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The Flames get back in the win column with impressive victory, as David Rittich stands tall against top-ranked Toronto

by TY PILSON @typilson /

The message has remained crystal clear, repeated often by the coach and players in recent days.

Looking to get back in the win column, it wasn't a matter of one, or two or even a handful of players getting their games back on track - it was going to have to be a team effort for the Flames to start playing up to expectations.

They way they knew they could play.

The way they expected themselves to play.


Video: CGY@TOR: Rittich shuts down Maple Leafs for shutout


Against the top team in the league, that featured two of the hottest players right now in Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, and boasted the NHL's top-ranked powerplay, they did just that.

Rebounding from a 7-1 loss to the Oilers Saturday night, the Flames played one of their most complete games of the season in a 3-0 victory over the Maple Leafs in Toronto Monday night in the second game of this season-long six-game road trip.

And while there was no arguing it was a team effort from top to bottom, there was one guy who deserved some extra kudos: Big Save Dave.

David Rittich had an absolutely stellar performance between the pipes, getting a shutout with 34 saves in his fourth start of the season. 

The Flames announced Jacob Markstrom was sidelined with an upper-body injury earlier in the day, so Rittich was backed-up by Artyom Zagidulin, dubbed Big Snag Zag down with the Stockton Heat last season.

Matthew Tkachuk also had a standout night, scoring his 100th career goal.

The penalty-killers, as a group, were superb, styming the No.-1 man-up unit on seven chances, including 1:36 of 5-on-3 time for Toronto in the second period.

The Flames finished 2-for-5 on the powerplay. They also out-hit Toronto 24-15.

For the first time in six games, Calgary got on the board first when Sam Bennett opened the scoring just 3:55 in.

Sean Monahan - who returned to the lineup after missing two games - rimmed a puck around the boards from down low up to Rasmus Andersson, who stepped into a slapshot that squeaked between the legs of Michael Hutchinson, Bennett lunging to put it home.


Video: CGY@TOR: Bennett puts home loose puck to open scoring


The Flames led 5-1 in shots after that and 14-9 after the opening 20 minutes.

That stat was important for two reasons:

1. The team wanted to have good start and play 'on their toes';

2. The Leafs had two powerplays in the first period. Coming into the night they were clicking at an incredible 37.5% when a man up, tops in the league. The Flames held their shots - and chances - in check.

The Flames did a good job tipping passes wide and blocking shots and when there was a good chance, Rittich stood tall. His best stop came after a Toronto shot rang off the post and dropped into the blue paint, the Flames netminder getting his stick on an open-net chance by John Tavares.


Video: CGY@TOR: Rittich reaches back with the stick for save


The Flames started the second period with 1:35 of powerplay time, Rittich making a fantastic left-pad save on a short-handed chance by Ilya Mikheyev, who took a feed from Jimmy Vesey and cut in alone across the crease with speed off the rush. 

Mikael Backlund had the best opportunity for the visitors on the advantage, Hutchinson getting a piece of his shot with his blocker to deflect it wide.

Tkachuk's timely tip of Mark Giordano's point shot to make it 2-0 was vintage No. 19, standing in front of the net with his eyes up and stick ready - as he does after most Flames practices when he works on the skill. 


Video: CGY@TOR: Tkachuk deflects shot for PPG in 2nd


It was also an important tally in the history of the Tkachuk family.


Tweet from @PR_NHL: Matthew Tkachuk (23 years, 73 days) became the youngest member of his family at the time of his 100th career goal, eclipsing his father Keith (23 years, 213 days) who reached the mark with the original Jets on Oct. 27, 1995. #NHLStats


Then came the long 5-on-3 for Toronto, Johnny Gaudreau sent off for tripping and then 24 seconds later, Elias Lindholm sitting down beside him for a trip on Mitch Marner.

Yet again, though, the PK and Rittich were up to the challenge, the latter making a great toe save on Nylander as perhaps the best crack for Toronto.

Monahan scored his third of the season at 3:26 of the third period, first getting the puck in the high slot and taking a shot, then following up to chip in the rebound with his backhand into the net after Tkachuk had a crack on his initial rebound.


Video: CGY@TOR: Monahan cleans up loose puck for PPG in 3rd


The Leafs got another powerplay late and pulled Hutchinson for more than a minute of 6-on-4 but the Flames held the fort. 


Tweet from @NHLFlames: THESE TWO!



Monahan on victory:

"It's one we needed. We've had a lot of time to talk about it, but I thought we played well as a team tonight, Ritter played well, our PK was big and we played well at important times in the game."


Video: "It's one we needed"


More Mony:

"You need that every night. We have a good team and we can't be taking nights off. It's a shortened season and we know what's at stake."


Tkachuk on staying focused:

"At the end of the day, in the standings, all it is in two points. It's not like we got 10 from this game. We still have some ground to make up. We know they're going to come hard next game. No one likes getting shut out, especially in their own building."  


Video: "Great team win"


Rittich on the night:

"Obviously it was a confidence booster, for sure. We had a couple tough starts when we give up a couple goals, but we were talking in the locker-room, we've got to change it up, and I'm really glad we changed it today when I'm in the net." 


Video: "Obviously it was a confidence booster, for sure"


Head coach Geoff Ward:

"We're not reading too much into it. It's one game and we've got to get ourselves moving forward here and springboard it into something else. We're happy with the game tonight, but we've still got a lot of work to do. ... It's an opportunity for a good starting point, and let's hope that's how it goes."


Video: "I thought it was good response"




Tweet from @NHLFlames: Your @Schneiders starters in Toronto!


*To start the game


Johnny Gaudreau - Sean Monahan - Sam Bennett

Matthew Tkachuk - Elias Lindholm - Andrew Mangiapane

Milan Lucic - Mikael Backlund - Dillon Dube

Joakim Nordstrom - Glenn Gawdin - Josh Leivo



Mark Giordano - Rasmus Andersson

Noah Hanifin - Christopher Tanev

Juuso Valimaki - Oliver Kylington



David Rittich - starter

Artyom Zagidulin



These two clubs meet again Wednesday in Toronto (5 p.m., TV: Sportsnet; Radio: Sportsnet 960 The FAN), then it's three straight in Ottawa against the Sens (Feb. 25, 27 and March 1).

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