Saturday, October 24, 2015

Hop in the DeLorean: Eight Keys to Victory as the Flames Go Back to the Past

How many guys can you stuff into a DeLorean?

Twenty-one, it seems.

On Wednesday, all the talk was about the future as October 21, 2015 was the date Marty McFly and his friend "Doc" Brown travelled forward in time in the popular 80s movie Back to the Future Part II.

On Friday night at the Saddledome, all the talk was about the past as Bob Hartley and the Flames crammed into a time machine and travelled back in time to December 22, 2014.

In a 3-2 overtime win over Detroit, Calgary turned in the type of desperate effort that fans grew so accustomed to watching last season. In particular, the victory over the Red Wings was very reminiscent of the Flames 4-3 win over Los Angeles right before Christmas last year.

Circumstances
  • Last Year - Had lost eight in a row (including three straight at home)
  • Last Night - Had lost four in a row (including four straight at home)

Setting
  • Last Year - Trailed after first (2-0) and second periods (3-1)
  • Last Night - Trailed after first (2-1) and second periods (2-1)

Late Game Heroics
  • Last Year - Scored tying goal at 19:01 with Hiller pulled
  • Last Night - Scored tying goal at 18:48 with Hiller pulled

Overtime
  • Last Year - Giordano wins it at 4:07
  • Last Night - Giordano wins it at 3:12

After falling behind 2-1 on a pair of power play goals, Calgary played its two best periods of the season in the second and third, eventually winning it in overtime on Mark Giordano's second goal of the night. Coming on the Flames 40th shot, the deciding goal was an absolute beauty.

"Wides was in the zone for about 30-40 seconds and made a good change coming to the bench. And Mony, I don't know how many minutes he played tonight but to win that battle -- it was almost a one-on-two down low -- after being out there for so long was huge," Giordano said. "When I got the puck from Johnny, my first instinct was to shoot. But the goalie charged out and raced over and I surprised myself, I guess."

Calgary got the game to 3-on-3 thanks to Joe Colborne's tip-in goal with 1:12 remaining. First, Colborne came on the ice for goaltender Jonas Hiller. Next, he carried the puck in deep. Next, he zipped a backhand pass to Giordano at the point and drove to the front of the net. Lastly, he deflected Giordano's shot.

Reduced to being a spectator at that point, Hiller experienced the rare thrill of being part of the bedlam at the Flames bench when the critical goal went in.

"In those situations, you just keep your fingers crossed. Sometimes you don't even want to watch it," said Hiller, with a smile. "You try to look on the jumbotron and every time you see a scoring chance developing, you go 'please, please, please.' I saw the shot and I didn't know where it went and then I looked up and I heard the crowd being loud and I was like, 'yes!'".

So how did they do it?


Eight Keys to Victory


1. Got Back to Playing Flames Hockey

Those final 40 minutes in getting the game to overtime was vintage Calgary hockey from a year ago. Every line that jumped over the boards went to the attack. They came at the Red Wings wave after wave.

“That was us. I thought that was our game," said Giordano. "We were relentless on the forecheck, we created a lot, we held the puck more in the neutral zone, which was a big key tonight. We didn’t just throw it up and give it away."

Forgetting about the team's current plight and just going out with a clear head and playing was huge.

"We let go a bit of the tension. We just went out there and played," said the captain.


2. Got Timely Saves

Calgary outshot Detroit 32-16 over the final two periods and OT. While a majority of the play was in the Red Wings end, the visitors did have some great chances. However, unlike what's been happening so far, Hiller was able to make the clutch save to keep the game within reach.

"When you're down, the other team always gets odd-man rushes because you're pushing and things happen," said Hiller. "In the end, that's part of my job. Tonight, I felt good out there."

Halfway through the third, he robbed Dylan Larkin on a two-on-one. Three minutes later, Hiller acrobatically sprawled across to deny Tomas Tatar as he pounced on a rebound off the end boards.

"Hills kept us in the game at 2-1. That's huge. You need those saves. He was great," said Flames coach Bob Hartley.

In overtime, Hiller racked up another couple dandies with game-saving stops off Tatar again and Teemu Pulkkinen from in-close.

"I can't say enough about Hills. Stepping up and having a huge game," said Colborne.


3. Vintage Performance From the Captain

On this night, Flames fans did not see the player that signed a six-year extension in the summer for $6.75 million per year. Nope, on this night they saw the Norris Trophy-caliber player that many thought would command a contract with an annual average value in the $8 million range.

"It was an incredible," said Colborne. "That was the best game, I think, I've ever seen him play and I've seen him play some good games."

In on all three goals, a plus-3, a game-high seven shots on goal, all coming in 26:04 of ice time in which No. 5 was constantly streaking up the ice, back again, then back up the ice once more. He was back being that dynamic game-breaking presence that he's been the last few years.

"Gio, he's our captain, that's not a surprise," said Hartley of his performance.

For the season's first six games, Giordano was paired with Dougie Hamilton, but it hadn't been working. Giordano had just one goal and was a minus-six. Both totals were very uncharacteristic.

On Friday, Giordano partnered with Dennis Wideman, who was solid as well in logging a game-high 31:41 in ice time.

It was Giordano's first two-goal game since October 14, 2006. That night in Toronto he scored his first two NHL goals. That was career game No. 12. Last night was career game No. 517.

"It was positive tonight. You would expect a lot more frustration, you think, not being able to score and put pucks in the net because we had so many chances. The guys stuck with it. At the end of the day we got a big two points,” said Giordano.


4. Relentless Forecheck, Familiar Swagger

A characteristic of Calgary's game absent so far this year was the forecheck. It was not missing on this night.

"We just got back to our game," said Josh Jooris. "We didn't take our foot off the pedal. Line after line, we were coming in waves. We were controlling the play tonight in the second and third. That's the way we want to play and it's nice to know that we're capable of that now and we just have to keep building on it."

The dominating effort also helps Calgary restore some of its swagger from a year ago that had not yet been seen.

"Gives us confidence," said Sean Monahan. "We all believe in each other in this room. When you fight back in games like that and come out with a win, it gives you that much more confidence and you want to win more."


5. Emotionally Invested

A missing ingredient in the first six games was the emotion that the Flames invested into last night's game and it made a difference. A big difference.

"We wanted it and we were hungry for it. We told everybody in this room, we talked about it, we weren't going to leave here without the two points," said Monahan. "Obviously we are frustrated, we started the season off not playing too well. We came together as a group and we know we have to be better. When frustration kicks in, you find a way to use that as momentum."

When you don't have the most skilled team in the league, passion, energy and determination can carry a team a long way.

"Everyone stepped up. We had some real gutsy efforts out there," said Hartley.

One of the sparks was Jooris, who nearly dropped the gloves twice and almost notched the tying goal on a third period breakaway. He admitted it was his best game.

"I got a hit in early and that got me into the game," said Jooris, whose heavy hit on Mike Green in the first period was a tone-setter. "That's the way I want to play. A lot of energy. When you get a hit like that and you get into the game emotionally like that, it makes me, personally, get into the game a lot more and play a lot better."


6. Carried the Play at Even-Strength

Calgary's 5-on-5 game has been particularly poor in the first couple weeks, having been outshot at even-strength in all but one of the six games.

"I felt we were more playing on our toes than our heels. We weren't worried about making a mistake and being just half-way in," said Hiller, describing what he saw Friday from his team. "Everybody went into the battle with the want and desire to get that puck back."

During its four-game losing streak, Calgary was limited to 15, 18, 16 and 17 even-strength shots. On Friday, they piled up 36.

“We were just relentless. I mean, what did we have — 35 to 40 shots on net tonight? That's a big difference from 15 or 20. We got pucks to the net, we paid the price in front of the net. Just some simple hockey and got the job done,” said Jooris.


7. Never-Quit Attitude

The refusal to give up in picking up their second third period comeback of the season was exactly what the Flames were known for last year when they came from behind to win 10 games.

“You could just feel it from the bench, and the crowd got into it. That was just back to our M.O., our game,” said Jooris.

Colborne said they were pouring on the pressure over that final 40 minutes, he knew it was just a matter of time.

"We came out of that second period feeling good in here. We were down a goal but when you have that effort, when you have those chances coming, you know sooner or later it's going to break for you," he said.

Mikael Backlund, who had six shots on goal including a great chance to win in OT, said up and down the line-up, everybody was giving their all.

"A lot of hunger," Backlund said. "Everybody wanted to have the puck, everybody wanted to do the dirty work and take the pucks to the net. We took the game over in the second and third."

Eventually, they got it back to even.

"It seemed like it was going to be a tough one. With two minutes left, you look up at the clock and you were down. That looked a lot like our team from last year tonight, that’s for sure.” said Giordano.



8. Resilience

Considering the way the season had gone, losing a game in which they finally deserved better would have been fitting.

"Definitely huge for the confidence," said Jooris "You wouldn't want to play that well and not get rewarded. That certainly could have been the case just the way the season has been going. It was nice that Colby was able to step up and get a big goal and Hills played a great game and we were able to cap it off in overtime."

It's to the Flames credit that they weren't content with a moral victory only and kept pushing.

"Very happy for the guys, they deserve it. We got spanked a few times but we never quit. We had two good days of practice and today they responded with a very good effort," said Hartley.

A home ice win after a franchise worst start, that's huge too.

"It was great to see the Scotiabank Saddledome rocking at the end there again. The fans were right behind us. That's such a great relationship," said Hartley. "We're going back home tonight happy. They're driving home happy. That's why we play this game."


Heading out on the Road

The win puts Calgary in a way different state of mind as they fly out this morning for New York City and a date with the Rangers on Sunday night. It begins a three-game road trip that also includes games against the Islanders and Senators.

"Especially with the long road trip, that would have been a long and quiet plane ride if we don't get this one," said Colborne.

Hiller figures Friday's game will serve as a big confidence booster.

"On the road, it won’t be easier but I think there’s a lot of hockey played in just a few days. With a game like tonight, going on the road definitely helps," said Hiller. "If we play like that every night we always have a chance to win and that’s what we need.”

 Backlund says it's about keeping the momentum going now.

"We're going to play some good teams, both New York teams and Ottawa are playing well so it's going to be tough. But coming in with a win feels a lot better than going out on the road with a loss," said Backlund.


Getting Back to Having Fun Again

More important than maybe anything is Calgary got back to having fun again.

"We have a great team spirit. I don't know how many times last year I said that we're fortunate to coach those guys. They're together, they're very united," said Hartley. "It was a great feeling. Hills gave a couple of good saves and guys were talking on the bench. Then, when we scored that winning goal, guys were jumping on the bench. It was great to see some smiles at that point. We were on a mission."

The mission continues at Madison Square Garden where they'll try for a couple firsts. They've yet to win multiple games in a row and are still seeking their first regulation win.

"That was Calgary Flames hockey right there. That's what we were so proud of and what we spent a year-and-a-half to two years building towards. That's our team, right there," Colborne said.

Last season, that win in LA before Christmas was arguably the most important game of the season for Calgary as it turned the Flames season around. In six months time, will Friday's victory be looked back on in the same way? That's up to the Flames to determine but following it up with a good road trip would go a long way in helping that be the case.



By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.

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2 comments:

  1. Gio being Gio - giving everyone else the credit... thats what makes him a good Captain

    Enjoyed the read

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. Despite the slow start to the season, he's a helluva player and fans need not be concerned. Once Brodie gets back and they're reunited, which I expect will happen, then watch him go.

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