What’s the opposite of winning ugly?
Whatever you call it, this was it.
After stringing together several victories without their best stuff, the Calgary Flames proved Sunday that they were listening to those warnings from their head coach, delivering a much more complete effort in a 7-1 rout of the Arizona Coyotes at the Saddledome.
The Western Conference-leading Flames have now won five in a row and own a superb 8-1-1 mark in their past 10 dates, but this one seemed a bit different.
A bit of, ‘That’s more like it.’
“It’s big,” said Flames alternate captain Sean Monahan. “When you come into games where you’re not setting the tones in your own building, those games are frustrating. We were still winning them, but it’s not as good a feeling after. You want to earn your wins and feel good about your game.
“I think tonight was a big step forward. We have to continue to build with that.”
Flames bench boss Bill Peters had been stressing the importance of “starting on time.”
His posse was paying attention.
On this night, the Flames’ first period was much better.
It was past the midway mark of the opening stanza before the Coyotes even mustered a shot on net.
By the intermission, the hosts were up 2-0.
Forget winning ugly.
They were en route to winning big.
They were also en route to equalling the franchise record for their fastest surge to 30 wins in a season. They needed just 47 games to reach that mark, the same clip as the 1988-89 Flames. (That, as you may recall, turned out to be a special group.)
“It was really good, because we didn’t feel like we had played our game much over the past three or four,” said Flames captain Mark Giordano. “Tonight, I still thought there were some moments where we weren’t very good. But for the most part, we played our game, we were aggressive and got a really good result.”
Giordano and Matthew Tkachuk each potted a pair in Sunday’s shellacking, while Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau connected on a couple of others.
Each one of those guys also enjoyed multi-point outings against the Coyotes, joined in that club by Mikael Backlund, TJ Brodie and Michael Frolik.
In his 800th career game at hockey’s highest level, Giordano delivered a monster stat line — those two tallies, one assist and a plus-5 rating.
“When you’re playing in a milestone game, you want to win it, first and foremost,” Peters said. “And when you win it and end up plus-5 and three points, that’s something you can tell your kids. And then they’re going to look it up and they’ll go, ‘Hey, he wasn’t lying.’ So good for him.”
It was also a memorable evening for Flames call-up Andrew Mangiapane, who helped the locals claim an early lead with his first career counting at the big-league level.
With just over three minutes remaining in the first, the 22-year-old left-winger forced the Coyotes to cough up the puck in the neutral zone and raced into enemy territory to start a double drop pass — Mangiapane to linemate Derek Ryan, then Ryan to Giordano. The captain handled the rest, ripping a short-side wrister.
Just 68 seconds later, the Flames had doubled their lead thanks to a familiar combination —Gaudreau with the setup, Monahan with the snipe.
Gaudreau had moments earlier tried to force a pass through to his BFF on a three-on-two rush and with suggestions of ‘Shoooooot!’ still echoing in the Saddledome, he set up shop behind the net and teed up Monahan for a one-timer from the doorstep.
After Tkachuk’s first of the night, the Flames’ dynamic duo switched roles. For their next lamp-lighting, Monahan retrieved a rebound at the edge of the crease and passed through the blue paint to Gaudreau for a gimme.
The visitors put some ink on the scoresheet late in the second, but the Flames really turned Sunday’s meeting into a landslide in the final frame.
Tkachuk scored his second of the night on a redirect, Giordano cranked a slapper just inside the post and Sam Bennett continued to add to the misery for Calgary-raised netminder Adin Hill, a graduate of the Midget-AAA Buffaloes and the AJHL’s Canucks.
Now relegated to backup duties after an all-star nod last winter, Mike Smith was sharp in a 22-save showing in the home crease. The 36-year-old was fooled only by Jordan Oesterle, who tallied through traffic on the power play.
“I thought he was great,” Giordano said of Smith, who improves to 13-9-1. “The score sort of takes a little bit away from his performance … He made some timely saves.”
The Flames are back in action Wednesday, when they welcome Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner and the Buffalo Sabres to the Saddledome (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet One/Sportsnet 960 The Fan).
The initial symptoms seemed innocent enough.
“I woke up that morning feeling not-so-good, almost like I slept funny on my arm,” recalled Calgary Flames defenceman Michael Stone. “We did the pre-game skate, and I could hardly shoot. I mean, it hurt, but nothing that was a big red flag or anything like that. But I worked out later, and my arm got really swollen and kind of purple-y.
“So we went the next morning, and that’s when they found the clot.”
That was back in late November, and Stone has been sidelined by that blood clot ever since.
On Sunday, with his former team — the Arizona Coyotes — in town to clash with his current crew, the 28-year-old rearguard missed his 25th consecutive contest on injured reserve.
“It’s been hard, especially to have it in the middle of the season,” Stone acknowledged. “For the first little bit, I didn’t feel normal. But now, I’ve been feeling normal for quite a while.
“So it’s been difficult. But what has helped is at least I can skate. If wasn’t skating and I was just sitting around, I think that would have been worse.”
There is still no timetable for Stone’s return to action … or even to practice with his pals.
Because he is still on blood thinners, he simply can’t risk being clipped by a stick or a puck or anything else that might open him up.
Stone is slated for another checkup this week. As he summed up, “It’s a waiting game for me. It really is.”
Until that blood clot is gone, he’ll be skating separately with Juuso Valimaki — the rookie is recovering from a high-ankle sprain — and watching his Pacific Division-leading team from either the press box at the Saddledome or from the comfort of his couch when they’re on the road.
“I watch the games just like you watch the games — I see that we haven’t played our best hockey recently, but we find ways to win,” Stone said prior to Sunday’s battle between the Flames and Coyotes. “For me, I’ve been up in the press box and I’ll see things are maybe not going well, but then we turn it around and it’s like, ‘Yeah, we’re coming now. We’re going to win this hockey game.’ That’s how every game feels.
“So it’s been fun. It would be a lot more fun if I was a part of it, but … ”
While he waits for the all-clear from doctors, Stone was able to enjoy some bonus time with his wife and kids over the holidays and has been busy with the Flames’ skating instructor and also working on the sort of development drills that you can’t often squeeze in during the grind of the 82-game slate.
Although No. 26 was operating as Calgary’s seventh defenceman before the blood clot was discovered, a could-be contender can never have too much blue-line depth — especially of the veteran variety — as the playoffs near.
“Hopefully, I come back and I can contribute and be a part of it,” Stone said. “Hopefully the work that I’ve put in skating-wise and skills-wise and stuff like that, you can see some of the benefits of it. That’s the goal.
“Hopefully, at the end of the day, it works out.”
AROUND THE BOARDS
“A long time coming, but it definitely felt good.” That was how Flames left-winger Andrew Mangiapane described his first scoresheet mention at the NHL level — an assist on Mark Giordano’s opening strike against the Coyotes. Mangiapane, who was without a point in 18 big-league auditions, was sporting the Calgary Police Service cowboy hat after the win … It was another milestone night for Calgary’s captain, Giordano, who hit the 800-game plateau in the date with the Desert Dogs. The 35-year-old is one of just four guys to log that many appearances in the Flaming C — fellow defencemen Al MacInnis (803 GP) and Robyn Regehr (826 GP) and iconic right-winger Jarome Iginla (1,219 GP) are the others. “I just try not to take it for granted,” Giordano said after Sunday’s morning skate. “I want to play for a long time still. I have a lot of years left, in my mind, and I want to keep playing, keep staying fresh” … Flames defenceman Travis Hamonic was a surprise scratch against the Coyotes due to a family illness … Down on the farm, Stockton Heat winger Buddy Robinson has stretched his personal point spree to 10 straight games. The 27-year-old Robinson, a longtime friend and former high school teammate of Flames’ all-star Johnny Gaudreau, was called up to Calgary shortly before the Christmas break but didn’t get in the lineup.
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