The Calgary Flames played their final game before the All-Star in Scottsdale with the Arizona Coyotes. It was the second game in back-to-backs for both teams, with Arizona coming off a big win against the juggernaut Colorado Avalanche. Here are my thoughts on the Flames’ 4-2 win.
This was, by no means, a “must-win” game for the Calgary Flames. The team’s playoff aspirations certainly were not resting on a mid-season tilt against the Arizona Coyotes.
Rather, I’d define it as a “should-win” game. Going into Wednesday night, Arizona was next-to-last in league standings with 26 points in 44 games played. They put up a surprising win over the Colorado Avalanche the night before. However that was their first win in 5 games. For the Flames, whose numbers are trending in the opposite direction, there was a better-than-average shot at 2 points.
Here’s what I saw in Calgary’s 4-2 win.
Darth Vladar is on Sutter’s Dark Side
I don’t know what Dan Vladar did to make Head Coach Darryl Sutter angry, but he’d better fix it quickly.
It seems, at least to me, that starting Vladar in the second game in as many nights, against a team near the bottom of the standings, would be the obvious decision. Yet, when the puck dropped, there was Jacob Markstrom between the pipes.
So, why can’t Sutter throw Vladar a bone here?
It’s true that Vladar has not won a start since December 3rd in Anaheim. But two of his three starts since then were against the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Carolina Hurricanes. These are teams currently sitting in 3rd and 4th place in the league respectively.
It is also true that Markstrom leads the league in shutouts, only played two periods the night before, and is about to enjoy a week off during the All-Star break.
Sutter didn’t exactly hide his feelings for Vladar in late January after a loss to the St. Louis Blues. That was also the second of back-to-back games, and Markstrom played in both. In his post-game media availability (video above) Sutter was asked what went into the decision to start Markstrom in the second game.
“The other guy hasn’t won for a month. It’s pretty easy.” Then, to punctuate his point, he said, “It wasn’t even that hard a decision. It was one we made a long time ago.”
Hardly a glowing endorsement.
In Sutter’s defence, he is known for leaning heavily on his number one goalie. Miikka Kiprusoff played 74 games as part of Sutter’s 2005-2006 Calgary Flames team. Jonathan Quick started 68 games when Sutter coached the 2015-2016 LA Kings.
Even so, I worry. In an effort to make up games lost by their time in COVID protocol, the Flames have a pretty dense schedule after the All-Star break. They go back-to-back seven times before season’s end. So, Sutter is going to need Vladar to ensure Markstrom isn’t exhausted by playoff time.
Getting Offence from Everywhere, Except…
The Calgary Flames have done an excellent job generating offence lately. They put 50 shots on net in Arizona. They generated 20 High Danger Chances, 11 of which came in the first period alone. They’re getting contributions from players not named Gaudreau, Tkachuk or Lindholm. But those guys are putting points up too.
However, Wednesday’s game against the Coyotes was the fifth consecutive in which the Flames did not score on the power play. Blake Coleman came close to ending the streak. He scored in the first period just five seconds after a penalty to Arizona’s Lawson Crouse had expired. Still an even strength tally, unfortunately.
On the year, the Flames have scored 26 times in 123 power play opportunities. This is 21%, good for 12th in the league. Compare that to the Edmonton Oilers who, despite going through a bit of a rough patch themselves, still lead the Pacific Division in that category at 28%.
As with reliable backup goaltending, the Calgary Flames will need to get some help from their special teams units if the back half of the year is going to be successful.
Here’s hoping Johnny Gaudreau has a great All-Star appearance. To the rest of the boys, I’d say put your feet up and relax this week. The second half is gonna be bumpy.