It is probably not a coincidence that when Calgary Flames defencemen started scoring, the team’s fortunes started to turn.
Going back to the Flames’ first nine games of the season, their d-corps had only scored twice. The team was 2-7-1 at the time.
In their eight games so far in November? The Flames have eight goals from their blueliners. They’ve gone 4-2-2 in that stretch.
The uptick in production coinciding with an improvement in results have to be connected, right?
“It’s huge. It’s something we’ve gotta do and as of late we’ve been doing a better job of getting in the rush and, in the offensive zone, moving around,” said Flames defenceman Noah Hanifin. “We have all mobile guys back there who can create offence and that’s tough for teams to defend when we can get in there and make those types of plays.
“It’s definitely something our coaches are encouraging and wanting us to do.”
Over the past eight games, Hanifin and MacKenzie Weegar have both scored three times. Rasmus Andersson and Nikita Zadorov have pitched in with one apiece.
And right now, the Flames defencemen are accounting for 20.8 per cent of the team’s goals this season. Only four teams around the NHL are getting a higher percentage of their goals from blueliners.
That’s clearly a feature, not a bug, for these Flames. Last season, rearguards accounted for 19 per cent of the team’s goals, which was the second-highest percentage in the league.
“We want contributions from everyone, especially d-men and across all four lines, too,” Andersson said. “You need that from everyone in the lineup. We have a really good d-corps and we know we can chip in.”
The Flames have also gotten solid play from Nick DeSimone, who is earning more playing time by the day after being called up from the Calgary Wranglers. The longtime AHLer is making the most of his opportunity and has picked up four assists in seven games.
Maybe the defence putting up points isn’t the only reason the Flames have turned it around. It’s definitely been a boost, though.
“I think everybody’s done a great job finding the late D-man and I think a lot of the D are contributing as well,” said Weegar, who has already matched his goal total of four from last season in only 17 games. “I just think we have a great back-end and when we jump in the rush everybody’s kind of showing we can be a great offensive team.”
Captain’s orders: ‘End the noise’ and avoid distractions
During Saturday evening’s broadcast of the Flames’ 5-4 shootout loss to the New York Islanders, Sportsnet insider Elliotte Friedman spoke about how Calgary captain Mikael Backlund had addressed his teammates and said they needed to ‘end the noise’ that’s surrounding the team.
There have been trade requests, reports of players wanting out if a rebuild is initiated and various other bits of rumour and innuendo about off-ice issues.
On Sunday, Backlund spoke about the report and credited head coach Ryan Huska with how he had approached the issue.
“I talked to one or two guys and then I talked to Husk, and Husk addressed everything in the room, in front of everyone,” Backlund said. “I thought it was important. Me and Husk discussed it and we felt that him speaking in front of the whole team was going to be enough. He said some good things and after that, we just turned the page. Everyone knows what had happened, and now we’re just focused on playing games and keeping the distractions out.”
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Pass to Martin Pospisil ‘definitely intentional’
If there was any debate about whether Nazem Kadri intended on firing the puck off the boards for a bank pass to Martin Pospisil on the Flames’ first goal Saturday night, the veteran centre clarified on Sunday afternoon.
Yes, it was definitely intentional.
He was going for the bank pass.
He might not have actually yelled ‘Bank!’ the way NBA players do when they fire up a shot that’s meant to go in off the backboard, but he might as well have.
“On that particular play, I didn’t verbally say ‘bank’. I was thinking it in my head the whole time, though, so I suppose I did call ‘bank’ and that was definitely intentional,” Kadri said from the Saddledome. “Sometimes you’ve got to get creative out there.”
The pass sprung Pospisil for a breakaway and the rookie winger finished it off with a beautiful, patient move before burying the puck in the back of the net. It was probably the nicest goal the Flames have scored all season and is definitely worth checking out if fans missed it.
Kadri’s pass and Pospisil’s finish will definitely be what gets talked about the most, but keep an eye on the little one-touch flick pass that Connor Zary makes to Kadri to start the play.
“It starts in the d-zone, that’s what I love most about that goal,” Kadri said. “We started from below our goal-line and executed perfectly on the breakout and it led to a breakaway and a scoring chance and a big goal for us and it’s nice to see we can play that 200-foot game.”
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