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WHALE OF A TIME

Flames record first W of the season, Gaudreau and Rittich leading them to a 3-0 victory over the Canucks at the Scotiabank Home-Opener

by TY PILSON @typilson / CalgaryFlames.com

Coaches will tell you, to win you need your best players to be your best players.

Simple enough strategy.

If your top guys are better than their top guys, more often that not, you skate away with two points.

Case in point Saturday night at the Scotiabank Home-Opener, where the Flames top line shone as their side got their first win of the season, blanking the visiting Canucks 3-0.

 

Video: Flames TV's Brendan Parker breaks down win

 

Johnny Gaudreau - coming off his 99-point campaign last season - set up both of his linemates, with Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm both tallying in the victory.

He then added an empty-netter with a 1:01 left for good measure.

David Rittich made 34 saves, standing tall when his team needed timely stops and earning first star of the game honours.

The Flames, of course, fell 5-3 on Thursday night in Denver to the Avs in their season-opener

The first 20 minutes of the tilt Saturday night was odd.

By that, I mean the Flames dominated on the ice but actually trailed in shots for much of the opening period.

Despite controlling the puck, the play and the tempo - finishing the period with a 54.1% Corsi rating that was as high as 69% at one point - it took a while to find the back of the net.

Coach Bill Peters wasn't happy with the six powerplays they gave to the Avs in the season-opener and said the team had to do a better job against the Canucks.

PK specialist Tobias Rieder drew into the lineup for a banged up Austin Czarnik, the upside being, said Peters, he could help on the kill when paired up with Derek Ryan.

Despite the focus on staying out of the bin, Elias Lindholm found himself seated there just 33 seconds in the game after being called for hooking on Quinn Hughes.

The Canucks didn't score on the man-up chance and the Flames actually had a few solid chances of their own, the best an early 2-on-1 where Mark Jankowski's cross-ice pass for Ryan was broken up before it could find its target.

Gaudreau had a great chance to open the scoring after TJ Brodie kept the puck in at the blueline, then fired it on net, No. 13 tipping it but Markstrom making the save.

Rittich made his best save of the period after Elias Pettersson passed the puck to former Flame Micheal Ferland, who was wide open at the top of the blue paint.

However, he couldn't stickhandle quick enough to get a good shot off as Rittich came out quick and made a stop.

Later, Oliver Kylington let a laser of a wrist-shot from the point that hit the post so hard it actually cleared the zone on the rebound out. 

Lindholm made up for his early penalty by scoring the first goal, the beneficiary of hard work by Gaudreau, who got his stick on a cross-ice pass attempt by Tyler Myers, the puck not making it to his D partner but instead falling in front of Lindholm as he swooped in and snapped it home with 13:50 gone in the frame.

 

Tweet from @NHLFlames: Worth other 👀#VANvsCGY | #Flames pic.twitter.com/sH3ltq33gH

 

Milan Lucic - who got one of the biggest cheers during the pre-game, home-opener ceremony player introductions - made his presence known early, playing physical and getting a few chances with the puck around the net. The crowd settled into the 'Looooooooccch' chant quickly every time he made a play, especially a hit.

Speaking of Looch, nice touch by him to give one of his sticks before the game to a young fan who brought a sign asking for one of his twigs. 

 

Tweet from @NHLFlames: We ������ Looch!#VANvsCGY | #Flames pic.twitter.com/lH4UY98xcc

 

The Flames picked up where they left off in the second period, coming out and hemming the Canucks in their zone and generating a few chances before Gaudreau snagged the puck behind the net and skated out towards the corner, feeding a perfect pass into the slot as Sean Monahan charged the net, snapping a low shot past Markstrom just 1:10 into the stanza.

Mark Giordano got the other apple. Just so happens he recorded his first NHL assist back on April 8, 2006 against Vancouver.

It was Monahan's second goal of the season. 

 

Tweet from @NHLFlames: Johnny to Mony = 🚨 It's science.#VANvsCGY | #Flames pic.twitter.com/mCQmJmLN0y

 

Tweet from @NHLFlames: One more angle 'cause 😍#VANvsCGY | #Flames pic.twitter.com/WAgBNFuNZA

 

Tweet from @NHLFlames: 🥰#VANvsCGY | #Flames pic.twitter.com/poT6fp2THc

 

Gaudreau - who had a goal and an assist against the Avs - went looking for his second of the campaign on a powerplay not long after, skating in all alone and stepping into a slapshot that that careened off the crossbar.

Trying to hold onto their two-goal lead, the Flames found themselves killing off 1:01 two-man advantage early in the third. Rittich made a couple of huge stops as they escaped the predicament with allowing a Canucks tally.

But just 3:45 later, Travis Hamonic was sent off for gholding Jay Beagle, putting the penalty-killers back to work.

Once again, Vancouver got zilch on the opportunity. Hamonic, on the other hand, got a partial breakaway attempt when he came out of the box, unable to beat Markstrom with a backhand.

Despite yanking their goalie with more than two minutes left, the Canucks couldn't solve Rittich.

 

THEY SAID IT

Gaudreau on his three-point night:

"It's great. You always want to get off to a good start. Not only individually, but as a team. We've found the net a couple times. Powerplay's been clicking. ... It was a good game tonight. … I think I could have found the net a couple more times. Same with Mony, same with Lindy. We had a ton of chances."

Monahan on play of top line:

"We're trying to focus on the little things in the game right now, and when we're doing that and playing the right way, that's when we generate the most looks. Right now it's going well, but there's still lots of room to improve."

Coach Bill Peters on Gaudreau:

"What is that? (Multiply) it by 41 - that's a pretty good pace. Unsustainable, but a helluva pace. The reality is, he's playing the right way. He turned one over late, kind of stopped and tried to make a lateral feed. Coming off the ice, he was disappointed in himself. That's what we want. We want people to know and to recognize situations to make the right play at the right time. 2-0 game, there are certain plays that don't need to be made. We'll learn from that. We're no different than the other 30 teams in the league. We've got 80 (games) left and there's lots of room for improvement and we'll get there."

Peters on time in the box:

"We took too many penalties. We took 10 minutes in penalties in Game 1, 10 again tonight. It's too much. There are three in a row and they shift the momentum of the game. We've got to get that dialled in and we will."

 

Read more in Say What: Top-Line Dominance

 

THE LINEUP:

Here were the forward lines and D pairs to start Thursday's game:

FORWARDS

Johnny Gaudreau - Sean Monahan - Elias Lindholm

Matthew Tkachuk - Mikael Backlund - Michael Frolik

Milan Lucic - Derek Ryan - Sam Bennett

Andrew Mangiapane - Mark Jankowski - Tobias Rieder

DEFENCE

Mark Giordano - TJ Brodie

Noah Hanifin - Travis Hamonic

Oliver Kylington - Rasmus Andersson

GOALTENDER

David Rittich

 

ONE-TIMERS:

The Flames are celebrating their 40th season in 2019-20. They donned their retro-red jersey last night and will do so in 14 more games this the season ... This is the first of four matchups this season between the Flames and Canucks. These two teams played each other five times a season ago with the Flames going 2-1-1-1 in the series ... Gaudreau (134G, 255A, 389PTS) passed Joe Mullen for the 14th most points in Flames franchise history with a goal and an assist in the season opener in Denver.
 

Tweet from @NHLFlames: We've always liked to play with fire 🔥#VANvsCGY | #Flames pic.twitter.com/gImmKtqD6S

 

UP NEXT:

The Flames are back in action Tuesday when they host the Vancouver Canucks (7 p.m. Sportsnet West / Sportsnet 960 THE FAN). Happy Hour specials available at the concessions from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. During Happy Hour, all FanAttic locations will be offering an additional 10% discount off all regular-priced items with other select items up to 50% off.  

Limited tickets remain and are available HERE.

After that, the club heads out on a three-game road swing playing the Stars on Thursday, the Golden Knights on Saturday and the Sharks on Sunday.

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