For the first time in months, we had live Calgary Flames hockey on Monday night. While it was simply an exhibition game, and it was intrasquad, it sure was great to see the team back on the ice. Kudos to the Flames organization for televising the game, and for the crew on the broadcast doing a solid job as well.
The game had pretty good intensity in the first and second, but clearly was not the same compete level we expect to see once the games start counting. It was pointed out on the broadcast but many of the players looked in the third as if they were trying not to get hurt, and who could really blame them? Nonetheless, despite a lack of physicality, the game was a good chance to see some of the new faces and line combinations for the Flames this season.
The team used these line combinations:
The game ended in a 3-2 victory for Team McDonald. Elias Lindholm, Noah Hanifin, and Johnny Gaudreau scored for the winning side. Adam Ruzicka and Andrew Mangiapane had the goals for Team Iginla, with Mangiapane’s coming during a three-on-three segment at the end of the game. Here are the full highlights:
Rather than comparing the two teams, let’s break the whole game down by position.
- The Flames created depth by moving Lindholm to centre at the start of camp, and it looks to be a great decision. We will see how it looks against another NHL team, but Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk look so natural together that it is almost hard to believe they didn’t get more time earlier. They might be the best line to start the season, which is actually a good thing for Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Getting some easier assignments might be exactly what the doctor ordered for those two after a disappointing season last year. Both lines, the Lindholm group and the Monahan trio, looked good on Monday night.
- Now that he isn’t playing with Tkachuk, the Flames can make a true shutdown line with Mikael Backlund. Under the new lines, I would love to see Backlund play against other top lines, and start a lot of shifts in the defensive zone. It would sacrifice some offense for him, but would do a lot for the two lines ahead of him.
- Any Backlund line will be better because of Mangiapane. The bread man was all over the ice on Monday, and you have to love how he never turns the competitive side of him off. He was jarring with David Rittich a bit after a play at the net, and looked to be in mid-season form. For good measure, he ripped home a goal in the three on three portion to cap off a really strong night.
- Dominik Simon and Josh Leivo will have the chance to play with some really talented players this year, and both looked good in the scrimmage. Keeping the game simple will be key for both of them, but they seemed to be off to promising starts.
- Sam Bennett was fairly quiet, but looked solid at the end of the game with Mangiapane and Joakim Nordstrom. You have to wonder how close Milan Lucic is to being scratched. This forward group looks a lot deeper than last year, but Lucic is still holding down a spot on the second powerplay unit. Bennett seems destined for a fourth line role, but I would be interested to see him on that Backlund checking line at some point.
- For the non-NHL guys, Ruzicka played well and scored a nice goal in the first. Alongside linemates Emilio Pettersson and Matthew Phillips, Ruzicka had himself a really impressive game. New addition Connor Zary also flashed some potential in his first game with the NHL club.
- On the flip side, it was a really quiet night for Glenn Gawdin, who barely seemed to touch the ice. Many expected Gawdin to make the jump this year, and it is still possible, but this forward group got deep in a hurry and he got outplayed by pretty much everyone.
- Juuso Valimaki was awesome. Plain and simple. He is primed for a big, big breakout season and I cannot wait. I love how active he is in the offensive zone, and he moves before the defenders expect him to. He was on the ice for some really dynamic offensive cycle plays, and seems to be oozing confidence after a strong start to his season overseas. Nikita Nesterov looked great next to him as well. That pairing has some real potential going forward.
- I liked what I saw out of Chris Tanev in his first televised Flames action. He made some really nice passes throughout the game that started the breakout. He even looked confident on the puck in the offensive zone, something he isn’t known for, which is just a bonus. Meanwhile, his partner Hanifin scored a beautiful goal on the penalty kill. In my eyes, Hanifin looks bigger than last year, and could be primed for a step forward this year. With Tanev covering the defense, it could open up Hanifin’s offense big time.
- Oliver Kylington responded to a surprising appearance on the waiver wire with a nice game. I don’t think anyone would be shocked to see him picked up by another team, so we will see what happens going forward.
- Lastly, Connor Mackey was disappointing in this one. He looked a little casual at times and had some really awful turnovers. With Nesterov looking good, Mackey will almost certainly be on the outside looking in to start. He will need to pick it up if he wants to draw into the lineup. He has potential and is noticeable for his size and skating ability, but needs to make better decisions with the puck.
- Jacob Markstrom played half the game, with Rittich going the distance and Louis Domingue playing half. All three looked fairly sharp, and Markstrom was good after a reportedly mediocre performance in the club’s first intrasquad game.
- Rittich looked good in the bonus shootout at the end too. While you never wish for a shootout to end a game, Calgary’s in a position to succeed at it this season.
Next up: Season opener
Lastly, the new uniforms looked so, so good. Between those and the new Blasty set, the team is going to look great on the ice this year. Calgary gets the new year underway on Thursday at Winnipeg. Congrats my friends, we made it through another long offseason. Hockey is back!