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Five observations from Calgary vs Minnesota:
1. David Rittich was excellent
The Wild were missing two of their top forwards (Jason Zucker/Mikko Koivu) and, for 40 minutes, the league's best goal-scoring defender (Mathew Dumba). That didn't really hinder the offense – at least in terms of generating opportunities. The Wild mustered up 35 shots on target and 10 high-danger chances, nine of which came over the first 40 minutes. They tested David Rittich early and often. Luckily, he was once again up for the challenge. His positioning was on point, he went post-to-post to make a few really impressive stops, and he left the Wild little in the way of 2nd and 3rd chance opportunities. It was another near-perfect game from him.
Provided Mike Smith is cleared to play, I'm fine with him getting the nod against St. Louis – starting goaltenders in consecutive days is -EV and the Blues aren't the best of opponents – but I'd like to see Rittich back between the pipes on Tuesday and seeing a larger chunk of starts moving forward. He has earned them.
2. The Flames showcased their versatility
We know they have the speed and skill to come out on top more often than not if teams want to play fast and trade chances. Saturday the Flames showed they're more than capable of winning low-event, grind-it-out games as well. They were quite willing to engage the Wild physically and did not give up an inch in that regard. They paid the price to get to the net and were rewarded with a pair of goals. The Flames also proved they can defend leads late when there is little wiggle room. After playing pretty loose defense at times in the opening two periods, they locked it down allowing just five chances (one high-danger) in the 3rd. Both were game lows for the Wild. A lot of teams can find success playing one way or the other. The Flames look like they can do both, which is key come playoff time.
3. James Neal showed life
Neal did the unthinkable in Minnesota. He found the scoresheet. For the first time since November 1st against Colorado, Neal recorded a 5v5 point. He also had a couple really good scoring chances, including one where he had an empty-net in tight and dinged the bar. His on-ice numbers were in line with the team when he wasn't on the ice, too. More is expected, of course, but that performance was a step in the right direction.
4. Mark Giordano continues to chug along
This guy is a machine. Despite spending five minutes in the sin-bin after a fight with Matt Hendricks, he still logged 25 minutes of ice. He certainly made the most of it recording a game-high seven shot attempts and scoring his 2nd shorthanded goal of the season. As usual, there was sound defense to go along with the offense – particularly on the PK. In ~4 minutes of 4v5 ice, he was only on for one shot against. What he's doing this season is remarkable.
A few games ago Austin Czarnik sat so Anthony Peluso could play ~2:30 in a game the Flames struggled to generate offense. Saturday Czarnik sat again so Dalton Prout could get exposed while seeing less than four minutes of ice (again) in a game the Flames didn't create much offense. I'm not saying Czarnik is the best thing since sliced bread but he's a possession driver who has created chances at a top-5 clip on the team. At the very least, he should be getting consistent run when there are injuries up front (Mikael Backlund, Michael Frolik, etc.).
On getting James Neal going and giving David Rittich more starts
Predicting the Pacific Division standings