikita Zadorov||CGY||2||31.47||0||42.85||41.12||43.11||25.93|
Even the veteran likes of Erik Gudbransson and Michael Stone have filled spots with relative success. The blue line has been held together by committee and produced decent enough results to help the Flames win five straight games on the road. It’s certainly not an elite group of defenders, but Sutter has them all on the same page and playing sound hockey. They’ve been defending the middle of the ice and rush chances against to a high degree of success thus far.
It’s been a long while since the Flames started the season off with a winning record through 10 games. An excellent road trip has put them in a position to get ahead of the game early on in the season and will hopefully boost their chances of securing a playoff spot.
Michael Wilson is a born and raised Calgarian covering the Flames for THW.