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Five observations from Calgary vs Buffalo:
1. It was a rare letdown for David Rittich
He started the game very strongly. The Flames surprisingly spent a lot of the 1st period on their heels at 5v5 (they were out-chanced 10-3). They gave Jack Eichel a mini-breakaway on the opening shift of the game and it kind of set the tone for what was to come in the first 20 minutes. Rittich, as he so often does, held the Flames in the game while they were still finding their footing. They probably should have trailed after the opening frame yet, thanks to Rittich and a buzzer beater from Johnny Gaudreau, skated off with a lead.
Rittich did concede a goal in the 2nd period but was pretty good, although his workload wasn't as large as in the opening period. It was down the stretch where the wheels really fell off. Rittich faced only three shots in the final 21+ minutes of the game and each of them found the back of the net. It's not like the goals were embarrassingly soft – one was a deflection, one was a perfect screen, and one was a powerful shot from Jack Eichel – but it's pretty disappointing when you head into the 3rd tied, score a pair of goals, give up only two shots, and are still forced to play, and eventually lose, in the coin flip that is overtime.
Disappointing starts from Rittich are few and far between but this was one of them.
2. Johnny Gaudreau continues to work his magic
Gaudreau had the luxury of playing almost exclusively vs Sabres depth players – he spent only ~3:30 vs the Jack Eichel line – and certainly took advantage of it. He seemingly had the puck on a string all night and was dancing around opposing defenders effortlessly throughout. It felt like he was legitimately dangerous every time he touched the puck. As crazy as it is to say, the two points he put up didn't really do him justice. He was fantastic. Individually, he led the way with four shots, four chances, and seven attempts. Gaudreau also created plenty for teammates, with the reward being an assist on Matthew Tkachuk's power play goal. It's a treat to watch this guy on a nightly basis.
3. The penalty kill was excellent
Calgary killed off all three penalties they took and looked damn good while doing it. The Sabres had a tough time getting set up shop in the offensive zone. Whenever they did, the Flames did a great job of rushing passes and keeping everything to the outside. In six minutes while down a man, the Flames gave up only one high-danger chance while generating a pair of their own (Mark Jankowski and Garnet Hathaway recorded one each).
4. No (James) Neal, no problem
Austin Czarnik took Neal's spot alongside Mark Jankowski/Sam Bennett on the 3rd line and they did not lose a step. They probably gained a couple. Led by Jankowski (7), this trio combined for 10 shot attempts at 5v5. The ice tilted significantly in Calgary's favor every time they touched the ice, as evidenced by their Corsi numbers. What's impressive is a good portion of their time was spent against super rookie Rasmus Dahlin.
5. Oliver Kylington looked good
I thought Kylington played his best game in a while. Maybe all season. He moved the puck effectively, was active jumping into the play, and actually put a few pucks towards the net, which is rare for him. More importantly, he spent very little time in the defensive zone. In recent weeks he's spent a lot of time there – relative to his teammates, anyway. He didn't get much ice time but he certainly made the most of it.
On an opportunity to gain separation and Neal's scoring woes
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Hotstove: midseason Hart Trophy picks
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