The Calgary Flames’ third game of new season was a good example of the types of games the Flames lost last season. The first period was one of the team’s worst in a long time. They looked flat, got brutally outshot, and if not for new goaltender Jacob Markstrom, would have been down by a lot more than one goal.
As we all know, this team can look a little apathetic at times, and there are games when there doesn’t seem to be much life on the bench. In a previous time, Calgary would have been dead in the water.
Of course, it did not play out like that, as the Flames came flying in the second period, and totally changed the game around. A big reason why was Matthew Tkachuk.
Tkachuk did not score last night, but from NaturalStatTrick.com, he finished the game with a remarkable 79.0% CF at 5v5, score-and-venue adjusted. He played over twelve minutes at five on five as well (the most among all forwards in the game), so it wasn’t a low ice time fluke. His xGF% was even higher, at 90.7%. He didn’t score in the game, but he was a game changing presence all night.
The second period started with a power play for each team, with neither scoring. Then after the respective special teams were done, it was back to five on five. Notice the time of the game, and the shots for either team.
The line created a number of dangerous chances on this shift, and Tkachuk was right in the middle of it. First, he went to the front of the net and almost banged home a rebound.
Next, he got the puck behind the net and made an aggressive move to the net. This easily could have been called a penalty, especially with the other penalties that were called in the game.
These were the types of strong, aggressive plays Tkachuk was making all throughout the second period, and although they may not have ended up in goals, they helped to shift the balance of the game.
This next clip is one I love, because it shows all the different skill sets that Tkachuk brings to the game.
Tkachuk makes a nice play along the boards to keep possession and move the puck. He then feeds the puck in front to create a nice chance on net. Finally, knowing perhaps that his team was a little flat in the first, skates to the net and goes out of his way to grab two guys in front of the net. This is how Tkachuk gets under the skin of opponents, but it is also a good example of why he is so important to this team. On plays like this, he is dragging the rest of his teammates into the game, and almost singlehandedly creating emotion. It would pay off later in the period as well.
This next shift was my favourite of all. Not once, not twice, but three times he took Olli Juolevi to task along the boards, spinning off his check and carrying the puck towards the goal.
The first time he shrugs Juolevi off his back along the side boards, and backhands a nice pass to Elias Lindholm. Look at the space Tkachuk creates right in the middle of the ice.
Next he made another aggressive move behind the net, again with Juolevi on his back.
Then finally made one more play to protect the puck, and bring it out to the front. Again… with Juolevi on his back (I would stop mentioning it, but Flames fans have to love seeing Tkachuk do this to Juolevi of all people).
This shift did not end in a goal, but it was a display of dominance by Tkachuk and his linemates. Offense does not always come easily or on the rush, and sometimes you have to will it into existence. That is exactly what Tkachuk did last night.
And what are the the rewards for playing this way? On the down side, Tkachuk was rewarded with a punch to the kisser from Tyler Myers. On the bright side, that penalty gave the Flames a five on three power play, which led to a goal.
Why do you think Myers reacted this way? The answer is clear, because Tkachuk had been a pest all period long, and had completely changed the game. He might have trouble chewing this morning, but this is exactly what Tkachuk was looking for. On a night when his team was dead flat, he played hard and was so difficult to play against that guys just started punching him in the face.
This play led directly to a goal on the power play, which made it 3-1 and helped Calgary to really put this one in the win column. Remember that image with the shots at 15:47 of the period showing that the shots were 16-5 for Vancouver? When Tkachuk took the punch from Myers, with 1:03 left, shots were 22-19 for Calgary. It was a remarkable reversal from the first period.
Lots of people point to Tkachuk as the next Flames captain, and it is games like these that show you why. He was a big part in the Flames comeback, and made a difference doing everything except scoring.
The Flames will need Tkachuk to continue to play this way in order to extend their hot start. Calgary will receive a good test on Sunday, when they have an afternoon tilt with the Maple Leafs. Until then, the team will enjoy some much needed practice days to continue to sharpen their game.