The Calgary Flames kicked off their season with a 5–3 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday night, and there were more than a few storylines that took place during the home opener. From Jacob Markstrom stealing the game, the Flames incredibly slow start, to Matt Coronato’s first game after making the team through camp. One thing I believe everyone took note of was the impact Andrew Mangiapane made after being bumped up to the Flames top line halfway through the game.
After a ton of experimenting through not only this year’s training camp but also last season, Mangiapane might have proved last night that is he the perfect fit for the Flames’ top line.
A carousel of wingers
The Flames have always had a difficult time trying to figure out the final piece to their top line. From the days of Jiri Hudler, David Jones, Joe Colborne, Josh Jorris, Michael Ferland, and so on and so on, it has been a struggle, to say the least for the Flames in recent memory to ice a top line and keep it for an extended period of time. We saw it for years with the Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau duo and we have seen it early on this season and last with Jonathan Huberdeau and Elias Lindholm.
While Lindholm and Huberdeau didn’t spend a ton of time together last season, Huberdeau went through a variety of different linemates last season, whereas Lindholm spent the majority of last season flanked by Dillon Dube and former Flame Tyler Toffoli. Through training camp this year, they both had a couple of wingers tried on their line, it started with Yegor Sharongovich, then it was Mangiapane, and then the season began last night with Dube on the top line until head coach Ryan Huska swapped Mangiapane in for Dube.
This decision paid dividends as they combined for the game-winner and the insurance marker that ultimately gave the Flames the win. If this trio can continue to build chemistry, they might have a pretty dangerous first line on their hands.
Why Mangiapane should work
It is no secret that Mangiapane is looking to have a bounce-back season after a pretty disappointing 2022–23 campaign where he played through most of the year with an injured shoulder. Mangiapane started Wednesday’s contest playing with his old reliable linemates in Mikael Backlund and Blake Coleman before Huska promoted Mangiapane. The trio played well as they treaded above water with a Corsi For percentage of 50.0. Meanwhile, Lindholm, Huberdeau, and Dube struggled with a 27.3 Corsi For percentage and an expected goals percentage of just 8.6—not great! After Mangiapane was put with Huberdeau and Lindholm, they dominated, posting a Corsi For percentage of 83.3 and an expected goals percentage of 96.4—much, much better.
Huberdeau and Lindholm both need a play-driver on their line. If you look back at Huberdeau’s best year in Florida, he had Anthony Duclair who pushed the pace with his speed and tenacity on the forecheck and if you look at Lindholm’s best season in Calgary, he played with two of the best play-drivers in the league in Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk. It is not a shot at Huberdeau and Lindholm, but they can both use a player like Mangiapane who will push the pace, and we have seen Mangiapane do it for years, no matter who he has played with. Huberdeau has also been known for succeeding with left-handed shooting linemates like Duclair, and lo and behold, Mangiapane is a left-handed shot. A little food for thought.
Mangiapane can score, get into the dirty areas, is very sound defensively, and is a low-key very skilled player. That was evident in the game-winning goal he set up Wednesday night. Huska can not afford to continue to juggle the lines every game deep into the season, he needs to find a line that can dominate as the Gaudeau-Lindholm-Tkachuk line did in 2021–22. While a trio of Huberdeau, Lindholm, and Mangiapane may not control games as that line did, it would be really great for the Flames if they can find a first line that works and not have to worry about it for the rest of the year.
Play the hot hand
One game is an extremely small sample size to judge anything off of—heck, half a game is even smaller—but Huska should ride this wave for the time being. The Flames got curb stomped in almost every aspect of Wednesday’s affair, outside of the small time that Mangiapane played with the Flames top line.
If you want to play around with the second, third, and fourth line, go right ahead, but the Flames need to build chemistry with their top trio, and there is no time like the beginning of a new season to give that a go.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire