If you’re a defensive-minded coach, the opening 20 minutes of the Calgary Flames’ meeting with the New York Rangers on Thursday night probably made you cringe. Giveaways. Turnovers. Multiple breakaways.
But if you’re someone that wanted the Flames to finally show some life in the opening period, it was probably as picturesque as it could get.
A pair of breakaway goals from Johnny Gaudreau and Mikael Backlund spotted the Flames to a 2-0 lead. And while they allowed the Rangers to draw even twice, the home team never trailed. The team’s fast start was well-received by interim head coach Geoff Ward.
“I thought our start was a lot better,” said Ward. “We’ve been talking about that for a couple games. We found a way to get ahead of the game tonight, which was huge for us. And when they came back and tied it, we found a way to stay in front of it. Credit to the guys. We bent a little bit, we didn’t break.”
The Flames scored first. They led after each of the first two periods – and obviously, at the end of the game. It wasn’t a perfect game, but it was hopefully a building block for a team that needs good outings to build upon as they head out for a pair of games on the road.
Deja vu all over again
The first breakaway goal was Vintage Gaudreau. An errant puck in the neutral zone that he found with his speed. The second goal was more of a unicorn: a shorthanded breakaway during a two man disadvantage. The common thread? Both guys used the same move – a forehand to backhand deke that got Henrik Lundqvist moving right to left. Gaudreau went five-hole, Backlund tucked it past his left pad.
“We’ve seen a lot of nights where we get those chances and they don’t go in,” reflected Ward. “But tonight, both guys made nice moves to get it to the back of the net.”
Ward couldn’t recall the last five-on-three shorthanded goal he saw in a game – a skim of NHL.com’s game summaries didn’t result in any others from this season. The coach tipped his hat to Backlund on the second goal.
“Backs made a really nice play,” said Ward. “He anticipated that cross pass, got his stick on it and away he went.”
#Flames LW Johnny Gaudreau on C Mikael Backlund's shortie on breakaway: “A lot of will there — he was in the shooting lane, got his stick out in the passing lane and took off with that speed. I didn’t know he was as fast as he was there. Kind of got shot out of a cannon.”
— Wes Gilbertson (@WesGilbertson) January 3, 2020
Do the (line) shuffle
Give Ward credit: he’s not resting on his laurels as far as his line combinations are concerned. He made a mid-game tweak that seemed to improve two of his lines. Dillon Dube started with Milan Lucic and Derek Ryan, but finished the game with Tobias Rieder and Mark Jankowski. Sam Bennett took Dube’s spot with Lucic and Ryan.
The other two lines weren’t impacted. But it appears that Ward is trying to get a balance of speed and energy on all four groupings.