It wasn’t perfect. Not even close. But the Calgary Flames have a perfect record on their extended road trip so far thanks to another collectively promising performance in a 5-3 victory over the Devils in New Jersey.
The opening period might have been flawless. Milan Lucic scored his first of the season on a broken-play breakaway. Andrew Mangiapane and Elias Lindholm scored three in a span of less than three minutes. The Flames looked like a team working together in all the right ways as they headed to the intermission with a 4-0 stranglehold.
And when things got batty in the third period, the Flames remained calm.
“I think that’s been the difference so far this year and what we didn’t have last year,” said the veteran Lucic. “We’d get frustrated. We tried to do too much. It’s never going to be perfect, so you’ve just got to stay within the system, stay within the game plan. That’s how you give yourselves the best chance to win.”
Let’s look at some big takeaways from Tuesday’s tilt and the Flames’ season so far.
Pair of Calgary Flames snipers top NHL list
Move over, Alex Ovechkin, you’ve got some company up there.
Lindholm’s league-leading seventh goal was sandwiched between Mangiapane’s pair (bread joke alert) Tuesday night.
That put both at the top of the league’s standings alongside the legendary Washington Capitals sniper Ovechkin.
Bet you wouldn’t have picked not one but two Flames to be leading the league in scoring at more than a goal-per-game pace six games into their season. If you did, those might not have been the names.
“I think it starts with their compete level in the scoring areas, winning battles, making plays, and obviously most importantly finishing plays in those areas,” Lucic said of the dynamic duo.
“A lot of (Mangiapane’s) goals are from the crease in, because he’s willing to get there. He’s scraping for rebounds and getting inside of guys. That’s where guys get rewarded.”
Lucic noted Mangiapane’s hot streak that extends back into last season’s finish, which appeared in Calgary Hockey Now earlier in the day.
“Throw in the World Championships, too, it’s been a pretty good ride for Andrew right now. It’s a great feeling,” Lucic said. “It’s feeling it. I know you can say maybe the puck is bouncing to him but it’s bouncing to him because he is working into the right areas, he is working the right way. And when he’s had his chances, he’s made them count.”
Coleman opens game with a bang in long-awaited return to New Jersey
Blake Coleman and his Calgary Flames linemates Mikael Backlund and Tyler Pitlick had a blazing first shift. It set the tone in what turned out to be Coleman’s New Jersey homecoming more than 600 days after he was traded from the Devils to the Tampa Bay Lightning prior to the pandemic.
Earlier in the day, Coleman told reporters in a Zoom call he was upset at the time of the trade after spending nearly a decade in Jersey. But winning two Stanley Cups back to back and then cashing in on a fat free agent contract with the team of his choice is a pretty sweet payoff.
“It was one of those things where at the time you can’t see the big picture,” Coleman recalled. “But ultimately it turned out really great.”
Coleman was traded during a father-son trip. And when he was scheduled to make his return against the Devils – again, his dad ready to join – the NHL shut down because of the pandemic.
Eventful couple of years
So much has taken place since the deadline trade to Tampa, while his wife Jordan was just about ready to give birth to daughter Charlie. He came to Calgary with two Cups and two kids (welcoming second daughter Carson to the family this year).
“It’s crazy that I haven’t been back to Jersey yet,” Blake said. “Nothing but really good memories for me in Jersey. They drafted me (in the third round in 2011). It was my first pro team and first pro experience. We made the playoffs my first full year there. A lot of good memories.”
With two goals and three points through his first five games with the Flames, he looks ready to create some great memories with his new club, too.
His line was the most impressive for most of Tuesday’s game and arguably the Flames’ best in New York on Monday as well.
Kylington, Valimaki getting opportunity to show they can overcome mistakes
Many wondered whether real opportunity would be given to younger defencemen.
Those questions are being answered.
Despite a rough outing on Saturday, Juuso Valimaki was back in the lineup on Monday with an opportunity to redeem himself.
And following a poor decision that led to a dangerous penalty and ultimately a goal against in Monday’s win over the Rangers, Oliver Kylington was back on the blueline beside Chris Tanev.
Kylington hit his 100-game NHL milestone with the Calgary Flames on Tuesday.
Kids learning on the fly
The kids are getting a chance. Head coach Darryl Sutter is sticking with what’s been winning games even though there have been some blemishes.
Wins have masked little things like the blocked point shot from Kylington in the third period when the smarter play would have been to ring it deep around the boards. But it’s possible one of Kylington or Valimaki will be watching from the press box again in the near future.
Don’t stress about it if you’re a big fan of either of these two. It’s just part of managing their development.
Flames’ focus on fitness has been paying off in frantic finishes
Remember the fragile disposition the past couple of years? It looks like a thing of the past for the Calgary Flames.
Despite many challenges on the trip so far, the Flames have been finding a way to finish strong.
After giving up a three-goal lead, the team eked out an overtime win in Washington with backup goalie Dan Vladar making his first start.
They went full throttle for 60 minutes in New York on Monday and didn’t allow a talented Rangers team to claw back.
As the minutes ticked down Tuesday night, the Flames overcame a costly mistake by Vladar and a bit of a late push from the Devils to come away with a fourth-straight win on the road.
Offseason full of effort
Sutter has said a number of times this season that the fitness level and speed of the team wasn’t up to par when he arrived last year but the work they all put in this offseason really looks to be paying off.
The fitness allows them to play quicker and stay more focused in the face of adversity.
“The five-on-five minutes if you’re a good hockey club should be able to balance out,” said Sutter, pointing out the chaotic third period that saw five penalties called on Tuesday.
“But in order to do that, you need guys to be able to play at a pace or a speed that’s necessary and be able to have the mental toughness to manage that.”