Calgary Flames

Flames Film Room: The finer aspects of Tyler Toffoli’s game

The Calgary Flames just wrapped up the month of February with a 10–1–0 record. Their dominant 5–1 win against the Minnesota Wild marks their 15th win in their last 18 games. Safe to say they are absolutely rolling right now. They look like a legitimate contender, and will join a stacked group of buyers looking to improve their team at the looming trade deadline on March 21. Brad Treliving was early to the party and acquired Tyler Toffoli from the Montreal Canadiens in mid-February well before trade deadline chaos.

Toffoli has officially played seven games with the Flames, so far accounting for five goals and seven points. It’s a small sample size—two of those goals were also empty-netters—so it’s quite early to evaluate his long-term impact on goal scoring. That said, Toffoli has started off his Flames tenure well as a fixture on the third line with Sean Monahan and a rotation of either Dillon Dube or Milan Lucic.

Toffoli has provided forward depth and secondary scoring, while playing well on the power play and penalty kill. He also seems to be a great fit in the dressing room, and is a proven right-handed scoring winger, a need the Flames finally hope to have filled. To top it all off, he’s signed at $4.25 million until 2024, well worth the cost of the first-round pick.

Flames fans do have good reason to be excited about Toffoli’s arrival in Calgary, from highlight-reel goals to the grease and the grime of penalty killing. He can do it all, and has been doing that so far as a member of the Calgary Flames. Let’s take a closer look.

Toffoli’s scoring smarts

The best goal scorers are always said to find themselves in the right spot at the right time. In reality, this is usually due to excellent hockey IQ and off-puck movement. The ability to find and take advantage of weak spots in a defence is often an overlooked but essential skill for any goal scorer. In Calgary’s first game against Minnesota, Toffoli was actively moving his feet all game, finding himself in soft spots of the Wild defence, and creating high-danger scoring chances.

On this play, Toffoli first loops up to the blue line as a passing option. He supports the puck carrier—thus allowing Rasmus Andersson to activate off the point—and makes a heads-up play to cover for his defenceman. A broken stick forces Marcus Foligno to the Wild bench, leaving Toffoli wide open at the point. Recognizing the momentary 5v4 situation, Toffoli creeps towards the net without hesitation and buries the pass from Anderson over the glove hand of Kaapo Kahkonen.

This might look like a simple play, but on the replay watch the heads of the Minnesota players. When Foligno heads to the bench, the Wild players resettle themselves and recognize Toffoli as a threat from the blue line. However, as soon as the Wild players turn away, Toffoli perfectly times his backdoor cut, and is left uncontested with a Grade-A scoring chance he converts for a goal. Also, take a look at how quickly Toffoli is able to corral and shoot a tough pass in one smooth motion. It’s a nice goal and a good break for the Flames, but it’s made possible by the detail in Toffoli’s execution.

Courtesy of NHL GameCenter Live

This next clip is about 30 seconds long, but features two nice scoring chances by Toffoli, which are both in the last 10 seconds of the clip. Again, the big thing to pay attention to here is Toffoli’s movement away from the puck. It allows him to find little open-spaces on the ice where his teammates can find him for a quick shot opportunity, as seen in the clip. The first 15 seconds are pretty calm, but as soon as Toffoli starts moving, Minnesota’s defence breaks down. It starts from the beginning of the power play as he heads straight to the net to screen the goalie or be a passing option in the bumper-position for Monahan.

Perhaps Toffoli thinks Lucic is a better net-front presence than himself, or maybe he recognizes how stationary the power play is. Either way Toffoli escapes the front of the net, rotating to the open right half-board. From here watch as Toffoli picks his spot, and creeps into the slot untouched by the Wild defenders. Then boom, once again he receives and fires the puck in one fluid motion, showing nice chemistry on the good feed from Monahan. Take another look at how he opens up his hips to the middle of the ice while receiving the pass, by doing this he’s able to better facilitate a quick shot attempt.

The play ends with Toffoli moving his feet again to find an open area, as this time he’s found wide open on the left half-board by a Tanev pass, his second scoring chance in under 10 seconds. Simple plays again, but they enforce how smart, and effective Toffoli is away from the puck to create offence. Watch for Toffoli’s movement to open up his line mates more in the future, as the Flames adjust to his presence on the ice, and other teams focus more on his shot threat.

Courtesy of NHL GameCenter Live

Defensive determination

The Flames’ penalty kill has been great this season—currently sitting fifth best in the NHL. This could be why we haven’t seen it feature Toffoli much yet. However, he’s been effective when he has been used, providing depth should one of the Flames penalty killers be in the box.

In this case, Toffoli is covering for Elias Lindholm, who is arguably the Flames’ best defensive forward, and is serving a double-minor for high sticking during this play. Toffoli starts off well, getting right out to the point to cover the far-side threat: a dangerous Troy Terry. However, Terry makes a sneaky move to cut behind Toffoli, seemingly wide open awaiting a pass.

Not so fast. Toffoli, no stranger to clever off-puck movement, recognizes this play just in time, and is able to neatly intercept the pass and clear the zone. This distinct example, displays the value Toffoli brings on the defensive side of the puck. He’s able to break up a potential high-danger scoring chance, and completely nullifies a lost defensive zone faceoff all by himself. Toffoli’s ability to make these plays and fill in effectively for one of the Flames’ best penalty killers is invaluable, and will only become more important come playoff time.

Courtesy of NHL GameCenter Live

Another example of Toffoli’s defensive prowess is displayed here against the Winnipeg Jets, where he shows off not only his defensive smarts again, but also his work ethic on the back check. Toffoli starts this play as a forechecker supporting the puck. However, he realizes all three Flames forwards are caught below the goal-line, which has left the middle of the ice open, an easy breakout opportunity for the Jets.

Nope, not this time either. Toffoli quickly fills this position on the ice, and when Nikita Zadarov is beat on his pinch attempt, Toffoli gets on his horse and races Kristian Reichel back to the puck. Take a look at how Toffoli uses his body positioning to evade Reichel, and then bates him into giving up an extra step back up ice. Toffoli smartly takes advantage of this, turning the play into a scoring chance off the rush, with a nice feed to Mikael Backlund. Good defence leading to offence, textbook play from Toffoli.

Courtesy of NHL GameCenter Live

Power play playmaking

An area of Toffoli’s game that I’m hoping to see more of—that is underrated in my opinion—is his puck skills in tight as a distributor. We’ve already seen his ability to control the puck in tight and get a shot off quickly. What I want to focus on, is his ability to use his hands in tight to set up opportunities for his teammates, especially on the power play where Toffoli will always be a scoring threat with the puck on his stick. As is the case with most good shooters, defenders will collapse on him to cover the shot, resulting in open passing lanes for his teammates.

The last few games he’s been playing the right half-boards on the first unit power play. From this spot he’s a threat as a shooter, but also has multiple passing lanes available to him, especially the middle. Let’s look at this slick pass to Lindholm, as the Flames break in on the power play. They’re not fully set up, but you can get an idea of the space Toffoli will find himself in and the options he has.

In this instance, he doesn’t have a great angle as a shot threat, but still manages to draw the attention of two Wild players. With his head up the whole time, watch how Toffoli glides and delays, allowing the two defenders closest to him to overcommit just a little, before a passing lane opens up to Lindholm for a one-timer in the slot. A potential high-danger scoring chance, broken up by a nice stick from the weak-side winger Jordan Greenway. Nonetheless, we can still see Toffoli’s play making ability and vision on full display.

Courtesy of NHL GameCenter Live

Later on in the same power play, Toffoli gets the puck in the same position with the Flames all set up. This time he’s on the left wing, but it doesn’t matter, as he’s again able to penetrate the Wild’s defence with another seam pass to Lindholm. Tkachuk is then found wide open, and deposits the Lindholm pass into the net, resulting in a well-earned secondary assist for Toffoli.

We just saw Toffoli’s smooth patience with the puck, here he does the opposite. He’s decisive, and wastes no time getting the puck to Lindholm. In doing so, he takes advantage of Joel Eriksson Ek‘s stick positioning, who gets there a second too late. A simple goal, once again made possible by a heads-up play from Toffoli.

Courtesy of NHL GameCenter Live

Toffili will continue to get time on the Flames’ first power play unit, and so far he’s fit in nicely. He won’t be the central focus of the power play, but rounds out the unit well as an additional shooting threat on top of the ability to distribute in tight and also get to the front of the net.

Look out for a swap between himself and Lindholm in the net-front position as well. Toffoli isn’t a small guy, and with quick hands in tight, he’s sure to draw lots of attention from defenders in the slot.

With the addition of Toffoli, the Flames’ first power play unit just got a little more dangerous and much more versatile. Lots of options to look forward to, as they’ll look to use the remainder of the regular-season to build chemistry.

The “Little Things”

A bonus that comes with the addition of Toffoli is a Stanley Cup winning pedigree—one that includes a consistent and focused approach on the “little things.” The “little things” refers to plays made on the ice that don’t show up on the scoresheet, but inevitably can help sway the outcome of the game in your team’s favour. They’re important, and as we get closer to the end of the season and playoffs, these plays matter even more.

Toffoli is constantly making smart plays and here’s another good demonstration against the Wild. This first clip is less than one minute into the game, and shows Toffoli battling for position in front of the net. Holding his ground, he eventually ends up drawing a penalty, resulting in a power play goal from Matthew Tkachuk. Drawing a penalty isn’t a flashy play, but don’t underestimate how important one little puck battle can be, as this one directly impacted the scoreboard.

Courtesy of NHL GameCenter Live

Now before you watch this next one, I want you to go back and watch the last five seconds of the previous clip. Pay attention to the faceoff, and then watch the faceoff in this next clip. Notice anything similar?

For one, it’s the same power play except 20 seconds later, as well as the faceoff’s on the same side and the Flames are lined up identically. The detail to watch for here, is Toffoli supporting Elias Lindholm in the faceoff circle, helping to win the faceoff cleanly both times. It’s the exact same play twice, and is something you will always hear coaches harp on. A basic and easy play, yes, but one that ends up being so vital in creating Tkachuk’s opening goal. A very important goal I might add, as it allowed the Flames to build an early lead against the Wild, a lead they never gave back.

Courtesy of NHL GameCenter Live

Like every clean faceoff win, Toffoli’s play allows the Flames to get possession of the puck first. From there the Flames set up comfortably on the power play, getting a couple scoring chances before Tkachuk is able to cash-in. Without the clean faceoff win or the drawn penalty from Toffoli, who knows if the Flames score early here and eventually win this game.

I emphasized this play because it once again displays Toffoli’s ability to contribute away from the scoresheet. However, it also shows consistency in his game, and his commitment to the “little things” which made him a Stanley Cup champion in 2014. The “little things” matter in the playoffs and Toffoli knows that. His track record, as well as these plays here, are a glimpse of how he’ll help the Flames make some noise come playoff time.

Tremendous Toffoli talent

I’ll conclude this piece in style, just like Tyler Toffoli, who capped off his Flames debut with this absolute beauty against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Courtesy of NHL GameCenter Live

I’ll let this play speak for itself, as it showcases the immense talent of Johnny Gaudreau and Toffoli on this undeniably gorgeous goal. It didn’t mean much for the outcome of the game, but it was impressive nonetheless, and highlights a great start in Calgary. Acquiring Tyler Toffoli signifies the Flames truly going for it this year, and as we’ve already seen from him, there’s plenty to be excited about.

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