Two crushing regulation defeats in a row made Saturday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks a must win for the Calgary Flames. With Chicago only a few points behind them in the playoff race, the Flames needed to shake their six game losing streak before too much ground was lost.

The Flames got off to a sluggish start, falling down 2-0 early in the second period. Not for a lack of trying though, as the Flames were stymied early by Blackhawks goalie Jeff Glass. This was the first time in the recent slide that the Flames hadn’t scored first, so perhaps they were attempting a new strategy.

It appeared to work.

Goals from Matt Stajan and Johnny Gaudreau tied the game at two, before a TJ Brodie giveaway led to Chicago retaking the lead. Even after this, you got the feeling that the Flames were not going to let this one slip away. A complete departure from the previous six games. With all of the uncertainty in their play lately, they looked like the better team that deserved the two points.

A Michael Frolik tying goal in the third period set the stage for Mr. Overtime, Sean Monahan, to steal the show once again. After peppering Glass with seven shots during the game, Monahan finally broke through with his 24th goal of the season, leading the Flames to a 4-3 victory.

The losing streak stops at six games and the Flames are right back in the playoff picture, even though they never really left.

Statistical Breakdown

Team Stats

All Situations 5v5 SVA 5v5
CF 55.7% 55.2% 51.0%
SCF 60.0% 56.7% 51.7%
HDCF 62.5% 60.7% 55.7%

5v5 Player Stats

Stats courtesy: Natural Stat Trick

Player of the Game

No doubt that Gaudreau gets the honor for his dominant performance last night. Posting a CF% of 56.1%, he was on another level across all areas of the ice. Potting his first goal in seven games, in addition to generating the majority of Monahan’s scoring chances, caused him to be a thorn in Chicago’s side all night. He did his Eagles proud last night.

Thoughts on the Game

John: I was fortunate to attend last nights game and there was one certainty you could just sense in the Saddledome: the Flames were not losing this game. Even being down 2-0 didn’t seem to phase many, as the scoring chances kept coming. It could have been a completely different opening period had Glass not been as fantastic as he was.

The Flames had a different jump to their step compared to the last few games. They were absolutely resilient. Not having the lead seemed to bring out the anger that had been built up over the previous six games. They frustrated their opponent with offensive chances and stingy defense, rather than with physicality.

In regards to the lineup, I was left puzzled throughout the game. The lines were scrambled for a solid portion of the second period and in the third the staple gun came out on the bench. This led to many questionable combinations that left me scratching my head. Getting the obvious out of the way first, Bartkowski better not be in another NHL game this season. He was too much of a liability for the team, where as Brett Kulak is a much more consistent and younger option.

On a more somber note, I don’t believe that Mangiapane is NHL ready, yet. Yes he needs more experience, but last night he got that opportunity and looked lost. He generated a few scoring chances, but also seemed just a slight step behind. He may benefit from some more AHL playing time before fully promoting him to a NHL forward in Calgary.

I’d like to see Kulak and Mark Jankowski back in the lineup on Tuesday, but with GG you never really know. The Sam Bennett – Jankowski – Troy Brouwer line left me with some optimism. The deployments in the previous two games looked to be the best combination available, even in the losses. Perhaps now that they have shaken the monkey off their backs, returning to that lineup may be smart heading into Chicago.

Moving Forward

What needs to be fixed? Lineup Decisions.

Let’s be clear. The Flames may have won this game, but they did not deploy their best possible lineup. Having Jankowski sit in the press box was a puzzling move, but it never hurts to give a rookie a bit of a jolt. Many have gone through the same process. Unfortunately, not having a true third line center clearly hurt the team down the stretch. The Mangiapane – Bennett – Brouwer line was quickly dismantled in favor of a Mangiapane and Curtis Lazar swap. That same line was then once again changed with Stajan swapping with Lazar. In the end, the “third” line ended up being Stajan – Bennett – Brouwer, with Brouwer being the one who took the majority of face-offs. Not a great third line option when you look at what Jankowski brings to the table. In addition to this, Bartkowski was a clear liability on the ice. Yes it was his first game in forever, but he’s no longer an NHL caliber defenceman and it showed last night. They needed some changes in their lineup to shake things up, but this can’t be a consistent deployment.

What needs to continue? Benchings. 

How did Gulutzan handle his poor lineup decisions? By benching a handful of those players. This wasn’t explicitly a “benching”, but it came quite close to being labelled as that. Lazar, Mangiapane, Bartkowski, Micheal Stone and Garnet Hathaway barely took to the ice in the third period. It was clear that the top line and the 3M line were in complete control, as were the top four defenceman, so it makes sense that Gulutzan declined to play these five. It was fantastic to see GG finally shorten his bench during crunch time. If all four lines don’t have “it” during the game, then continuously deploy the ones that do. You can’t play with three lines all the time, but it was clear which players wanted it more and GG used them consistently.

Next Game

The Hawks will be looking for redemption, as the Flames play the second game of the home and home series on Tuesday night. Anton Forsberg will likely get the start at home for the Hawks. Both teams will most likely be making some lineup decisions on Monday when they return to practice.

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