Welcome back, hockey fans. Last night’s game between the Calgary Flames and the Winnipeg Jets marked Calgary’s first real game in over four months, as the world has dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic among other crises. All of that has contributed to a comforting sight seeing the Flames back on the ice, doubly so during a win*.
However, before breaking down last night’s game, let’s take a moment to truly acknowledge an uncomfortable reality here: hockey shouldn’t be back.
It’s absolutely wild that sports are back when they are absolutely not an essential service. Sure, the NHL is bubbling and things could look worse like the MLB (who just had their first player opt-out of the season due to health complications from catching COVID-19). According to their own news releases, there haven’t been any cases during phase four of their Return To Play protocols, which is encouraging if you buy everything the NHL says at face value, which has not universally been the case.
Looking at it through an Alberta-specific lens, it’s terrifying that such a focus is being put on the NHL being in Edmonton when healthcare is constantly under attack during said health pandemic. It’s a welcome distraction, but it’s also a distraction that isn’t necessarily one that everyone can afford.
On top of that, the Black Lives Matter protests continue despite all the risks and dangers that American citizens are subject to. Anti-racism and ending anti-Blackness is an uncomfortable discussion, but as Matt Dumba bravely said by himself yesterday, it’s time to start having uncomfortable discussions.
Anyway, there was a hockey game last night
A lot of the discussion leading up to this series was all about how Connor Hellebuyck might just steal the series as he stole so many games during the regular season. The Vezina-favourite was the looming factor for many Flames’ fans, whose resume this year dominated both David Rittich and Cam Talbot.
However, there was always the very good chance that Hellebuyck wasn’t going to be elite right out of the gate, and if that was the case, Winnipeg was going to be in trouble. Perhaps the only thing that could make that worse is if the Jets lost Mark Scheifele, the best part of their offence, to an injury.
Surely, that would stack the chances against Winni- wait, what’s that? Patrik Laine also left with an injury? Yikes.
Winnipeg would be the first on the board, with Andrew “Should spell it with one P” Copp opening the scoring in the first period. Alas, that would be all they would muster, as Calgary’s non-5v5 play would take control of the game.
Beginning in the second period, Johnny Gaudreau scored the first goal for the Flames on the power play which must have been a relief to Flames fans who think that last spring defines Gaudreau’s playoff career. The power play would score later on as well as Mikael Backlund got all the time in the world to make it 3-1.
What was sandwiched between those goals was the real treat. Tobias Rieder, who frequently looked like the best Flame throughout the night
did what he’s known for broke Bob Nicholson’s heart by scoring goals in Edmonton, delivering a shorthanded beauty to really take the wind out of Winnipeg’s sails.
Andrew Mangiapane would eventually add an empty-netter in a game that will likely be remembered more for the injuries than any of the goals.
*It’s important to acknowledge the very valid portion of Flames fans who want to lose this series because they believe the odds are better of getting Lafreniere than winning the Stanley Cup. I can’t fault them, I too believe in making alexisonfire happen in hockey.
5V5 PLAYER STATS
- If the low numbers surprise you, keep in mind that Calgary did none of their scoring at 5v5. Winnipeg was the stronger even strength team.
- That being said, they had the advantages in the second period which carried them enough to essentially play out the third period (where they had a 37.79 CF%)
- Elias Lindholm had an absurd night, registering 78.19 CF%. That’s nearly 24 percentage points better than the second best Flame, Rasmus Andersson (54.98 CF%).
- On the flip side, Zac Rinaldo was the weakest player for the Flames. You may not have even noticed though, as he played barely over three minutes at 5v5. Geoff Ward barely used him, Rieder, or Derek Ryan at 5v5, although Rieder and Ryan did a phenomenal job on the penalty kill.
- There was no standout player for Winnipeg at 5v5, as all but two of their players (Blake Wheeler and Laine) registered at least 50.0% as far as CF. Drew Shore led the way with 66.67%
- For all the talk of how Winnipeg’s defence would be their downfall, Dmitry Kulikov singlehandedly tried to disprove that. He had a HDCF% of 100, although he didn’t contribute any of those high-danger chances for personally.
- Lines were messy for Winnipeg given the injuries, but Paul Maurice’s most-used line of Laine, Wheeler, and Kyle Connor did not justify their usage tonight posting a CF% Rel of -8.90. There is a great indicator of why Winnipeg lost.
STATS COURTESY: NATURAL STAT TRICK
THOUGHTS ON THE GAME
Much of the post-game discussion has centred around the injuries to Scheifele and Laine. Surprisingly, it seems as though the Jets feel the Matthew Tkachuk hit was intentional whereas Mark Giordano‘s slashes to Laine were just normal for hockey. Go figure.
What isn’t up for debate is how much the loss of Scheifele clearly affected Winnipeg. After receiving a boost from seeing Wheeler fight Tkachuk and Copp scoring, the Jets really didn’t feel engaged in this game. True, they did hit quite a number of goalposts, but none of their chances felt truly threatening to Talbot. He had to be fine to stop Winnipeg, and he was just that.
It’s encouraging to see special teams come up large for Calgary, especially netting multiple power play goals. That’s likely not a long-term recipe for success, but if they can keep that up while finding their even strength legs, they could be dangerous for a round or two more than expected.
The fake fan noise and censored arena sounds are a bummer, although it’s probably best to realize just how iffy some NHLers truly are. It’s very disappointing to see the television broadcasts rely on so many of the same angles and not take advantage of the extra space for cameras, but at least that high-angle camera is fun.
It’ll be interesting to see how the bitterness spills over in this series. Calgary took seven minor penalties in Game 1 on top of Tkachuk’s fight, but this series could be in for a lot of special teams time if emotions keep being a factor. Early results suggest this would be good for Calgary.
It’s worth taking time to acknowledge just how strong Calgary’s penalty kill was tonight. Not only did they net the game winner, but they didn’t allow a single high-danger chance against during those seven penalties. It isn’t likely they can keep doing that game after game, but it’s easier to stop taking penalties than reworking the penalty kill.
THE GAUD, THE BAD, AND THE BEAUTIFUL
Good: The second period and the special teams should be used as blueprints for what to do in Game 2.
Bad: The 5v5 play and the injury aftermath need to be a concern right now.
Beautiful: Did y’all watch Mike Smith play earlier in the day? Absolutely beautiful.
Opponent: Winnipeg Jets
Series Score: 1-0