A quarter of the way through the season, Calgary Flames fans are probably a little spoiled.
With an 11-3-5 record after playing just a half-dozen home games through the first 19 on the schedule, nearly everything has been going well.
Goaltending has them seven shutouts (!) already – more than the number of wins a handful of NHL teams have earned so far.
The top line had yet to be on the ice as a trio for a five-on-five goal against.
Andrew Mangiapane has been lighting it up in the goal-scoring department as a secondary producer.
The defence has been providing offensive spark thanks to Oliver Kylington, Rasmus Andersson and Noah Hanifin outbursts.
They’ve scored first way more often than not.
But some nights, they’re going to be lucky to get even a couple of those elements falling in their favour, regardless of the effort.
Playing in their ninth game in 15 nights on Tuesday, not a lot was in synch.
And yet, the Flames found some reserve in the tank to win the third period and claim their third home victory in seven attempts, beating the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2.
Grueling schedule ‘almost not fair’
“There wasn’t much left there, was there?” Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter said of his team’s energy after a tough portion of their schedule.
“You’ve just got to know how to win. The bottom line is they are tired. It’s almost not fair. Give the players credit.”
The Flames got the lead – quickly – when Dillon Dube fired a long shot from the far side of the left-wing circle in the opening 1:19 of action.
It was the 16th time the Calgary Flames have scored first this season – a big reason for their Western Conference-best record coming into the night.
After Brandon Hagel drew the Blackhawks with an accurate shot from a similar spot after a board battle lost by Tyler Pitlick, the Flames fought back to take another lead.
This time it was Milan Lucic beating Marc-Andre Fleury with a snapshot from the right flank after linemate Brad Richardson created a turnover in the Hawks end.
A miscue in the second period gave Regina’s Reese Johnson his first NHL goal in front of family at the Saddledome as the Flames watched their lead disappear again.
Goaltender Jacob Markstrom couldn’t connect with his pass from behind the net, intended for Elias Lindholm inside the faceoff circle to the goalie’s left. The puck bounced off Lindholm’s blade and Johnson had an open net to fire at as Markstrom tried to recover.
It was the first time the Flames’ top line has been scored on at even strength all season. A sad way for the streak to end.
Markstrom makes up for miscue with clutch saves for Flames
“That’s not in the playbook. Our goalies don’t pass to centremen,” said Sutter. “Our goalies give it to defencemen. He knew he made a mistake.”
Markstrom made up for it, especially in the second period, as he made big saves on the likes of Patrick Kane, and Hagel.
The top line came through, too, with Matthew Tkachuk scoring the game-winner with just over five and a half minutes in regulation – his centring pass to Johnny Gaudreau hitting Seth Jones and flipping over a frustrated Fleury.
Fleury made 35 saves on the night, but it wasn’t enough.
Markstrom finished with just 19, but was clutch in the second to help keep his team in it.
Trevor Lewis and Gaudreau both scored empty netters to close it out.
With three nights off before their next game Saturday, they’ll take advantage of an extended period of down time. They haven’t experienced more than two nights off since their season opener.
“It was probably the toughest stretch of our schedule, playing nine games in 15 days. Starting in Calgary and ending in Calgary – so it just felt like one big, long road trip.”