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Five observations from Calgary’s opening night defeat to Winnipeg:
1. The Flames were electric early on
I’m not sure they could have started the game any better. They came out like they were shot from a cannon. They were rolling four lines and had Winnipeg on their heels from the get go. It felt like they won races to every loose puck and every battle along the wall.
The top line of Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm and Dillon Dube, in particular, was spectacular. Tkachuk caused havoc around the net, as usual. Lindholm looked very comfortable playing center. And Dube was everywhere. He forechecked like he was playing for the Stanley Cup and won extra possessions for the team.
As a whole, the Flames played on their toes and smothered the Jets. They looked fast, and they looked good.
They were full marks for their multi-goal lead, outshooting the Jets 13-6 and piling up 10 chances in 20 minutes.
2. Calgary fell asleep at the wheel
They were equally as bad in the 2nd and 3rd as they were good in the 1st. Perhaps even more so.
It started when, for some reason, Geoff Ward opted to send out the Joakim Nordstrom line (he shouldn’t even be playing!) and gave the Jets the luxury of putting out their big guns against them. They did, and it took all of 30 seconds for the Nik Ehlers - Mark Scheifele - Blake Wheeler to take advantage. Shocking!
It sort of spiraled from there. The Flames were the 2nd best team on the ice the rest of the way. I mean, shots were 28-13 and chances were 25-11 Jets from the start of the 2nd until the end of the game.
Trying to survive was a challenge for the Flames, let alone actually doing anything with the puck and sustaining pressure in the offensive zone.
In the 1st period they looked like a sleeper to contend for the Stanley Cup. The rest of the way they looked like the No. 6 seed in a seven-team division. Gotta find a way to keep their foot on the gas.
3. Switch it up
My nitpicks with Ward’s lines were as follows: I wanted Sam Bennett on L3, and I wanted Dominik Simon playing in place of Nordstrom. Ward adjusted to the former as the game progressed (I thought Bennett looked good on Mikael Backlund’s wing) but it was much too late. The damage was done.
The 4th line of Bennett, Nordstrom, and Milan Lucic had already been crushed by the Winnipeg Jets. I’m talking about a 18 Corsi For% and minus-2 rating in less than four and a half minutes. Yeah, it was that bad.
Hopefully he doesn’t give that trio another go next time out. Nordstrom on a line with Lucic is a recipe for disaster.
4. It’s happening
Chris Tanev picked up an assist in his debut and, at times, looked decent. That’s the good news.
The bad news: he spent the majority of his time in the defensive zone.
SOG were 12-7 WPG with Tanev on the ice, while chances were 8-4 (4-0 in terms of high-danger looks). Overall, he posted an xGF% below *checks notes* 20%. Yeah, not good.
Sure, it was one game. Yes, he played a fair bit against Patrik Laine’s line. But the Canadian division is loaded with firepower and Tanev was brought in specifically to slow down opposing team’s top-6 players.
Nobody posted a worse xGF% on the back end, and nobody on the team was on the ice for *more* top-end chances against. I wouldn’t consider that slowing them down.
Hopefully he is better next time out.
5. Jacob Markstrom showed well
I know his overall numbers weren’t great. I thought Markstrom looked solid, though. He stopped a respectable 29-32 in regulation – including seven of eight Grade A looks – and helped the Flames secure a point despite only playing one good period. He made a few top-tier saves that left you thinking ‘yeah, that’s why the Flames are paying him.’
I’m pretty confident Markstrom and David Rittich will give the Flames one of the better goaltending tandems in the league.
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