Points – Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, Sean Monahan (4)
Goals – Gaudreau, Lindholm, Matthew Tkachuk (2)
Points – Mitch Marner (8)
Goals – Marner, John Tavares (4)
PP – 37.5% (5th) / PK – 91.7% (4th)
PP – 44.4% (2nd) / PK – 81.8% (15th)
Shot Attempts: 52.25% (11th)
High-Danger Chances: 50.00% (17th)
Shot Attempts: 56.29% (3rd)
High-Danger Chances: 48.19% (19th)
The meat of the schedule has officially arrived.
And it’s about to get crazy.
The recent bizarre, five-day break provided some valuable rest and meaningful practice time, but from this point forward, the Flames will be busier than a palm tree in a hurricane.
Beginning with a Sunday matinee against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the final 53 games will be played in only 104 days.
That’s once every 1.95 days, on average.
“Watching teams around you rack up points isn’t the (most fun) thing to do,” said captain Mark Giordano. “But we’ve used these five days well.
“We had some rest, we had some practice, we went over special teams – we covered everything, and now we’re ready to go. There are going to be games every other night now and as players, we love that sort of thing. We love getting into that rhythm.”
The Flames are coming off back-to-back victories over the Vancouver Canucks last week and are 2-0-1 on the season. Hilariously, by the time the puck drops on Sunday, they’ll have more games in hand on most teams than they’ve actually played themselves.
That said, the club is thrilled with how things have gone so far – and with the added practice time helping to iron out some wrinkles and better integrate the handful of new players in the fold, the Flames feel they’re poised to hit the ground running.
“I think we’ve done a lot of great things so far,” Giordano said. “Other than two periods that were bad, I think we’ve played to how we want to play. We’re playing fast, we’re rolling through our depth – which is going to critical this year. We’re rolling four lines pretty much every night, and on the backend, with the six D that we have, the matchups aren’t that important.
“There’s a lot of growth left. But if we can continue to have great goaltending and special teams, that’s a winning formula.”
The Leafs are coming off a 4-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Friday, splitting a two-game set, and doing so without star forward Auston Matthews.
John Tavares broke a 2-2 tie with 8:14 left in the third period, while Mitch Marner scored into the empty net to secure the two-goal victory.
Marner assisted on Tavares’ game-winner, Jimmy Vesey and Adam Brooks had singles, and Frederik Andersen made 29 saves for the Maple Leafs, who have only lost once (3-1 to the Oilers on Wednesday) in their last four outings.
“As the game went on, we got better,” Tavares told NHL.com. “We were a little loose with some opportunities they created in the first period, but other than that, I thought we really found our game plan and guys stepped up and got a big bounce-back win.”
Matthews is day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
Veteran pivot Joe Thornton – who was also injured in the first encounter between Toronto and Edmonton – was also out, and will miss the next month with a fractured rib.
“In a game going into it without two very important players for us, we get down with a shorthanded goal but responded right away,” said Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe. “That was a positive sign for us. Really good signs for us. We were steady all the way through, and I thought Fred Andersen was outstanding and that gave our group confidence.”
The Leafs are kicking off a four-game road trip, which includes a return engagement with the Flames on Monday, followed by a pair against the Oilers on Thursday and Saturday in Edmonton.
3. THIS, THAT & THE OTHER
Dillon Dube suffered a lower-body injury in Monday’s game against the Canucks and was unable to practice all week.
It’s unclear if he’ll be ready for Sunday’s tilt, but Head Coach Geoff Ward isn’t ruling out that possibility:
“We’ll see,” Ward said. “It’s day-to-day, so we’ll see how he is tomorrow. There is a chance, but he wasn’t able to practice today. We’ll see how it is in the morning and take it from there.”
To this day, that 2012 semifinal matchup remains one of the wildest ever on record.
A trip to the final and a shot at World Junior supremacy on the line.
Flames assistant coach Ryan Huska remembers everything about that day: The nerves; the excitement; the 19,000-plus on hand at the Scotiabank Saddledome, cheering on the nation.
He remembers the indelible, four-goal rally and last-minute goalpost that turned an impossible deficit into a sadistic, 6-5 final.
He also remembers the play of one talented Russian defender.
“I was a part of that Canadian coaching staff and given everything that happened in that game, it’s pretty hard to forget,” Huska laughed of the now-27-year-old Nikita Nesterov. “He was part of the group that beat us and I think he even got a goal that night, so I’ve been joking with him about that along the way, now that he’s here.”
Indeed, Nesterov was lights-out that winter, scoring twice and adding three helpers in seven tournament games.
Now that he’s back in the NHL and doing great things early in the season here on the Flames blueline, Huska is left with a similar impression.
“He’s very composed,” Huska said. “He never plays an over-active game and thinks it very well. He reads the play and thinks about the next one constantly ‘What’s going to happen next?’ or ‘What is my opponent going to be doing with the puck here?’ So, he always seems to find himself in the right position. He’s comfortable, confident. He makes the simple play, he makes the quick play, and he never puts himself in a situation that gets him in trouble.
“I’ve been really impressed with him, both on and off the ice. You can tell he’s put in a lot of work over the last number of years, learning the language and maturing with his game. You can tell, he’s really excited about the opportunity to be back in the NHL.”
The Flames took both meetings with the Leafs last year, winning 4-2 on Dec. 12, 2019 at the Scotiabank Saddledome, and closing out the brief, two-game set with a 2-1 shootout victory on the road in the Big Smoke on Jan. 16, 2020.
4. PLAYERS TO WATCH
Flames – Dominik Simon
The 26-year-old has made a positive impact early in his time as a Flame, and was involved in helping set up Johnny Gaudreau’s opening tally the other night against Vancouver.
Simon will skate on the right side with Gaudreau and Sean Monahan again on Sunday.
Maple Leafs – TJ Brodie
The former Flames defenceman is back in Calgary for the first time after signing a four-year with the Leafs in the off-season.
The 30-year-old was drafted by the Flames in the fourth round – 114th overall – in the 2008 Draft, and went on to score 48 goals and record 266 points over 634 regular-season games with the franchise.
“We were great friends. Still are. It’s going to be really weird to see him on the other side for the first time in our careers. I’m sure once the game gets going, being defenceman, we won’t run into each other too often and it will be more normal after a few shifts. … He’s a quiet guy, but you know what? On the plane, in the room, on the bus, he’s engaged in conversations. I had a lot of good chats with Brodes over the years.”
– Mark Giordano on the return of his former D partner, TJ Brodie