Mangiapane's scoring success exactly what the Flames needed
On Tuesday night, Calgary Flames forward Milan Lucic helped seal the Calgary Flames victory by holding off Chicago Blackhawks forward Dominik Kubalik as a Trevor Lewis clearing attempt veered towards the ‘Hawks empty net.
The puck eventually made its way in – Lewis playing the role of sniper and Lucic, he joked afterwards, of curler.
“Sweeper, to make sure it was going in because I knew one of their guys was coming back,” Lucic joked afterwards.
Lucic, Lewis, and fellow fourth liner Brad Richardson – all Stanley Cup winners and former Kings coached by Darryl Sutter in Los Angeles – combined for three points in the 5-2 Flames victory, their fourth straight.
“They were great,” Matthew Tkachuk said. “Big goal for us (from Lucic) in the first when it was 1-1 and they had some momentum from their tying goal. It got us momentum back when we needed it. People don’t realize how big those goals are when you can put a team away when their goalie is pulled. The past couple years it seemed we never got those and kept teams in it until the end. It stresses us out a little bit.”
At the quarter-season mark, the Flames (12-3-5) sit in first place in the Western Conference with 29 points heading into Wednesday’s action and are in the midst of their best start since 2001-02. Calgary has relied on its entire lineup and are winning in different ways every night.
Their performance on Tuesday, their ninth game in 15 days, was markedly different than their 4-0 shutout victory over the Bruins in Boston on Sunday, when backup goalie Dan Vladar stopped all 28 shots he faced against his former team.
“It kind of took me a while to get into the game but as we moved forward, I started to feel better and better,” Vladar said afterward.
Goaltending heroics are becoming almost routine for the Flames this season.
The Flames are the first team in modern NHL history to post seven shutouts through their first 19 games. Among the 29 goalies who have played in at least 10 games, Markstrom is first in shutouts (5), and second in both save percentage (.940) and goals-against average (1.73).
“We need structure,” Sutter surmised after the Boston victory. “We need to have a way to win.”
A day before their victory at the TD Garden, it was Andrew Mangiapane who potted two goals in the New York Islanders’ opening game of their new UBS Arena, a 5-2 win for Calgary. His 15 tallies are second in the league, trailing only Edmonton Oilers star forward Leon Draisaitl – despite playing fewer even-strength minutes per game than several Flames forwards.
“I always go back to confidence,” the 25-year-old Toronto native said.
“Playing in this league, you’ve got to have confidence to make plays and confidence in yourself. When I first came in, I was a little shy and didn’t want to make a mistake, but as the seasons go along, you just go out there and play your game.”
For several of the Flames’ 12 wins so far in 2021-22, star forward Johnny Gaudreau has been the focal point.
His line with Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm can transition out of the defensive zone quickly and frequently hem opponents in the offensive zone. Thus far, they have only been scored against once at five-on-five – a testament to how they’ve controlled play after Sutter first put them together to play out the stretch in the spring.
“They’re two really smart, skilled players,” Gaudreau, who’s currently fourth in league scoring, said of his linemates.
“They see the ice so well. They make plays in the offensive zone and on the blueline when the play might not be there and, when the play might not be there and the play is to dump it in, they can make a skill play to turn it into a two-on-one or a little odd-man rush…obviously [Lindholm] is pretty good [in the defensive zone].”
The Flames blueliners have also made their presence felt on most nights.
Paired with the steady Chris Tanev, Oliver Kylington has burst onto the scene and provided a skating and puck-moving presence comparable to former captain Mark Giordano – now with the Kraken in Seattle – while Rasmus Andersson and Noah Hanifin have become a reliable pairing. Combined, Andersson and Hanifin have been on the ice for 38 goals for and just nine against at five-on-five, while Kylington’s 12 even-strength points lead all NHL blueliners.
On paper, the Flames have overcome the toughest part of their schedule. With three quarters of their season left, they look poised to continue as the most surprising team of the season.
“There wasn’t much left there,” Sutter said after the win over Chicago on Tuesday evening.
“Those are the ones where you’ve just got to know how to win…we were gone the whole time in the Eastern time zone. You get home in the middle of the night and have to play this game. It’s almost not fair, but give the players credit.”