The best part of being a goaltender is the fact that you get to play the entire game. The worst part? When you play exactly zero minutes and sit on the bench all night.
Brian Elliott has been that zero guy for almost three weeks, a story that his hard to watch for a good pro that has had his share of hard knocks through a career that has had many ups and downs. You want the guy to do well. The only problem from a fan’s standpoint is the story for the other guy is almost a bigger sob story, so Chad Johnson’s ascension to NHL starter has feel good written all over it.
Tonight the page turned however, as Brian Elliott was back in the cage and with mixed results; he picked up the win, a 3-2 contest over the Arizona Coyotes, but was beaten twice on goals that he essentially scored on himself making the night somewhat bitter sweet.
The Flames with a goaltender that badly needs a win would be ready to go from the drop of the puck right? They’d have his back and show it by pushing hard and keeping chances to a minimum for the first period, allowing the stopper to settle in. Yeah right. Instead the Flames are out shot 11-0 through 11 minutes of play and had some good bounces and a very solid Brian Elliott to thank for escaping the onslaught only down 1-0. The only goal to beat Elliott was one he’d love to have back, as the netminder put the puck off the glass and right into a Coyote forechecker with the bounce going behind him to Dvorak who had an empty net with Elliott watching on from the corner. The Flames get it together and the midway point of the period and push back for the final half of the period including a powerplay where they really through the puck around well. Best chances went to Johnny Gaudreau who almost got Smith leaning when he took the puck off the backboards on a Kris Versteeg shot fired wide.
The second period was about as one sided a period as the Flames have had this season, save maybe that home period against Edmonton to start the season. The Flames seemingly had the puck from coast to coast, with the Coyotes not even getting a shot until about 80 seconds from the buzzer. Calgary ties the game up when Michael Backlund takes a great pass from Dougie Hamilton, tipping the puck up high past Mike Smith and the Flames are on the board. The Flames push again through the period but Smith stands tall, and keeps the Flames at bay; 1-1 after two with the Flames out shooting their hosts 12-2 in the period. Game honestly could have been over after 40.
The third period was an up and down affair both on the ice and the emotions around it. The Flames score again, another powerplay goal when Johnny Gaudreau takes the line but gets hit as the puck slides off his stick to Troy Brouwer who rips it past Smith and it’s 2-1 Flames. The game had that 2-1 feeling, all the Flames had to do was keep the puck to the outside and wind things down, or so they thought. Then an innocent play starts with a wrister from the boards from pest White, a shot going wide that Brian Elliott accidentally steers into his own net and suddenly the game is on again. That began a rash of three questionable calls in a row that essentially determined the game. First Shane Doan is called for elbowing on a play that was marginal. The officials may have thought they had seen Gaudreau interfered with in the neutral zone and then possibly hooked on a two on one and landed on the Doan call to make things right, but we’ll never know. Calgary goes to the powerplay and makes quick work of the Coyotes with every Flame touching it, the final Monahan pass to Versteeg for an empty netter and it’s 3-2 Flames. Right after Sam Bennett is called for a cross check on a call that was iffy at best; he did put his stick into him, but it was one of those cross checks that is let go 20 times a night. Right after Engelland goes to the box for boarding when the guy lost his balance from a slash. The Coyotes come up empty on the five on three as the Flames manage to keep them to the outside for 100 seconds of tension. Calgary gets an empty netter from TJ Brodie and the losing streak is over.
First Period – Another example of underlying stats sometimes providing more story than the simple stats of shots on goal. Through the first 10 minutes of the game the shots were 11-0 Arizona, but the Flames had a few great scoring chances but either shot wide or had the shots blocked. That was shown in the shot attempts however as they edged Calgary 20-15, much closer than the shot count would have dictated. The scoring chances finished 10-1 Arizona.
Second Period – Want some cold hard facts on a Flames dominated period? Shot attempts 21-6 for the Flames. Scoring chances were 14-2 for Calgary. Wow.
Third Period – The third was much closer again as the Flames had the edge 11-9 in shot attempts, while the scoring chances were 6-5 Calgary.
The Players – Calgary’s possession poster boys, the Backlund line, bounced back tonight after a rough back to back stretch on home ice last week. The trio were all in or around 70% as they carried the play every time on they were on the ice. Other Calgary players over the 60% the mark were Monahan, Brodie, Stajan and Hamilton; a great sigh on the Monahan and Brodie fronts. Only three players were under the 50% mark on the night; Versteeg, Brouwer and Sam Bennett who got crushed.
1. Kris Versteeg:Goal and an assist to lead the Flames on the night. Has really added to that first powerplay unit.
2. Matthew Tkachuk:Two assists and could have had a couple more as he was around the puck all night. I wish his dad played for more NHL teams as he seems to love playing against the Coyotes.
3. Christian Dvorak:Ok so he was given a gift point on both his goal and his assist but he got two points and he was Tkachuk’s linemate so it makes for a good story.
With the game 1-0 Arizona and the Flames coming on to finish the period the Coyotes break out on a late period two on one. The puck gets saucered across to Shane Doan who doesn’t get great wood on it but does get it towards the center of the net. Brian Elliott slides over and gets his body on the puck, a save that didn’t take a lot of skill or athleticism but the timing was paramount.
Alex Goligoski. The easy pick would have been Shane Doan for his two penalties leading to powerplay goals, but that last call was iffy so I’m going with Goligoski for his attempt at an open ice hit killing a penalty. A real no no that tight to your net. The Coyotes got that one back, but the play stands as poor decision making.
Sean Monahan has started to make a concentrated effort at using his size more, and it’s noticeable. He’s in scrums, he’s hitting to hurt once in a while and he even took a cross checking penalty on ex buddy Josh Jooris. His possession numbers were up and he extended his point streak. Great night for a guy that has found his game.
Odds and Ends
Super important game for the Flames tonight. It’s early, and there are a lot of dates left to cross out on the calendar but with a two game losing streak and the first start for Brian Elliott since November 28th, it had a lot of importance. Get Elliott going and you have a healthy tandem potentially for the rest of the season. He falters and the issue lingers on with Johnson being your only real option in net. … The other lineup change tonight was Garnet Hathaway back in for Lance Bouma. Bouma was playing fine, but inserting Hathaway in Arizona makes a lot of sense since he took MaX Domi out in a fight in the Flame’s last visit to the valley. … Having added the possession stats to the game story about a month ago, you find you get used to seeing what the stats will be before you look at the summaries. The one difference? Games in Arizona. Last time in the Flames scored a first period goal but weren’t given a scoring chance (it was a Giordano one timer), this time the 10-1 first period balance was laughable. … Both Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau extended their point streaks, Gaudreau on the Brouwer goal and Monahan on the Versteeg game winner. Monahan now has points in 10 straight games, Gaudreau in eight. … Nasty game with a lot of border line hits, elbows, high sticks and hits from behind. These teams have played each other three times, so maybe familiarity has driven up the temperature but it was pretty entertaining tonight. … So what do you do with Brian Elliott after that one? The calm natured version of me would suggest that a win is a win and that an old pro like Elliott will be just fine and the action will settle him down. The nervous Nellie in me sees a guy that was fighting the puck pretty badly and may not be ready for a team more able to push than the Coyotes. Either way I go with Johnson in San Jose tomorrow night. … The win moves the Flames two games over .500 which is key as the two wildcard teams the Flames and Kings as well as the best non wild card team the Predators are all two games over .500 suggesting a bit of a separation in the standings. Teams 7-9 are a split, then teams 10-11 are a game under .500 (Winnipeg and Dallas) and finally three teams that look to be out of it.
The Flames are right back at it tomorrow night when they travel to San Jose to take on the Sharks. Game time 8.30pm on Sportsnet.
Tkachuk – Backlund – Frolik
Versteeg – Monahan – Brouwer
Gaudreau – Bennett – Chiasson
Ferland – Stajan – Hathaway
Giordano – Hamilton
Brodie – Hamilton
Jokipakka – Engelland