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About Last Night #58: Flames finish six game road trip on a high note in Nashville

The Calgary Flames‘ recently completed six game road trip was probably one of the toughest of their season. Facing some of the best teams in the league, it was a real test for a group who were starting to find their footing in an up and down year. Losing Troy Brouwer and Mike Smith didn’t help either. The Flames had to be at their best to come away with a successful trip.

Amassing six of ten points heading into last night’s game against the Nashville Predators, the Flames were in a position to finish 4-2 on the trip with a win over the Central Division leaders. The Flames had a 5-0-1 record in their last six visits to Nashville, and were aiming to continue that great streak.

The Predators opened the scoring midway through the first period, but the Flames answered with a timely powerplay goal from Matthew Tkachuk. With a powerplay goal in the first period, the Flames were off to a fantastic start.

The two teams would trade goals again in the second, the Flames replying to the Predators’ goal with another powerplay goal, this time courtesy of Dougie Hamilton on a 5on3. Mark Jankowski would score in the third along with a softie from Curtis Lazar that eventually stood as the game winner. Glen Gulutzan shortened his bench admirably last night; Lazar played the most at 7:28.

One of their best games of the year, the Flames showed the type of team they can be when all cylinders are firing. David Rittich was fabulous in net and made several huge saves including in the dying seconds to keep the Flames’ lead alive.

Statistical Breakdown

Team Stats

All Situations 5v5 SVA 5v5
CF 45.5% 48.2% 50.5%
SCF 58.3% 60.6% 63.8%
HDCF 55.0% 58.3% 62.7%

5v5 Player Stats

  • Brett Kulak led the Flames in CF%, posting a 64.7% in another strong performance.
  • The third line of Jankowski, Sam Bennett, and Garnet Hathaway posted the three highest CF% out of the forward group at 61.9%, 61.9%, and 55.6% respectively.
  • Even though they scored the GWG, the fourth line struggled last night with Lazar, Matt Stajan, and Ryan Lomberg posting sub 30% CF%’s
  • Calle Jarnkrok had the best game in terms of CF%, as he led both teams with a 66.7% at 5v5.
Stats courtesy: Natural Stat Trick

Player of the Game

There is no doubting that Rittich gets the honours for his outstanding performance. Ignore the third period giveaway completely, as Rittich bounced back strong to ensure his team earned the two points. Making multiple outrageous saves with under a minute to go is the perfect description of clutch. His night didn’t go as well in Boston, but he bounced back strong and is exactly what this team needs with Smith out of the lineup. In a small sample size, he’s been one of the best goalies in the entire league this season, and he looks like a true NHL level goaltender.

Thoughts on the Game

John: I was unable to watch the entirety of last nights contest, which some are labeling the Flames’ best effort of the season. I won’t try to nitpick parts of the game, but good to see Lazar rewarded once again. Statistically he didn’t have his best outing, but I can’t imagine what a game winning goal does for his confidence.

Also, who would have thought in a game against Nashville that the Flames would have a GWG from Lazar, in addition to two PPGs? They finally capitalized on a 5on3 opportunity, and the special teams seem to be trending in the right direction. It is just one game, so I will remain hesitant until I am able to see some consistency, but it’s a step in the right direction for sure.

Rittich has to be the biggest surprise this season. My dad and I always marveled at other teams who were able to pluck goalies out of obscurity and have them be relevant in the NHL. When the Flames signed the unknown Rittich, no one thought anything of it whatsoever. It was a depth move, meant for insurance in case Jon Gillies was injured. We were completely wrong. The Flames now have that goalie, acquired for absolutely nothing I may add, that has come in and earned his spot, in addition to valuable points. Smith is the starting goalie and has been phenomenal, but I am completely comfortable with leaving Rittich in net until Smith is 100%.

Karim: Just like the Ducks seemed to have cast a spell over the Flames in their building, the Flames seem to play extremely well in Nashville. Maybe it’s the combination of country music and cowboy hats, but there’s just something about Nashville that brings out the best in the Flames. I’m not complaining; with Nashville being one of the best teams in the league, it’s nice that the Flames have their number.

Not enough good things can be said about Rittich. He’s not only a pretty great human being from the sound of things, he’s obviously a very capable goaltender as well. I was hoping Rittich would be able to prove he could be a decent backup and the Flames would trade him for picks either this year or next. The way he’s managed the net though, now as a starter, is making me reconsider that outlook. Goalies are fickle and nobody really knows when their prime is. Rittich, however, is only 25 years old, proved he could be a dominant force in the AHL, and looks completely comfortable at the NHL level as well. Tyler Parsons has struggled this year, Mason McDonald is a disaster, and Gillies has been up and down. It’s probably too early to start thinking about Rittich as this team’s number one goalie in the next year or two, but is that out of the question?

Moving Forward

What needs to be fixed? Powerplay Taking the foot off the pedal.

The Flames let the Predators take it to them a little bit in the third period. That tendency to take their foot of the gas pedal has hurt them the last few weeks and it’s important that they keep pushing even late into the game with a lead. Last night was much better than previous ones, but this is an area they can still work on.

What needs to continue? Special Teams. 

Special teams may have been the scapegoat over the past month or so, but last night was a perfect example of how this team needs them to play out over the course of the season. The Flames went 2/3 on the PP and 5/5 on the PK, outstanding for a team that has been struggling in those areas. This is hopefully not an aberration, but a stepping stone for further success. The first PP unit appears to be finding some chemistry and ensuring that Dave Cameron keeps his job just a tiny bit longer.

Next Game

The Flames are back at the ‘Dome tomorrow night to face the Florida Panthers. Roberto Luongo returned from injury this week and he may start against Rittich tomorrow. The Panthers haven’t been a great team for most of the year and the Flames have a good opportunity to gain some ground in the Pacific.

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