After a tough 4–3 loss on Saturday night at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the Calgary Flames’ prospects were able to put one in the win column, picking up a dominant 4–1 victory over the Oilers’ rookies. The Flames were far and away the better team in this one, especially in the final forty minutes of the game, and what is more, the Flames’ individual players broadly looked very good.
Neither team really took a strong hold through the first period, with both teams taking penalties. With two Flames’ skaters in the box (Martin Pospisil and Cameron Whynot), Raphael Lavoie beat Dustin Wolf high from just below the dot to put the Oilers up 1-0.
Things went from bad to worse for the Flames later in the frame when Connor Zary blocked a shot on his foot, and sent him down to the ice in a lot of discomfort. He would end up leaving the game and not returning. As one of the Flames’ best players in the last game, this was bad news bears for the team.
However, this was a turning point for the team, and they started to push harder against the Oilers, and were rewarded. On a power play, the Flames were able to get some very good passing going with their first unit. A beautiful backhanded feed from Jakob Pelletier to Ilya Nikolaev (also spelled Nikolayev) who faked the shot and sent a pass to Pospisil, who was in the right spot and able to put the puck in the back of the net. This tied the game at 1–1, which is how it would go into the intermission.
The Flames took charge in the second period, playing a strong defense game on the back end and limiting the Oilers to just a couple good looks in the period. What was particularly impressive was the way that the Flames were able to forecheck, not allowing the Oilers clean breakout passes from their own zone. This unnerved the team in blue, and forced them to ice the puck and take a number of not great penalties.
Just a couple of minutes into the second period on an odd-man rush, Cole Huckins found Ryan Francis who beat a screened Ilya Konovalov and put the Flames up 2–1. Francis was the late trailer on this play, and the Flames executed this play perfectly to take the lead.
Even through the third period, the Oilers attempted to push back, but the Flames played a full-team, connected game, and limited the Oilers to just a handful of looks to try and tie things up. With just minutes remaining in the game with the net empty, Pospisil added an empty netter, and Pelletier added one more in the empty net to give the Flames a 4-1 final win. Both teams won in their home barns, but the Flames managed to put seven in the Oilers’ net to the five their Norther rivals managed to put past Dustin Wolf.
Forwards that stood out
In the last game, it was the Flames’ two first-round picks who really stood out, but in tonight’s game, the man of the match was Francis by a country mile. While he only had one goal, the Saint John Sea Dog forward was everywhere on the ice, creating chances for his team, battling hard in the corners, and being strong at both ends of the ice.
An excellent two-way player, Francis has been a huge bright spot at camp so far, and has cemented himself as yet another late round steal for the Flames. Drawing comparisons to Andrew Mangiapane for his work ethic and play, the pride of Beaver Bank Nova Scotia has made a mark in Calgary so far.
The other two forwards who really made an impact in this game were Pospisil and Pelletier. Both scored empty netters in this one, and Pospisil also had the first one to tie the game in the first period. Coming off of an injury-shortened season, Pospisil has shown that his name should be talked about in the same category as Adam Ruzicka, Matthew Phillips, and Glenn Gawdin as prospects who are quickly outgrowing the AHL.
Pelletier has been a delight to watch since the Flames drafted him two years ago. However, in camp, he has shown just how far ahead he is from most of the team’s other rookies. A dynamic player with an excellent shot and the ability to play well at both ends of the ice, Pelletier is going to make it very hard for the Flames’ management to cut him this year. While he is almost certainly going to start the season in Stockton, do not be surprised if his name is in the call-up conversation before the season is done.
Finally, it is worth noting just how good Ilya Nikolaev was in this one. This was his first rookie game with the Flames, being unable to suit up in Edmonton, but Nikolaev showed that he could play with the best of them. With Zary out, Nikolaev was called to take his place on the first power play unit, and he absolutely did deliver in the role. The left-shot forward showed that there is a lot to like about his game, in spite of him not having taken his game to the KHL level last season in Russia. Expect him to take a step forward this season in the USHL, but from there the sky’s the limit for the Russian.
Defensemen that stood out
The Flames played a strong team defense tonight, and the entire blueline deserves a huge round of applause for the performance that they put out tonight. The one that stood out above all the rest for his play at all ends of the ice was undoubtedly Koletrane Wilson. The former Lethbridge Hurricane was a force at all ends of the ice, playing a very tight-checking style against the Oilers’ best skaters. He also had an assist on the Flames’ final empty-net goal to get his name on the scoresheet. Not the most offensively gifted player on the ice, Wilson showed his sandpaper-like style of play, which limited the Oilers to just a handful of chances in the final forty minutes.
On top of that, touted offensive defenseman Jeremie Poirier yet again stood out positively in this one. While he has been great on the Flames’ power play, where he was particularly impressive was on his defensive play this game. He made a number of incredible pickpockets and small touches that disrupted the Oilers in the zone and did not allow them to be dangerous on the cycle. Not overly noticeable, these plays made a big difference as to why the Flames were able to pick up the win. For a guy not known for his defensive ability, Poirier was exceptional in that regard in this game.
Goalies are incredibly tough to predict, but Wolf was yet again very good for the Flames in this one. Only allowing one goal which came on a five-on-three after some great cross-seam passes, Wolf was a difference-maker for the Flames in this one. While he was not as busy as he was in Edmonton on Saturday, when he was tested, he responded with great save after great save, just like this one in the third:
Wolf was a key reason the Flames were able to come away with the win in this game. He will be fighting hard for minutes in Stockton, with a number of goalies in the system already, but if he can play like this night in and night out, he should earn many starts over the course of the season.
We are reaching the end of the Flames’ rookie camp, with main camp set to open on Wednesday. The Flames will be making a few cuts, sending some of their younger players back to their main clubs in anticipation for their seasons to get started.
But now the real fun begins. The Flames will get their first looks at newcomers like Blake Coleman and Daniel Vladar, and some more looks their bona fide top line in Elias Lindholm, newly married Johnny Gaudreau, and NHL 22 Superstar X-Factor Matthew Tkachuk. With the season set to start in just a couple weeks, and with preseason action around the corner, there is a lot to get excited about this week.
Buckle up, it’s go time!