Midway through the second period of the Flames-Jets preseason game on Wednesday night, Winnipeg was outshooting Calgary 26-9, yet the score was tied at 2-2.
New Flames backup goalie Dan Vladar, a relatively unknown AHLer acquired from the Boston Bruins in the summer for a third-round pick, was a huge reason why Calgary was still in the game.
On Wednesday evening, the Prague, Czech Republic native made numerous saves, stopping the likes of Blake Wheeler, Paul Stastny and Nikolaj Ehlers.
“I’m just trying to focus,” Vladar said after the Flames’ 3-2 loss.
“It doesn’t matter if I get 10 shots or 80. I just don’t wanna get scored on and I wanna give my team a chance to win every single time I step on the ice.”
A third-round pick of the Bruins in 2015, Vladar only has five NHL games to his credit, all last season, when he went 2-2-1 with a 3.40 goals-against average and .886 save percentage.
But after a disappointing 2020-21 season, where the Flames had their own goaltending deficiencies and missed the playoffs, they appear to have found a capable complement to starter Jacob Markstrom.
In 2019-20, the 24-year-old Vladar led the AHL in both goals-against average (1.79) and save percentage (.936) in 25 games with the Providence Bruins.
“He kept us in it,” head coach Darryl Sutter said after Wednesday’s game in Winnipeg. “He’s proven that he can play at this level…he’s one guy that’s shown that he’s made the team.”
Kylington cementing spot on opening night roster
Coming into the season, it would have been easy to discount blueliner Oliver Kylington as either trade bait or waiver-bound.
The 24-year-old played just eight games last season and struggled to gain the trust of Sutter. On a backend already bolstered with the likes of Chris Tanev, Noah Hanifin, Rasmus Andersson and Juuso Valimaki, and newly acquired Nikita Zadorov, Erik Gudbranson, plus the re-signed Michael Stone, there appeared to be no room for Kylington, who inked a one-year deal with the club during the off-season.
Instead, the Flames gave Kylington every opportunity to succeed during training camp and he was equal to the task. Kylington has suited up in six of Calgary’s seven preseason games, putting up three assists. After averaging just over 13 minutes of ice time per game last season, Kylington has played more than 19 minutes in three preseason tilts (in three of Calgary’s preseason games, skaters’ time on ice wasn’t tracked). According to Natural Stat Trick, Kylington’s Corsi percentage of 63.51 is third on the team, while his on-ice scoring chance percentage (68.57) is fifth.
“My belief system has always been there so it’s just doing what I know I can do and be really good at, and try to do that every day,” Kylington said early in training camp.
“I think people in the organization and coaches know what they can get out of me, and I just want to prove that. I know the identity of my game and I just try to apply that every game.”
With longtime captain Mark Giordano now departed for the expansion Seattle Kraken, the Flames blueline could use someone with Kylington’s skillset as a strong-skating, offence-oriented defender.
“We need mobility back there,” Sutter said.
“I mean, that’s obvious…He has good speed and sees the ice well, so he has to use that to his benefit.”
It will likely require roster juggling (placing either Michael Stone or Erik Gudbranson on waivers), but it looks like Kylington has forced his way into the Flames plans to start the season because of his strong training camp.
Unknown college free agent in mix to replace injured veteran
Little was written when the Flames signed Walker Duehr to a two-year, entry-level contract in April. The former Minnesota State Maverick (NCAA) forward put up 51 points in 102 games, not exactly numbers that pop out.
Still, the 23-year-old American had multiple NHL suitors and chose to come north to Calgary. Duehr considers himself a power forward and has shown no fear driving the net and getting his nose dirty during the preseason.
Despite playing limited minutes in a bottom-6 role, he has been noticeable in each of the five games he’s suited up for.
Veteran forward Tyler Pitlick went down just a couple of shifts into the first preseason game, perhaps opening a slot on the fourth line. Early on in his Flames audition, Duehr has played with veteran Milan Lucic, a duo we could see if Pitlick misses any regular season action.
“I’m just trying to play fast and hard each shift,” Duehr said.
SPARKS OFF THE FIRE
-In some contract negotiations, details leak out into the public realm. Don’t expect that to happen with the Calgary Flames and star winger Johnny Gaudreau. Last week, I reached out to Gaudreau’s agent, Lewis Gross, who politely declined to get into specifics on how talks with the Flames are progressing. Gaudreau himself said at the start of training camp that he wouldn’t address the subject going forward, and general manager Brad Treliving also didn’t want to get into a “play-by-play” on those conversations.
-Quietly, Glen Gawdin has turned heads with a strong training camp. The 24-year-old Richmond, B.C., product skated well and scored while playing in the bottom-six. Calgary has veteran Brad Richardson pencilled in as the team’s fourth-line centre, but perhaps Gawdin is making the organization rethink that…especially if he can kill penalties. Something not insignificant: Gawdin will have to clear waivers if Calgary wants him to play in the American Hockey League. He’ll also have to play 75 games in the NHL or become a Group 6 unrestricted free agent in the off-season.
-The Flames have used Dillon Dube at centre a couple of times in the preseason. That’s worth keeping an eye on because although it looks like he’ll start the season on the third line as a winger, he could be thrust into the new position should injuries come up.
-Early observation: Under new associate coach Kirk Muller, Calgary’s power play looks far more active in the offensive zone. Last year, it seemed like players were glued to their area on the ice when on the man advantage. This season, there’s a lot more movement, with players changing positions, forwards skating more laterally to find cross-ice seams, blueliners switching when one has the puck on the point. It’ll be interesting to see how Muller influences the power play and forwards. Last season, Calgary was 21st in power-play percentage (18.3). The last time Calgary had a top-10 power play was during the 2016-17 season, when they were 10th (20.2 per cent).