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Five observations from Calgary vs Arizona:
1. The Flames dominated play at 5v5
Calgary has one of the more talented rosters in the NHL. Arizona does not. And it showed. The Flames came out very strong and their play never dipped as the game progressed. If anything, it improved. Though the game was close on the scoreboard until very late, the run of play was not. The Flames had the Coyotes on their heels for the vast majority of the night. It felt like any time they needed to re-establish themselves offensively or regain some wiggle room, they were able to do so with ease. After the cushion grew late, the Flames suffocated the Coyotes and didn't really allow any chances of note until the final minute or two, when the Coyotes had an extra attacker and the game was all but over.
In ~50 minutes of 5v5 play, the Flames out-chanced the Coyotes 32-16 (66.67 SCF%) while winning the high-danger battle 14-5 (73.68 HDCF%). They were the much better side and fully deserving of a multi-goal victory.
2. Bill Peters was smart to shake up the top-6
As a whole, the Flames played a good 1st period. They won the possession battle, out-chanced the Coyotes by nine (special teams included), and just looked in control. Still, they weren't firing on all cylinders. The top line, in particular, needed a boost. They simply didn't threaten that much until the last shift or two of the frame. Realizing that, Peters moved Matthew Tkachuk to the top unit and dropped Elias Lindholm to line 2. That decision certainly paid off.
Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Tkachuk went on to control 54% of the attempts, 64% of the chances, and connect on a 5v5 goal. As dangerous as they were, the 2nd unit fared even better.
Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik, and Lindholm controlled 76% of the attempts, 86% of the chances, and also connected on a 5v5 goal. Lindholm nicely complemented 2M, however, it was the latter really driving the line.
3. Depth players stepped up
Rasmus Andersson has a *very* bright future. I don't think many, if any, will argue otherwise. That said, he regularly plays a somewhat sheltered 3rd pairing role and he was thrust onto the top pairing with T.J. Brodie out. That's a big jump. He handled it as well as possible, posting a 62.5 Corsi For% and chipping in offensively with a pair of assists.
Austin Czarnik, who has been in and out of the lineup all year, scored a goal and had a +3 on-ice chance differential in less than eight minutes of work.
Derek Ryan, 4th line center, potted his 6th goal of the season early on and spent the majority of his shifts in the offensive zone.
Garnet Hathaway, offensive black hole, picked up an assist and recorded fewer 5v5 chances than only Gaudreau and Frolik.
By now you get the point. Seemingly all the guys at, or normally at, the bottom of the depth chart stepped up and made meaningful contributions, which is a big reason why the Flames put forth one of their best performances in quite some time.
4. Mark Giordano is a machine
Another game, another dominant performance from the captain. In ~16 5v5 minutes with Giordano on the ice, the Flames out-chanced the Coyotes by 14 (19-5). That is absurd. He was a big reason – the biggest, even – the differential was so astronomical as he led the defense (and team) with 13 shot contributions. Give him the Norris Trophy already.
5. Hold off on the Mike Smith hype
Has he been better of late? Yes, but that's a low bar to clear. It's not like he's playing out of this world. Monday afternoon he was tested with just six high-danger chances, the fewest the Flames have allowed in months, against a team severely lacking firepower and he still conceded a couple times. The goals were far from bad but, again, he had a pretty easy night. The end result was to be expected. I'm glad he's trending upwards – I enjoy watching this Flames team and would hate to see it sunk by goaltending – but the guy hasn't posted a .900 save percentage or better twice in a row since early December. Let's not get carried away here.
Hotstove: Western Conference bounce-back player of the year?
Hotstove: midseason Norris Trophy picks
Hotstove: midseason Hart Trophy picks
Predicting the Pacific Division standings