RECORDS: Flames 22-17-5   Hawks 19-18-6


TV: NBCSN Chicago


This week, the Hawks get a chance to put a couple things…well, not right but at least improve. One is their home record. They moved just over .500 with the win over Detroit, but they simply have to be better on Madison St. Second, they can get a couple wins over teams around them in the standings, which they can claim they are competing with for wildcard spots. They did get one over on the Flames last week, which was a departure, but generally this has been a sore spot for them. Calgary is visiting tonight and Nashville on Thursday, and those just happen to be two of the three teams between them and the final playoff spot.

Obviously, not much has changed with Cal and Gary since these two spent New Year’s Eve together (I assume loudly singing along to Lizzo like everyone else). They beat the Rangers at home on the 2nd and then snuck out of St. Paul with a shootout victory on Sunday. So the issues are basically the same. As we like to say around these parts, they can’t hit a bull in the ass with a banjo. They have the fourth-worst SH% at evens in the league, which belies the talent on display here through Monahan (Lisa needs braces…), Gaudreau, Tkachuk, et al. You still have to figure that will correct at some point and send the Flames toward the automatic spots in the Pacific, which they’re only two points behind and two of which are occupied by the Coyotes and Oilers. Most would guess those teams will deflate before the end of the season.

Still, something is more amiss up in Southern Alberta. This team was something of a possession monster under Bill Peters, which is something he just tended to do for his teams (as well as kick them and be racist toward them). This year, even before his dismissal, that’s not been the case. Some of it is Mark Giordano aging, and some of it is just no one else stepping up to fill in some of that gap. Recently they’ve split Gio and T.J. Brodie, perhaps to get some more push from a different pairing. But Brodie’s always been a bit lost without Giordano, so that’s a risk.

Another problem for them is a top line that just hasn’t fired at the pace they’re accustomed to. Monahan and Gaudreau have been point-per-game players before, and neither are there at the moment or anywhere close. Gaudreau especially seems to have eschewed getting to the middle of the ice, and is doing something of a mini-Getzlaf act on the outside. This has hurt Monahan’s game, as he thrived on the havoc Johnny Hockey used to cause in the offensive zone. They attempted to replicate this by moving Mikael Backlund to wing on the line and getting him in the middle, but that had middling results. Now they’re shuttling Elias Lindholm between 2C and 1RW, which is also having the benefit of making it clear what the Flames need to go get before the deadline.

Either way, this was a team that until the last meeting had given the Hawks fits, because it’s one of the many that is significantly faster than them. They weren’t much at the races against the Hawks for the first 30 minutes last Tuesday, allowing the Hawks a 4-0 lead. But once they realized they were about to be embarrassed, traffic flowed in only one direction and the Hawks were even somewhat lucky to get out of there with a rare regulation win. You can expect the Flames to be a little more attuned tonight.

Still, their goaltending has been a little wayward. Big Save Dave has given up 11 in his last three starts (including the Hawks game), and Cam and Magic Talbot gave up three at home to the Rangers. So maybe the Hawks can find some joy there.

As for the Hawks, I wouldn’t expect any changes. Robin Lehner wasn’t in the starter’s net at the morning skate and is still working through his minor leg problem. Look for him Thursday. There’s no reason to change any of the lineup, though Dennis Gilbert took a shot off the ankle at practice. But that couldn’t make him any slower. Maybe Fetch slides in for him, which whatever. After scoring his first NHL goal it would be heavily cruel to sit Dylan Sikura and lose the confidence he just gained. So Alex Nylander’s useless ass can stay in a suit.

As we’ve said, this is a part of the schedule the Hawks can make their season meaningful in. The Flames are a confused bunch, and the Preds even more so after firing their coach. The Ducks suck, and then they’ll get two games against either a rebuilding dreck like the Senators or yet another confused bunch in the Habs before having to try and catch the Leafs in Toronto. Either you are or you aren’t, and these next two weeks should tell us which. Even if you think you already know.



RECORDS: Hawks 17-17-6   Flames 20-16-5


TV: NBCSN Chicago


Cal and Gary would probably be way down the list of NHL cities you’d choose to spend NYE in, but the Hawks don’t get much choice as that’s what the schedule says. It’s one of two sojourns they have to make to Western Canada due to the utterly fucked nature of the NHL schedule, as they’ll kick off 2020 in Vancouver. Somewhat symbolic given what those trips used to mean in the first half of the decade and now don’t mean shit except to the few lunatics who still want to boo Duncan Keith. But we’ll get to that Thursday. Tonight, the Hawks will deal with one of the more confusing teams in the West.

The Flames were supposed to be amongst the glitterati. They did post the most points in the conference last year, and basically returned the same team minus Mike Smith and his amazing powers to turn everything he touches into barf. They had a solid backup this time around in Cam And Magic Talbot to back up Big Save Dave Rittich. They didn’t really add much to it, but steps forward from Oliver Kylington (and his weirdly pronounced name) and Rasmus Andersson were supposed to take pressure of the top of the defense. They still had a young, dynamic forward corps and depth.

And it all just kind of has been…there.

It’s turned around from earlier in the year, as the Flames were way out of a playoff spot to start but are now in one. But no one is reaching the heights of last year. Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are dealing with SH% problems as well as possession problems. Mark Giordano may simply have been broken by Nathan MacKinnon in the playoffs last year, and he’s also 36. And when he’s not very good, TJ Brodie isn’t good at all. Matthew Tkachuk and his gaping maw haven’t been as good away from Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik, though he’s hardly been bad.

What the team is really suffering is the NBA Jam guy constantly screaming, “CAN’T BUY A BUCKET!” They have the fourth-worst SH% as a team overall, which has negated their more than acceptable goaltending. They aren’t creating a wealth of chances (21st in xGF/60) but you’d still expect them to do better than over 7% of finding the net. If that rebounds at all, the Flames should comfortably get back to the playoffs and probably pass the Coyotes and Oilers to do it.

They’ve also had the off-ice shenanigans with Bill Peters being outed as a scumbag and the switch to Geoff Ward. That seemed to alleviate some things but not all, as they’re 2-3-1 in the last six. It’s a team that just hasn’t really done anything that well so far this year, and until their top line starts to act like one, that might be the case all season. Lucky for them, their division is so bad they can just sort of float to or near the top.

For the Hawks, you wouldn’t expect too many changes tonight. Possibly Olli Maatta to come back in but they’ve been loathe to change a winning squad so we’ll see. Lehner looks poised to take the lion’s share of the starts the next little while, as he’s just playing better.

This has not been a friendly opponent for the Hawks of late. They’ve lost their last six against them, not beating them since the ’17-’18 season. Tends to be the case with teams that have a lot of speed and play like it, which the Flames at least used to do. The possession-dominant ways of Peters have gone away, as they’re only middling in that sense now. Giordano’s fade has something to do with that, and Hanifin is the only player to really improve from last year.

As we keep saying, if the Hawks want to make anything of this season it has to be right now. The schedule is somewhat kind, they’ve played better in the last two (at least most of them) and so this is the time to get on a roll. But then, we say that a lot, don’t we?

Note: I may be on the Twitter feed for part of this, or not at all. And any recap will be in the morning, if any of us are in any condition to watch this thing tonight. You know how it goes. 


It’s been a stuttering season for the Flames, who only recently rejoined the playoff spots in the Pacific when that should have been an automatic before the season. They also had to deal with the little side-story of their coach turning out to be a racist gasbag and moving on from him in the middle of the season and suddenly. And that’s certainly helped them.

But this team has had trouble scoring, and a big reason is their first line just hasn’t been very good so far this year. And that starts with Johnny Gaudreau.

Playing Calgary doesn’t lend itself to immense popularity or awareness, given that it’s where Canada goes to ranch and shovel horseshit. So you might not realize that Gaudreau put up 99 points for the team that did amass the most points in the West last year. That came after he racked up 84 the season before, and established himself as the main scoring threat for what was considered a young and exciting team ready to establish itself around the championship picture for a bit.

Hasn’t been nearly as rosy this year. Johnny Hockey only has 30 points in 41 games, and metrically it’s a much uglier picture. He and running buddy Sean Monahan have been getting run over possession-wise all season, with a 45.9 xG% and an in-the-red Corsi number. They used to regularly be in the mid-50s in both categories once they started playing together.

Individually, Monahan has seen drops across the board. His shots are down from the past two seasons per game, as are his attempts. The tempting thing to do is to point to the cratered SH% and blame that for all his scoring woes, but it’s not that simple. Gaudreau simply isn’t getting the chances he used to. His expected-goal individually is down, and his scoring-chances and high-danger scoring-chances per game are way down. Quite simple, Gaudreau isn’t getting anywhere near the net.

Gaudreau is also taking far more penalties than before and not generating as many takeaways. Some of this is a product of not having the puck as much. But it also suggests a player who’s not working as hard as he used to. Gaudreau’s outrageous skill-level will cover a multitude of sins, and he can look like he’s taking it easy out there when it is just that easy for him. But this has gone a little beyond that, and it hasn’t abated with the coaching change.

There were even whispers in the Calgary media earlier in the year about the Flames seeing what the market would be for Gaudreau, which is probably patently ridiculous. This is an elite-level scorer at just 26 and signed for a reasonable $6.7M for the next two years, given that he can give you 90 points in a season or more. But still, something is off here.

The Flames have too many pieces in place to consider moving Gaudreau, which would constitute something of a restructuring. The defense is a touch old and Rasmus Andersson or Oliver Kylington haven’t really shown they’re going to take over for Mark Giordano as he declines, and maybe that’s the fear. Maybe it’s just one of those year. But Gaudreau is the type of player you’d struggle to ever get equal value for in a trade, especially with that contract.

Gaudreau can start a turnaround by getting to the middle of the ice more instead of his current Getzlaf-impression. The Flames hold the last wildcard spot and you’d think they’re going to have to fight off the Preds for it, as well as some others. But the Coyotes should make for easy catching, as well as the Oilers in their own division. They can do that if Johnny Hockey comes back, instead of this Johnny Floaty that he’s been.


Did you forget that the Flames finished with the best record in the West last year? You probably did, because if you cut a loud fart and winced you missed their playoff appearance. They were done in five games against the Avs, as they watched Nathan MacKinnon do a full Cirque de Fuck You and were helpless to stop him. They even got a good playoff performance from Mike Smith, which didn’t matter because Mac K was taking 40 shots per game just by himself. Will it get better this season? Let’s find out…


50-25-7  107 points (1st in Pacific, lost in 1st round)

3.52 GF/G (3rd)  2.72 GA/G (9th)  +66 GD

53.9 CF% (5th)  53.2 xGF% (7th)

19,3 PP% (18th)  79.7 PK% (21st)

Goalies: After a season where the fans were clamoring for “Big Save” Dave Rittich to take over for Mike Smith, he eventually did and wasn’t really all that impressive. That left the door open for Smith to take the playoff starts, which went well for him but not the team. This time around, the Flames will give the job to Rittich full-time and hope his career .909 in 66 career games are just a starting point and not an indication of what he is. At 27, one wonders how much room there is for growth, and if this is his prime, it might not be enough to take Blasty through multiple rounds in the spring. Given the way Bill Peters teams play though, it can probably get them through the regular season.

The interesting card here is Cam Talbot, who will start as the backup. Talbot simply died of exhaustion in Edmonton, getting 73 and 67 starts in successive seasons before coughing out most of his organs the past two seasons. But it was only two seasons ago that Talbot was putting up .919s and .924s with the Oilers, and possibly with spot starts at the beginning of the season he can rediscover some type of that form. He could be just cooked, but he’s worth the risk as a backup and safety net.

If neither work out, the Flames will definitely be in the market for a goalie at the trade deadline, or pray to God that Tyler Parsons lights up the AHL and can be rushed up to Alberta. But that would be the height of desperation, and even their ability to get anyone at the deadline is going to be complicated with their cap situation.

Defense: This seemed like the strength of the Flames all season…and then MacKinnon burst through the walls and declared he was here to fuck shit up before flipping over the whole buffet and draining the keg himself. And now the Flames appear to just be running it back.

They have to do that, because the plan was to introduce Juuso Valimaki into the lineup, but his knee when blooey while training in Finland in August and now the Flames are fucked without the customary enjoyment. The only hope for change is continued growth from Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington, which they actually should get. If one or both can start to take on second pairing responsibility, the Flames should be ok.

Maybe. Because even though Mark Giordano put up a Norris campaign, he was nowhere near the Avs top line in that first round immolation. It looked exactly like when Joakim Noah won Defensive Player Of The Year with the Bulls and then spent the playoffs getting his neck stepped on by Nene (now let’s all picture MacKinnon with Nene’s dreads). Gio is 35 now and if the spring was some kind of signal of a tumbledown the hill, the Flames could be in serious trouble. And it can happen fast. Ask Duncan Keith. Gio has already proven he’s dragged around TJ Brodie to any kind of competence, and if he can’t do that anymore then this unit could be in serious trouble.

Forwards: The big question is when, and possibly if, Matthew Tkachuk is going to rejoin the fray, as he’s still unsigned. More and more RFAs seem to be coming into the fold, but it’s now crunch time to get him in before the season.

Without him, this outfit is even more top-heavy than it already was. There’s Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan at the top, and Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik on that unique checking/scoring line, but that’s about it. Elias Lindholm can join either, and put up 78 points at 23. They’ll need Dillon Dube to show a lot more than he did in his first toe-dipping at the top level. We’re talking about a team that took Milan Lucic on, so you know there are major holes in the bottom six. Which only get larger if someone has to rise up to replace Tkachuk. And if he’s anything like his dad–and he’s everything like his dad–he’s going to go into the tank as soon as the ink is dry on the new paper (or more accurately, demand his bathtub of chicken wings in the dressing room).

They’re short up top, but in Gaudreau and Monahan and a hopefully not-blob-like Tkachuk can mostly outscore it.

Prediction: Lucky for the Flames, the division still blows. San Jose and Vegas will be good, but they can harvest on Vancouver, EdMo, LA, Anaheim, and Arizona enough to comfortably remain in the top three. You could squint and see where if Giordano is stumbling through a quick decline, and Rittich isn’t up for it, and Tkachuk never matches last year, it could be a disaster. All of that is possible, but I wouldn’t bet on likely. 107 points again seems a bit beyond them, but a comfortable 98-100 is probably still on the table, given that Peters always has his teams getting more chances than they give up. And in Calgary, unlike his Carolina days, he has the horses to finish them. But this team needs or needed one more half-step to truly become a power. Maybe it was Valimaki. Maybe it’s another goalie. Maybe it’s a player from nowhere. It doesn’t feel like they got it.


Previous Team Previews



New Jersey

New York Islanders

New York Rangers










Tampa Bay



Everything Else

How do you say goodbye to something you barely knew was there?

Sure, Calgary was the West’s #1 seed, and you probably treat that revelation with an, ‘Oh…riiiight,” response. You knew it, somewhere in the back of your mind, and then forgot it, much like whether or not there was cream cheese in the fridge. You’re just as likely to buy more and then come home to realize you have even more cream cheese you’re probably not ever going to get to. And that’s the Flames. They’re in the fridge, but you always forget, and they’re just in the door until they go green.

Honestly, Calgary is the Canadian team that makes up the numbers. They’re not hilariously run and bad like the Senators or Canucks or Oilers. Their fans don’t make the spectacle of themselves that Toronto’s or Winnipeg’s do. They’re not constantly crying for attention and think they invented the sport like Montreal. They’re just there, kicking the horseshit around their town and not really bothered. Oh sure, they’ll have an arena debate every few months just to remind everyone they’re still alive and maybe act like a big boy. But that’s about it.

Oh, how they tried to make their goalie failures everyone’s problem. But they didn’t do it as well as San Jose, and everyone was like, “No, we already have a contender with no goalie in the fridge, thanks.” They tried to claim that Matthew Tkachuk’s upcoming restricted free agency was a real problem, but the Leafs had that market cornered. And they tried to tell you how good Sean Monahan was…until he died right before the first round. Sky point. So they’re left to try and scream about how Mikael Backlund is the most underrated player in the league, and you look at people spending time talking about Mikael Backlund and you can’t help but wonder who hurt them in life.

There was the Mark Giordano Lifetime Appreciation Tour, and his fellow Norris finalists all might be done in the first round. It’s a cursed award. They retired Jarome Iginla’s number. It was an emotional night for those in Calgary to praise their team’s greatest ever player and an emotional night for everyone outside of Calgary how such a gift of a player could toil in a city that was such an afterthought for so long. Connor McDavid watched the ceremony and wept, knowing there was no way his career would go any differently. And he probably won’t even get a couple gold medals to make it better. Enjoy that trade to Carolina when you’re 35, Run CMD. But that’s not why you called.

The Flames were actually entertaining for a while. They spent the first part of the year just not playing defense, and then wondering why Mike Smith couldn’t bail them out. Recurring theme with Bill Peters teams. Then they seemed to figure it out with either Big Save Dave or Smith, except the former went back to being a goalie you’d never heard of and Mike Smith was Mike Smith.

Then Peters, in his first playoff series as coach, showed up with a plan that consisted of, “Uh, do some shit?” It didn’t contain any notes on how to contain Nathan MacKinnon, who proceeded to mirror Nene when he made Joakim Noah’s Defensive Player Of The Year Award look like the dumbest possible decision in NBA history. Nene! You go ahead and accept that Norris there, Gio, though some one is going to have to hold it for you while you’re in the burn unit. Also, Nate went that way.

Of course, the most interesting thing about the Flames was that after all the kvetching about Smith or from Smith, he was clearly the Flames best player in the 1st round. Perhaps they were just too surprised and kept letting the Avs through to barrage Smith to make sure what they were seeing was real. “No, this can’t be right, not after the last six months. Here, J.T., why don’t you go on through and try again and we’ll sort this out.”

Peters answer for all this was…well, we’re still waiting for an answer. Always has to be encouraging for a team and organization when your coach throws his hands in the air right after his team is eliminated when asked what happened. It’s not like his job to know or anything. This is exclusive to hockey coaches. Imagine an NBA coach trying this. Steven A. Smith would turn puce. But hey, Bill is a good Canadian boy so it can’t be his fault he doesn’t know. Hockey’s weird!

What happened was his defense is slow, and while his top six is quick, it’s not MacKinnon quick. And Monahan died. Other than that, everything is fine.

And this is the team they’ll basically have going forward, partially thanks to James Neal having four years left on his deal. Stationary shooters age so well in a speeding-up league, it’s a wonder this didn’t work. Tkachuk will gobble up most of the space, and if he’s anything like his old man will spend the rest of the time gobbling up whatever is on the table in front of him. The Dreaded Laramie is going to become The Bloated Laramie.

So toodles, Flames. You were here, I guess. No one’s sure why. And you still will be in the seasons to come. And no one will know why then, either. It’s the role you play. Sadly, you’re basically the Oilers or Islanders but only a quarter of the faded glory. Nice threads, though. You’ll always have the Oilers to laugh at, and the Canucks, in your weird little Western Canada cabal. It’s probably going to suck when Seattle comes in and is immediately better than all of you. Probably should have done something anyone can remember. Maybe you can get Daymon Langkow to punch Iggy on his lawn again.

Everything Else



Game 1 in Calgary tonight, 9pm

Game 2 in Calgary Saturday, 9:30

Game 3 in Denver Monday, 9pm

Game 4 in Denver Wednesday, 9pm

At the top, this one seems the most cut and dried of the West. Then again, we said that about the Jackets and Lightning, and even though that might still turn out that way after a blip, this is hockey after all and rarely does anything work out as it appears it should. It is the unruly toddler of sports. And the Flames have the one crack that can make any series turn goofy, and that’s goaltending, or lack thereof. The Avalanche’s time is next year and beyond, but are certainly good enough to walk through the door if Mike Smith keeps opening it and kicking them in the direction. Our last preview, let’s go.

Goalies: Phillip Grubauer was pulling a mini-Jake Allen for the first half of the season, as the Avalanche wanted him to have the job but he just wouldn’t take it. He and Semyon Varlamov were kind of Duck-Season-Rabbit-Season’ing it for the schedule’s first half. And then right about the time the Avs ruined the Hawks playoff hopes the first time, Grubauer finally relented and accepted, and he’s been brilliant ever since. A .955 in March would certainly qualify as that.

The problem for Grubs is he’s been here before, a year ago exactly in DC. And he hacked up a hairball, Braden Holtby took over, and you know the rest. Maybe that experience steels him for this. But until you do it in the postseason, everyone’s going to ask if you’re the guy or not. So he’s got some history to shed.

The history Mike Smith has to shed is much more recent, and much worse. He’s been a bitchy, wandering suckbag most of the season, and that’s when he could be bothered to actually be in the net. And the leash will be short, which probably will only make him even more of a malcontent. Considering how hard the Avs forecheck, he’s going to fuck up with the puck once in the first two games, but of course it won’t be his fault. This is the first team Smith has played on that mattered since 2012, and we all remember what happened then. But that was a long time ago with a much younger man. No amount of dives are going to save him this time.

If he fumbles it, or more to the point fumbles more than the Flames are already expecting him to, David Rittich will get tossed into the fire as a savior but with no safety net. Rittich faltered badly in the season’s back end after screaming to get the job full-time in the first portion. The Flames might just be Cup-worthy everywhere else, but they are depending on a moody dipshit and an untested rookie to navigate these seas. Hey…the 2010 Hawks did it?

Defense: The Avs defense will be good, possibly better than that, when Cale Makar and possibly what they add in the draft with Ottawa’s pick arrive next year. I still remain unconvinced of this one. Tyson Barrie rules, and beyond that I just can’t see it. Erik Johnson has made a career out of being fine and really unable to be picked out from the scenery. It’s not that it’s a bad defense, it just doesn’t distinguish itself, even if the numbers are middle of the pack to slightly better. At some point, tossing Ian Cole (BAYBAY!) over the boards consistently has to end in paper cuts and stains.

The Flames on the other hand have this year’s likely Norris winner in Mark Giordano, even if it’s more of a lifetime achievement award than for a career season (though it is that offensively). Going back to play with Gio has revitalized T.J. Brodie, which is a huge shock I’m sure. Travis Hamonic has had a bounce-back season. The third pairing is either some very green kids in Andersson or Kylington, or some very puce (sure?) vets in Fantenberg or Prout. But you can hide a third pair in the playoffs if you have to.

Forwards: The Avs are getting Mikko Suave back, and they’ll probably keep him on a line away from Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel LaxativeLog. I doubt that lasts long. The Avs are still one line, no matter that J.T. Compher looks like the lovechild of Rick Tocchet and Jim Brown against the Hawks. Carl Soderberg…whatever. That line can do a whole lot of things, but it’s probably going to have to do them all in this series if the Avs are going to pull the upset.

The Flames have no such problems. They have two to three lines, assuming they’re still not trying to make Michael Frolik feel like the dog who just left a puddle on the floor. Gaudreau and Monahan are as good of a combination as you’ll find, and you’ll have to silence your cellphones, hold your applause, and shut your damn mouths to WALK WITH ELIAS. Whether Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk get Frolik as a third or not, that’s still the most dominant possession line in hockey with some of the worst zone starts. In the playoffs, that should be an enormous weapon. The Flames fall off after that, and if they don’t come out of the West this will probably be the area they address immediately after goalie. Sam Bennett is a useful third center, who doesn’t have to do the checking things because Backlund does. Garnet Hathaway has been a contributor. Mark Jankowski as well, but as third lines go you’ll see better in the playoffs.  But it is more than the Avs have.

Prediction: The Flames goaltending can overturn them at any time. And one bad game at home could see a pretty young team with little playoff experience get jittery in a hurry. And yet this team amassed 107 points without a goalie. Against a more sustained attack, it would be a bigger problem. But the expectation is that Giordano and Brodie can play MacKinnon to even close to a standstill, and from there the Flames are just better with more weapons. Their goaltending may get them. It’s just not going to be here.

Flames in six. 


Everything Else

If you looked at the score and thought, “Four goals? DEY GOTTA START WARD MY FRENTS” let me just tell you to shove it right up your ass. Collin Delia played an exceptional game against one of the best teams in the league right now, and oh yeah one of those was an empty netter so I don’t want to hear any shit. To the bullets:

Box Score


Natural Stat Trick

– This game was fast and entertaining. The first period had a combined 28 shots, and both goals were beauties. Gaudreau’s was the result of a defensive breakdown (SHOCKING) as Dahlstrom got mesmerized by a scrum in the crease and left Gaudreau alone with a wide open net. He made it look easy. So too did Patrick Kane near the end of the period. A quick pass from Anisimov at the blue line, Kane skated it in alone, and David Rittich let the backhand by him with barely even a wave of his arm. Both goals would have been prevented by better defensive play but both were damn enjoyable to watch.

– In the second, the Flames came out a little flat and the Hawks actually took advantage of this with yet another beautiful Kane-to-DeBrincat scoring play. Watching this, hell, writing this, makes me want to curl up in the fetal position while thinking of how Top Cat and Kane could be a permanent second line with Dylan Strome, but I’ve done enough agonizing over the decisions of Chicago coaches for one week, thank you very much.

– In addition to that goal in the second, the Hawks were leading in possession with a 67 CF% at the halfway mark of the period (I’m referring to the second period only; they actually were underwater in possession in the first). Delia made some solid saves and the Hawks were driving the play, until Dylan Strome took a penalty during the very power play he caused by drawing a penalty. Cosmic, no? Anyway, the 4-on-4 seemed to ignite the Flames (SEE WHAT I DID THERE) and Monahan tied it up a few minutes later on yet another penalty, this one by Gustafsson.

– Despite that penalty, Erik “Scoring Machine” Gustafsson continued his point streak tonight with two assists, bringing it to six games with at least a point. He had a 56.8 CF% to boot, so if it weren’t for that dumb penalty I’d have actual nice things to say about him.

– OK, let’s talk about Collin Delia. He finished with a .929 SV% and he faced 42 shots, 18 of which came in the third. The first goal was, as already mentioned, the result of his defenders leaving one of the best players in the league with the entire net to himself and about 15 minutes to sit there thinking about scoring. The second goal was a power play goal, and it took multiple tries for Tkachuk and Monahan to elevate it past Delia, because when they tried their point-blank passing play and shot, Delia was in the perfect position and made the save. The third goal was the result of the shittiest change possible when three Hawks just ignored Gaudreau AGAIN and left him literally at center ice, alone, with the puck. None of these can be pinned on Delia because to get it past him the Flames had to be at their very best. And had it not been for Delia, this easily could have been 7-3. I’m happy to see Delia look calm under pressure and clearly be able to handle a barrage of shots thanks to this Swiss cheese they call a defense. But listening to Jamal Mayers and Steve Konroyd in the pre-game talk about how the “hot hand” should play, and how it really should be Ward if this weren’t the second night of a back-to-back, is just mind-numbingly infuriating.

– OK, enough of that. God damn the Flames’ top line is dominant. Not only did Johnny Gaudreau score twice, and seemingly at will because for some reason the Blackhawks kept ignoring him or pretending he wasn’t real, but he, Monahan and Lindholm had an 81 CF%. This isn’t news; I just had to say it.

Brandon Saad was nearly having a minor resurgence of the bad old days where he couldn’t score to save his life. How he didn’t score on the open net in the second I’ll never understand, although credit to Sam Bennett who poked the puck away from Saad, and Rasmus Andersson who tied him up just long enough to deny him the rebound opportunity. He got the third goal with seconds to spare in the game, which unfortunately was pointless, but there is nothing to panic about with Saad.

David Kampf hit the god damn post. Sometimes I marvel at the synchronicity of the universe but in this case I’ve had just about enough.

– The Hawks’ resurgent power play? Nonexistent tonight. It in fact did revert to the bad old days. I’ll leave it at that.

Brandon Davidson had a couple nice plays tonight, including a nice stretch pass to Kane and preventing yet another shot on goal as Delia was getting pummeled in the third. It almost made me feel bad that we’ll never see him again once Jokiharju gets back from partying with the Juniors team.

It’s annoying that the Hawks blew a lead and couldn’t even salvage one point, but the Flames are a genuinely good team so that’s just the world we live in. We got another one in just 48 hours…onward and upward.

Photo credit: Chicago Tribune

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RECORDS: Flames 26-13-4 (1st in Pacific)   Hawks 16-21-7 (6th in Central)


TV: NBCSN Chicago


It’s a cruel world, this NHL. After the Hawks played what was maybe their best game of the season in Pittsburgh last night, outplaying the hottest team in the league, their reward is to wheel it back out there again tonight against another first-placed team who has been waiting for them. And one that’s already beaten them twice this season. It ain’t all waitin’ on you, as Sheriff Tom Bell’s brother told him at the end of No Country For Old Men. 

All seems pretty right in the world for the Calgary Flames, who are at least almost all of the way pivoted to David Rittich in goal, which was their biggest issue. The top line has gone absolutely bonkers, with all of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Elias (I SAID WWE STANDS FOR….) Lindholm in the top-20 in scoring in the league. Matthew Tkachuk is having quite the free agent hear with 49 points his own damn self from the second line, where Mikael Backlund continues to beat anyone about the head and face possession-wise. They even get contributions from the bottom-six, even if James Neal will soon require a Hazmat treatment to be around.

The defense is the real key, where Mark Giordano‘s normal Norris-worthy year has been joined by a rebound from T.J. Brodie, and a bigger rebound from Travis Hamonic on the second-pairing. They’re even letting child Rasmus Andersson freewheel on the third-pairing, and he’s got wheels for days (and you got ass for weeks yeah yeah yeah).

Earlier in the year, the Flames were having defensive issues, even with that personnel. That seems to have cleared up a little, as only the Sharks give up less attempts per game at evens, and they’ve improved to middle of the pack in xGA/60 from near the bottom where they were. Any middling goals-against numbers are mostly the result of having Mike Smith and his arms that don’t work on the roster, and insisting on playing him any other time than when Rittich has the plague. As with most Bill Peters led teams, their metrics are glowing and this all appears to be real.

Whether the Flames can negotiate their way far in the spring depends on if Rittich is the real deal when it really counts, and if they can finish top of the division. Do that, and you only have to beat one of the Knights or Sharks to get to the West final. Don’t and you have to go through both, and that’s going to be a real trick.

As for the Hawks, they’ll turn to Collin Delia tonight, and you’d have to imagine given the Flames firepower he’s going to be awfully busy. In his limited NHL experience, this is about as good of an offense he’s seen, barring the uncaring Jets at the end of last season. Sure, the Avs have their top line but the Flames have that and then more. So this will be an interesting test, especially behind a tired team.

Shouldn’t be any other changes. Would expect Chris Kunitz to stay in the lineup after not being a toxic waste dump last night. Henri Jokiharju did fly back to Chicago last night and could play but I think Wednesday is more likely. They’d want at least one practice or morning skate, if only to figure out where exactly he slots. But you never know. Other than that, Drake Caggiula makes his home debut.

If the Hawks are going to get anything out of this one, they’ll need the special teams just like they did last night. The Flames aren’t a great PK team, and their power play is not as good as you’d think given what they have on it. A power play goal or two are close to a requirement.


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@BookofLoob is yet another creature we’ve unearthed from the darkest depths of the internet. We asked it questions, but don’t ask too many questions about it. 

The Flames are still in first. This thing has to be real now, right?
Nashville is finally being undone by their “I love domestic abusers and a 36 year old Finnish Mike Smith” GM, and good things are never, EVER allowed to happen to Winnipeg, so yeah, this is real. You get some goaltending and you let the fake goalie ride the pine, mix it in with a top line that’s scoring at will, plus you throw in that, aside from Garnet Hathaway, you essentially have a top to bottom roster with real, functional players, the results are going to roll in.
Power play still sucks.
Johnny Gaudreau is fourth in the league in scoring. And yet he doesn’t seem to get the press of McDavid or Kucherov or the Colorado kids. He should blow past his career high of 30 goals with 23 already. Why the breakthrough?
If we’re calling this a breakthrough, it’s only because the breakthrough has been going on for about three or four years now and progressing as Johnny H enters his prime. Gaudreau and Sean Monahan could always rack up the points together, but it used to be Gaudreau carrying his line while Monahan got the vulture goals, but in recent years, Monahan has added a few dimensions to his game as well. Having a legitimate number 1 RW on their line with Elias Lindholm doesn’t hurt either.
Or maybe it’s because Johnny doesn’t get black out drunk at Cowboy’s anymore. But it’s probably not that, because Johnny absolutely still gets blackout drunk at Cowboy’s.
What are the Flames going to do before the deadline?
If you ask Leafs fans, it’s trade Rasmus Andersson to them, but if you ask anyone rational, it’s probably just a depth move here or there. As good as the Flames have been, they’re probably not Tampa Bay Lightning tier just yet, and unless they can swing Mark Stone, not many of the rental players out there are going to bump them up to that level.
I think they’d like a backup goalie in case anything happens to Big Save Dave, because you don’t want to have to rely on Mike Smith for anything other than wearing cool hats on the bench. Ideally, if you could murder him or trade him somewhere or something, that would help. One of the big mistakes the team has done this year is bury a really effective Michael Frolik, to the point where I see him being traded sooner rather than later. Maybe there’s something there.
But goddamn how cool would it be to get Mark Stone?
Let’s have you bitch about James Neal some more…
How about something nice? He’s the first overpaid, underachieving, head scratcher of a Brad Treliving acquisition that isn’t an ex-Hawk.
At least not yet 😉
Finally…do you want to walk with Elias?
I have bought so many scarves, floral shirts, and a Fender guitar. I want everyone watching the game to silence their cell phones, hold your applause, and shut your mouths. There is one universal truth, a tenet I hold above all else. You see it when the top lines rolls over Brent Seabrook, and you feel it when you look into Cam Ward‘s eyes, his terrified, self aware that he is Cam Ward eyes. It becomes a part of you when the game is over and it’s 5-1 for the Flames and the Hawks are salivating over Jack Hughes while Calgary looks to wrap up home ice throughout the playoffs, and that truth is…. WWE STANDS FOR “WALK. WITH.ELIAS”.
Say it with me now Sam.


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Mike Pfeil is some nutjob we were pointed to a while ago. He’s got scary views. And face. But we love him, we think. Anyway, he knows his Flames hockey. Which doesn’t say much for him. 

First place and rolling. Is the Flames success merely down to finally, finally switching to Big Save Dave? 

It’s a combination of a lot of things, but the surge of legitimately good goaltending performances boils down to Big Save Dave (David Rittich). It’s hard to believe the Flames’ confidence in Mike Smith continued, but a lot of it comes down to the kids (and even Rittich) being perceived as not ready or unable to carry the workload.
And for the time being, Rittich has proven them wrong; giving the Flames goaltending we haven’t really seen in awhile. We saw glimpses of acceptable or above-average performance at times from Brian Elliott, Chad Johnson, and even Mike Smith but this is different.
Beyond Rittich the top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and new-Flame Elias Lindholm have been fantastic. A lot of fans were hoping to see Lindholm’s offensive game grow if he spent time with the two and it has blossomed nicely.
Shit-heel extraordinaire Matthew Tkachuk has taken a huge step forward (again, just like each year) and Mikael Backlund remains a constant in dictating pace of play. The revolving door on the right-wing of Michael Frolik, Sam Bennett, Austin Czarnik, or even James Neal has been hit and miss.
Depth in the bottom six is great and we haven’t even discussed the blue line. Dougie Hamilton’s departure is huge, but everyone has stepped up. Mark Giordano remains timeless and in pursuit of a Norris Trophy already. Travis Hamonic has returned to form after last season’s doldrums. TJ Brodie has had his moments, but looks better-ish. The rookies: Rasmus Andersson, Juuso Valimaki, and now Oliver Kylington all look pretty solid too.
It’s just a lot of good happening for once. I could go on and on about the legitimately good things.
How has Mark Giordano not won a Norris? Is this the year he gets something of a lifetime achievement award? Or Flames fans do what the Kings fans do and just wet themselves until he wins?
Injuries at weird inopportune times and really deep classes of talent. He should have been a finalist in 2013-14 . He probably should have been a finalist and won in 2014-15. He just does so many things well despite just turning 35.
He should be a finalist if he keeps it up at this pace. The thing is, the league has some of the best talent on the blue line in ages. This is a golden age we’re living through and most teams have a guy of exceptional caliber. The problem is this league has weird voting habits and typically pick guys who “deserve” it rather than have earned it.
If he wins, it’ll be evidence that a lot of folks didn’t need, but also needed to prove he has been one of this era’s best.
 Noah Hanifin had a rough start in Calgary. Has that straightened out? 
Yes and no. He looks a step behind the play at time and still makes boneheaded decisions with the puck. You ask a lot of fans and they’ll say he’s better than Hamilton was; I remain firmly in the “prove it then” camp because he hasn’t been as impressive as one would imagine.
I like his play at 4v5, predominately on entry suppression and breaking up breakouts that try to enter the zone quite a bit. It’s a very low key part of his game that shows how well he can manage gap control and time & space with plays occurring.
But to flip that, he’ll throw a puck into a location that is immediately at risk of screwing the Flames over. It’s a weird hot and cold experience with him that hopefully comes down to new town, new team, just some minor anxieties.
So now that he’s got goaltending is it that Bill Peters might not be a moron? 
It remains to be seen, but I like the results and the emphasis on the top-nine getting TOI. [Glen] Gulutzan rode four lines regularly; while Peters doesn’t and it’s a welcome change. He needs to tighten up play resulting in high-danger chances though. It’s a huge issue that hopefully gets worked out.
I think he’s a step above Gulutzan, but anything can happen in this league. I’m sure in a year I’ll be calling for his head for some reason.


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