The Calgary Flames had a clear gameplan going into Thursday night’s tilt against the Detroit Red Wings; play as a team for a full sixty minutes. After a lethargic start to the season, the Flames were looking for a full team effort on Thursday night and got one starting from the crease out.
The dangerously quick Wings came flying out of the gate and Flames netminder David Rittich had to be sharp early, making a big save off Dylan Larkin in the first minute. That cross-crease save seemed to wake the Flames up, who tightened up defensively before going on to score the first goal of the game on a nice tip-in from Andrew Mangipane halfway through the first.
Elias Lindholm added another on the powerplay halfway through the second, but Wing’s forward Darren Helm responded just 28 seconds later, tapping an Anthony Mantha rebound over the line behind David Rittich. After that, however, the Flames were patient with their approach, playing a defense-by-committee style of game that finally broke open for three unanswered goals in the third.
A cohesive and disciplined approach was the gameplan from Flames coach Bill Peters after consistently disappointing team efforts to start the season.
“We want to get everyone involved because that’s when we play our best when everyone is contributing”, Peters commented after the game.
That message was generally adopted by the Flames on Thursday night, with David Rittich there to atone for the occasional breakdown through the first two frames. Both he and forward Andrew Mangiapane have been the bright spots for the Flames early this season, shining in large part because of their consistent work ethic – efforts that coach Peters would no doubt like to see throughout his lineup, commenting that Rittich “has been really good to start the season” and that Mangiapane has provided a spark wherever he’s been placed in the lineup.
Peters wasn’t looking to get into a high-flying, high-scoring shootout with Detroit’s young stars Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha off to red-hot starts to the season. Mantha has come out of the gate with 10 points through his first seven games and has been dominating teams with his combination of size, speed, and skill. The best way to combat that, as the Flames did, is to take away time and space with numbers.
For a Flames team not known for blazing defensive speed, stifling opposing speed is a call for everyone to step up and force good players into tight spots. By the same token, it requires quick puck movement when they were in possession of the puck, eliminating dangerous passes and giving themselves more time to make decisions.
Mantha commented after the game that the Wings weren’t hard enough in the offensive zone and that the forecheck wasn’t good enough, but give credit to the Flames for playing a sound positional game, making breaking out of the zone much easier with players in position to support the puck.
Even Milan Lucic, whose diminished speed has been a concern amongst Flames fans, had a big impact in this fast-paced game. In fact, he is one of the biggest benefactors of a positionally sound game. With the adoption and execution of a tight systematic game, Lucic assisted on the pivotal third goal with a strong forecheck and put a shot on net two minutes later that Derek Ryan cleaned up, putting the game out of reach. Lucic finished the night with 4 shots on net, 5 hits, and a +2 rating.
For a Flames group that has yet to put together consecutive 60-minute team efforts, Thursday’s win was a big step in the right direction. Hockey is not an individual sport. It takes a team effort to win on a night in and night out basis, as the Flames did last season. Hopefully for Flames fans efforts like Thursday night’s become the standard for this season.