New Year’s Eve used to be a huge hockey tradition in Calgary.
The Flames, a powerhouse towards the end of the 1980s and into the 1990s had a blistering rivalry with the Montreal Canadiens and with that they’d visit Calgary each and every last day of the year. The games were made classic because the two teams had met each other twice in the Stanley Cup Finals, these games didn’t hurt at all towards that story.
So when the schedule came out in September and I saw Arizona on New Year’s Eve I was somewhat disapointed. Arizona? On New Year’s Eve? Seriously? Sure they used to be the Winnipeg Jets, but we have those clowns back now so that doesn’t matter. But then I pondered, maybe this was the best tonic after all. Play a brutal team on a night when there is too much going on; have the ability to keep one eye on the score while you’re busy doing other things that go hand in hand on the last night of year. Have the Flames run up the score and just relax and barely pay attention …
As it turned out the script was pretty much followed, though not without a hitch or two as the Flames stormed out to a 4-0 first period lead while not really carrying the play and then hung on for a 4-2 win on Saturday night.
The Flames have been there, trust me. Period where you end up 4-0 because the opposition goaltender can’t stop a beach ball. The Flames come out with a 4-0 lead despite the Coyotes actually carrying the play to some degree. Powerplay goals from Michael Frolik and Mikael Backlund, and even strength goals by Dennis Wideman and Lance Bouma post the Flames to enough markers to win the game on most nights, while Brian Elliott and some good bounces and block shots keep the Coyotes off the board.
A 4-0 goal lead can be a tough one, especially on New Year’s Eve with the home side thinking the game was over, and their thoughts drifting to post game celebrations. The Coyotes continued to advantage of that slip in focus in the second period by taking it to the Flames and eventually solving Brian Elliott. On a harmless play no forward dropped back to help, leaving Perlini wide open (Sam Bennett was the closest culprit) and it was 4-1 Flames after two periods.
The Coyotes got one more in the third period, a stanza where the Flames actually re-entered the game and played with a little more vigor. Martin Hanzal scored his 8th of the season when he tipped a shot almost 45 degrees past a startled Brian Elliott that has no chance. The play was reviewed for a high stick but it was a good goal. Final score 4-2 Flames, not a bad way to finish off the year; at least on the scoreboard.
First Period – Down 4-0 but up 13-7 in shot attempts and scoring chances 9-5 for the visitors. That’s goaltending folks.
Second Period – The Coyotes continue to carry the play and had a lead in shot attempts at 14-7, scoring chances were 10-3 Arizona.
Third Period – A better third period for the Flames with a shot advantage of 20-12 and scoring chances virtually even at 4-3 Arizona.
Players – Despite the Coyotes running up shot attempts, half of the roster actually had a pretty good night. The Backlund line (of course) led the way with splits in the mid to high 60s, while Garnet Hathaway and the Brodie/Wideman pairing also had good nights. The third defense pairing had a rough evening (25%), and the reunited pair of Gaudreau and Monahan were stuck in the high 20s on the night; not a good sign.
1. Michael Frolik:Two point night including the all important opening goal, that got the Flames untracked and rolling.
2. Mikael Backlund:Continues to lead the way for the Flames night in and night out. Tipped in the Flames fourth goal of the evening.
3. Oliver Ekman Larson:Only picked up a single assist, but was noticeable all night and logged 25 minutes for the Coyotes.
Not really a goat like game. You could target Sam Bennett for his lazy backcheck on the Coyote’s first goal, but overall the whole team sagged with a four goal lead, not one player.
The fourth line. Mat Stajan, Garnet Hathaway and Lance Bouma were difference makers on Saturday night. They pushed the play up the ice, had great underlying stats, and a goal for Lance Bouma (including five shots on goal) as they did their part to stay in the game.
Odds and Ends
Festive little line up change form coach Glen Gultuzan for the final game of 2016 as he reunites Johnny Gaudreau and his usual center Sean Monahan; something we haven’t seen since their dreadful start to the season (before Gaudreau went down with an injury). The other significant change is the return of Dougie Hamilton who missed the Anaheim game with the flu, you just can’t have any of the team’s big three defensemen missing as they hole plugging from the other three puts them very much out of their element. Finally, Brian Elliott returns and looks for his fourth win in a row, interrupted by two Chad Johnson starts before and since Christmas. … Continue to be impressed with Dube’s jam at the world juniors; his worth ethic and sand paper style are infectious to his linemates. But I had to groan when he whiffed on that two on one in the third period with the good guys down two goals. He needed to put that one in and change the direction of the game. … With fairly quiet nights from both the Monahan and Bennett lines the Flames were lucky they were opposing a weaker team, and not a West powerhouse. Getting by on their consistent line and the fourth group isn’t a recipe for NHL success. It brings up the question once again of leaving that Backlund line alone or breaking it up in order to get each of those players on lines that they can help. Risky for sure, but it might be worth a try. … Happy to see Brian Elliott posting wins, he now has now won four in a row moving his season record to 7-9-1, and his save percentage to .893. With Chad Johnson losing a bit of his Midas touch, a good string from Elliott is essential if the Flames want to keep with the pack. … The win moves the Flames to 20-17-2 and into the 1st wild card spot in the West. Also important is the games played totals evening out, as the Ducks and Oilers only have one game in hand, and the Kings and Sharks down to two.
The Flames host the Avalanche on Wednesday night, as their string against bottom feeders continues. Game time 8pm on Sportsnet.
Tkachuk – Backlund – Frolik
Ferland – Bennett – Versteeg
Gaudreau – Monahan – Chiasson
Hathaway – Stajan – Bouma
Giordano – Hamilton
Brodie – Wideman
Wotherspoon – Engellend