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Five observations from Calgary’s 4-3 win over Buffalo:
1. A well deserved two points
The Flames won the first couple of games under head coach Geoff Ward. You can debate whether they should have, though – especially when looking at the meeting in Buffalo last week.
While Thursday night’s scoreline suggests finding a winner was like splitting hairs, that was hardly the case. Calgary was the much better team for the vast majority of the night.
The 1st period was pretty even. The rest of the game, well, wasn’t. The Flames were able to consistently sustain pressure in the offensive zone and they piled up the chances as a result. Calgary out-chanced Buffalo 29-17 across all game states over the final two periods, and 26-9 if we isolate 5v5 play.
It seemed they fell asleep at the wheel during the last few shifts of the game, which is not ideal, but it was otherwise a really solid game.
They spent a lot of time on the attack. They were dangerous in transition. They were smart with the puck. Perhaps most importantly, there wasn’t an extended stretch where they appeared disengaged and allowed the opponent to walk all over them.
I’d say the first 57 minutes were the best 57 minutes the Flames have played this season.
2. Johnny Gaudreau looked like Johnny Gaudreau
I thought No. 13 was terrific against the Sabres. For the first time in a while, he looked like the Gaudreau we saw on a nightly basis a season ago. He was blazing with the puck through the neutral zone, creating shots for his linemates left, right, and center, and he netted a power play marker on an absolute snipe.
Gaudreau was surprisingly effective with Milan Lucic and Derek Ryan, however, I thought he looked even better on the 2nd unit and the numbers bear that out:
With Lucic+Ryan: 53.85 CF%, 71.09 xGF%, even goal differential
With Monahan+Backlund: 66.67 CF%, 89.88 xGF%, +1 goal differential
The Gaudreau-Monahan chemistry was there, and I think Backlund’s stabilizing two-way presence really helped that line click. They should stay together next time out and Dillon Dube should play on the 3rd unit.
3. It’s a miracle
Do you believe in miracles? I do. I saw one last night. Milan Lucic, No. 17 on the Calgary Flames, scored a goal. It took 28 games but he finally managed to put a puck in the back of the net. It was a really nice goal, too. Not so much because of Lucic, but rather the beautifully crisp passing from Dillon Dube and then Derek Ryan to make it all happen. I’ll give Lucic credit where it’s due, though. He did play a really solid game. His on-ice numbers were strong and he did make some plays in the cycle to help sustain possessions in the offensive zone. Hopefully he can play like that a little more frequently.
4. A balanced effort
What I really liked about last night’s performance is that it wasn’t just one line, pairing, or player driving the bus. It was a total team effort. While I thought Gaudreau and Backlund were the two best players on the ice, everyone was contributing.
For example, Dube was the only Flames forward with a Corsi For below 50%. The difference was one (1) shot attempt. Every forward besides Lucic contributed to at least four shot attempts, with eight(!) contributing to at least five. Everyone was touching the puck and making plays and it was really nice to see. If this is what we can expect with Ward in charge, we’re going to be in for a fun few months of hockey.
5. The defense didn't shoot
One thing I noticed while watching, and tracking, the game was a lack of point shots. Noah Hanifin was the lone blueliner to put more than two pucks towards the net. The defenders seemed more concentrated on finding an open target closer to the net, or simply working the puck down low and hoping the forward could create.This was the first game the Flames played after real practice time with Ward so I’m interested to see if this was a one-off or a sign of things to come. The Flames took a *ton* of point shots under Bill Peters.
Numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com
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