With a 3-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks, the Calgary Flames capped off the calendar year with something they need a lot more of in 2023.
Thanks to goals from Elias Lindholm, Blake Coleman and MacKenzie Weegar, the Flames won their second straight and three of their last four. They’ve also earned at least a point in 12 of their last 15 contests. The Flames finished the month of December with an 8-5-3 record — a points percentage of .594 (which is much better than their season total .566).
Just carrying that kind of play into the rest of the year should secure them a playoff spot.
There were plenty of signs in the game against the Canucks — a team they have to beat as a Pacific Division rival below them in the standings — to feel good about things going forward.
MacKenzie Weegar’s first goal as a member of the Calgary Flames
The opening act to Jonathan Huberdeau’s headlining of the Matthew Tkachuk trade this summer has been good but not great so far. The primary reason for that is his lack of offensive production — at least in comparison to expectations.
MacKenzie Weegar had seven assists and no goals heading into the New Year’s Eve clash. That’s a pace for less than 20 points for a guy who showed in Florida he was capable of 40-50.
So it was a great sign to see him cash in on his first goal on Saturday night and add another assist to bring his totals to 1-8-9 through the first 37 games with his new team.
“I’m happy it wasn’t offside and happy to get my first goal,” Weegar told reporters after the win over Vancouver. “Feels great, even better with the two points, obviously.”
You wouldn’t know it from the celebration but Weegar explained that he thought the play might have been offside and he didn’t want to celebrate early.
His teammates love the modest, mild-mannered and hard-working ‘Weegs’ and might have been more excited afterward.
“Weegs is the best, man – great guy, great teammate,” said Calgary Flames winger Blake Coleman. “We joked about it this morning, we thought he was going to get one, and he did.
“We’re happy for him. He’s a big part of our team. It’s going to be the first of many.”
That’s what the Flames and their fans are hoping.
Defensive play is keeping the Flames in every game
The offence is obviously a work in progress. But the Flames have allowed more than three regulation goals against just twice in December. In fact, excluding empty netters, they kept opponents to two goals or fewer 10 times in the last 16 games.
If they can get more scoring from a group that most people would suggest is underachieving at the moment, things should work out find over the second leg of the season.
“Opportunities to put it away — we missed a lot of really good opportunities — but it was a good, solid game for us,” Calgary Flames head coach said Saturday.
“He had lots of opportunities. We’ve needed him to dig in more into his game, get back to the basics of his game, and tonight I felt he was better at it.
Goaltenders Jacob Markstrom and Dan Vladar are providing a stable tandem in goal, with Vladar just over the .900 save percentage mark and Markstrom just under as he climbs his way back to his Vezina form.
The fact they’re trending up is huge.
Blake Coleman and the ‘third line’ are due to explode
Coleman had a shorthanded goal against the Canucks but could have had at least one or two more. The utility man is capable of scoring 20 every year and brought his total to six in the 2022 leg of this NHL campaign with his single. He’s been left shaking his head in many recent games, however, and has a plan to deal with that.
“I’m gonna go home and do a bonfire to the hockey gods and burn some stuff,” Coleman said after the win. “Frustrating but we got the win, so the one was enough tonight.”
His line with underrated centre Mikael Backlund and currently cooled sniper Andrew Mangiapane has been arguably the Flames’ most consistent trio since being reunited the past couple of weeks. It just hasn’t produced goals from the overwhelming number of chances — especially in comparison to the opponents on the ice against them.
You get the feeling that could change any night.
Coleman has a goal and two points in the last three games. But Mangiapane has been buzzing, too. Last year’s 35-goal-scorer has just one assist in his last eight games, but a hot stick in the new year can get him back on track for at least another 20-score season if not closer to 30.
His finishing is bound to come around with a little luck and some determination.
Rasmus Andersson is an elite defenceman
That’s it. That’s all that really needs to be said. If you really need more, he has seven points in his last seven games (1-6-7) including an overtime winner, and massive minutes against the game’s best opponents.