Game Takes: Flames 4 Avalanche 0

April 11th, 2019 | Posted in Game Takes | By: D'Arcy McGrath

Not sure anyone would have predicted this in early December.

Mike Smith was broken. The wheels had come off, and fans in Calgary were wondering if he was good enough to finish the season as the team’s backup.

Then something happened. He got on a mid season roll and started chalking up wins. Some of the wins were iffy in that run support was the biggest factor, but the team starting winning with Smith as an option in net.

Tonight he starts game one of the playoffs, a contest that often goes sideways on home ice to open the playoffs in Calgary history, and is exactly what the team needed in leading his club to a 4-0 series opening win against the Colorado Avalanche.

Not sure I would have ever guessed I’d hear a “Smitty Smitty Smitty” chant at the Saddledome ever again. I did, and it sounded great.

Line Up Changes

Not a single one.

The Flames are healthy; at least in appearance as they iced their A-1 rosters as they’d design it based on play in the second half of the season. The top line was intact of course with Sean Monahan back in the lineup. The second line (3M) present as per usual. The third line was finally united with both James Neal and Sam Bennett back in the mix, and finally the fourth line as expected.

The three pairings that you’d expect, and of course Mike Smith starts in goal.


What more can you say about the guy?

A lot of doubt in giving Mike Smith the start over David Rittich to start the playoffs from many; including yours truly. I’d been pushing back for most of the second half of the season against the notion that Smith was playing poorly and that Rittich was the man; as the numbers suggested otherwise. But lately, as in the last two starts for both goaltenders, had Smith with back to back weak starts in San Jose and home to Edmonton. Both games that had Calgary out play their opposition, but get scored on five times in total on limited shots.

Tonight though, not a doubt, he was the man.

The Flames got themselves in the penalty trouble at the end of the first and into the second period, but Smith held strong and got his team through the rough patch.

The third period was a solid 20 from the Flames and Smith wasn’t tested as much, but without his first half of the second it could have been a different outcome.

Sportsnet 960 stated after the game, that Mike Smith now has the best save percentage of goaltenders with 20 playoff appearance or more in NHL history at .947.

That works.


Mikael Backlund was a best tonight.

The Avalanche went all McDavid on their roster, pushing Nathan McKinnon to over 25 minutes of ice time, as the one line team essentially went with just one line in this one. As a result Backlund played 23 minutes and he and linemates Matthew Tkachuk and Michael Frolik held their own in keeping the top Denver line off the scoreboard.

You can’t completely contain a top line like the McKinnon led trio (they reunited Rantanen with the crew for parts of the second and third), but the Flames shut down line did well to trade shot attempts, and limit high danger scoring chances against.

I’m betting the Avalanche can’t wait to get back to Denver and rid themselves of that matchup.

Zadorov Leg

What a dumb play by the hulking Avalanche defenseman.

Not sure what surprised me more; the play itself when he stuck out his leg on Johnny Gaudreau, the timing down two goals with three minutes to play, or the fact that actually argued the call on the way to his bench after the Flames scored on the ensuing powerplay to put the game away.

Not a thinker.

Opening jitters

I thought the Flames were pretty solid to start the game, save for a few jittery plays from some fairly inexperienced young players.

On one sequence early in the first Noah Hanifin missed a stretch pass to Matthew Tkachuk by about six feet creating a turnover that had the puck coming back. Then Mark Jankowski flipped a weak backhander up the middle creating a scoring chance.

For the most part the Flames that haven’t seen NHL playoff ice were solid in the end however, notably Andrew Mangiapane with the game winner in the second period.

Flames depth

Speaking of Mangiapane, it’s notable that his goal was the one that altered the look of the game and tipped things towards the home side in game one.

The series was cast as the battle of two top lines that could perhaps cancel each other out leaving the emerging depth of the Flames as the difference maker in the series.

One game in and that was exactly the case, as the fourth line scored the winner, and the second powerplay unit including an assist by Sam Bennett put the game out of reach.

Power play off the snide

Despite a dreadful march to the end of the season for the Flames powerplay, they were on point in the playoff opener notching two extra man goals while the PK unit was perfect in killing off all four Colorado powerplays.

The top unit wasn’t perfect to start, but better as the game wore on. The second unit had the better looks and scored the second of the two goals with Backlund’s snipe through Bennett in the third.

The first powerplay goal was a great Matthew Tkachuk tip, a play that was reviewed because Phillip Grubauer had his stick caught up in Tkachuk’s jersey.

You need special teams to win playoff rounds, and there was more than enough concern coming into this one given the group’s struggles in winding down the season. No better tonic than to get one from each unit.

Too line muck

Thought the Calgary top line did well, despite not hitting the scoresheet in the victory.

They generated decent underlying numbers, had some looks and shots, but almost more importantly didn’t get filled in in their own zone defensively; the trio was only on the ice for one high danger five on five chance against.

The other wrinkle was physical play, as Elias Lindholm had a monster hit in the second period, and Johnny Gaudreau even got into the act in rubbing out JT Compheer on a third period back check.

Tkachuk pops his cherry

Good to see Matthew Tkachuk score early in this series.

As a rookie he was held pointless in four games against the Ducks, a finish to a season that seemed to take a turn for the worse after the infamous run in with Drew Doughty.

Until you see it you worry about it, so getting Tkachuk on a jump early is key for the Flames as they work to get their top line producing again, and avoid living too much off the fourth line.

Counting Stats

Team Stats:
Shots – Flames 32 Avalanche 26
Face Offs – Flames 65%
Special Teams – Flames 2/5 Avalanche 0/4

Player Stats:
Points – Matthew Tkachuk with two.
Plus/Minus – A slew of players with +1
Shots – Mikael Backlund with 7

Fancy Stats

Not the flashiest of games, but a steady start to the postseason for the Flames as they had 52% of the five on five shot attempts with period splits of 46%/63% and 47%. In terms of scoring chances the Flames had a 22-19 edge (54%), and they only gave up five high danger chances five on five on the night with a 8-5 margin (62%).

In all situations the Flames had 51% of the shot attempts, 50% of the scoring chances and 50% of the high danger chances as the Avalanche had almost twice the time on the powerplay on the night.

Individually the Flames were led by James Neal with 67% of the shot attempts. Sean Monahan was next up at 65%; Rasmus Andersson, Gaudreau, Mangiapane and Lindholm all over the 55% mark. Only five players finished under 50%; Garnet Hathaway, Mikaek Backlund, TJ Brodie, Mark Jankowski and Derek Ryan.

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