After being just 1:28 away from shutting-out the league-leading Toronto Maple Leafs on back-to-back occasions, the Calgary Flames let their perfect Toronto road-swing slip before their eyes. Following his goal that tied the game at one apiece, William Nylander would also put the eventual game-winning dagger into the Flames’ heart just 1:06 into the extra frame, leaving the team in a state of shock.
Surely, losing in such dramatic fashion was heartbreaking for Calgary, but there are positives to take away from their last two meetings with the Leafs. Those positives were the elevated game and confidence of David Rittich, the strong effort from the penalty-killing unit, as well as the fact that they still collected three out of a possible four points against the NHL’s best team. “We played a lot better as a team, as a group, more connected, more competitive, just more in sync than we were over the weekend against Vancouver,” said Mikael Backlund during his post-game presser.
Twenty-five percent of the Flames’ regular-season games remaining are against the Ottawa Senators, a team with a record of 6-14-1. No, the Flames should never take an opponent lightly, but with five of their next six games being played against the Senators, the Flames need to use the momentum from not only keeping up with the Leafs, but controlling them in many situations, and apply that to their games against Ottawa.
Momentum to Build Upon
The Flames were clearly the underdogs against the Maple Leafs, but that didn’t bother this club. For the last two games, they have demonstrated that they can play with some of the league’s top competition by not allowing the Leafs to score a goal for nearly six periods, holding them to the outside by using active sticks in the slot and trusting one another to clear the zone in crucial moments. The only Maple Leaf who could solve Rittich was Nylander through two matches, and his game-tying goal last game was one I think should never have happened, as Elias Lindholm had a glorious chance to seal the deal with an empty-net tally, just feet from a gapping Toronto cage, but he hit the goal post.
The Flames’ top player throughout the two games vs. the Leafs has to be Rittich. He set aside 71 of 73 shots, and the Flames also didn’t allow their opponent to score a goal on the man-advantage, as the Leafs’ power play went 0/11 against the Flames. Rittich played out of his mind in the Flames’ crease, as he didn’t allow Matthews to score in their last two meetings. Matthews leads the league in goals with 18, and his team leads the NHL with a commanding 32 points.
Despite losing in their last game against the Leafs, their game on Monday was pretty close to perfect, and it served as a big statement game for a few Flame forwards. Sean Monahan scored his first goal in 13 games, and Matthew Tkachuk found the twine for the 100th time in his pro hockey career. With 9 games remaining against the Senators this season, and the first one kicking off on Thursday, the Flames need to come out strong and dictate the game’s tempo.
Senators Serve as Perfect Benchmark
The Flames are currently two points back of the final playoff spot in the Canadian Division, and with Ottawa next on the agenda for four straight, and five of their next six, the Flames need leave it all out on the ice. The Sens have been playing better as of late, so it’s best that the Flames play them like any other opponent. The Sens have a tendency to surprise teams, because despite being tied for last place in the league, they have still beaten the Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, and Winnipeg Jets.
The Sens have won two straight games, and it will be all eyes on the battle of the Tkachuks for the next four straight. The Flames will certainly be tested by a team that loves to hang around and play spoiler, and it’s likely that the Senators will try and make life difficult for Calgary, but the Flames need to find a way to generate offense and put their opponent away, as they’ve scored just seven goals in the last four games. If the Flames are unable to take advantage of a Sens team who has struggled this season, it could mean big changes on the way. (From ‘With Tkachuk Brothers set for four straight showdowns, mom is a ‘nervous wreck’,’ Calgary Sun, 02/25/21)
Looking back on the season, the Flames won’t want to have missed the postseason because they couldn’t beat the teams they typically should be taking care of. The Canadian Division is stacked with good goaltending, strong defense, and prolific scorers, but it’s not false to say that the Senators are the in fact the worst team in the division – That is something Calgary needs to take advantage of if they want to get back into the playoff picture.