Flames getting big boost from short-handed scoring

Mikael Backlund, Blake Coleman net shorties in Monday’s victory over visiting Panthers

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No team has more short-handed goals on the 2023-24 NHL season than the Calgary Flames.

Eight’s been great for them, with more than half coming in a recent run.

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Included were a pair in Monday night’s big 3-1 win over the Florida Panthers at Scotiabank Saddledome.

“I think it’s a trend,” said Flames head coach Ryan Huska. “But within the game, when you get one, it is a momentum thing, for sure, because you hate giving them up on the power play.

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“But I think from game-to-game, it’s a trend or a phase right now.

“And we’ll take it, for sure.”

You bet, they will.

After all, the shorties have been a key part of their offence in the last seven games.

They’ve crafted five of them — three courtesy of Blake Coleman, and one each from Yegor Sharangovich and captain Mikael Backlund‚ in that span.

Just as Coleman’s was the game-winner back on Dec. 7 in a 3-2 edge of the visiting Carolina Hurricanes, it was Backlund’s short-handed tally that meant the difference in Monday’s decision at the Dome.

“Well … it didn’t work at first, because they scored (on the power play),” said the captain of his team’s night on the penalty-kill. “But in the third (period), we pressured them hard and made some turnovers, and that’s how we scored the goals.”

Indeed, Flames defenceman Noah Hanifin transitioned an errant Panthers pass by quickly feeding the puck up to the breaking Backlund for the winner just 3:31 into the final frame. In all alone, the captain froze Cats goaltender Anthony Stolarz with a forehand to backhand move and shelved a backhander on the play — his 17th all-time shorty to put him second all-time on the team behind Theo Fleury’s sensational 28.

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Then, it was Coleman with insurance on a 6-on-4 Panthers power play, hustling out to the point to pressure blue-liner Brandon Montour, who desperately tried to swat the puck past the Flames primo penalty-killer. The puck caromed off Coleman favourably into the neutral zone for him to collect it. And while racing towards an empty-net at the other end, Montour took the Flames winger down with a slash from behind, forcing referee Ghislain Hebert to award an automatic goal to Coleman.

“We’ve got some players who can skate well,” said Backlund of the short-handed situations — and goals. “You know … we’ve talked about it — you don’t cheat with chances. But if the play’s there, we go for it. If we can score some big goals, that’s big for the team.”

Coleman has been especially big on the scoresheet lately.

The veteran forward has four goals and eight points in last six games, with — of course — a trio of his counters coming with a man down.

“I guess we’re just opportunistic,” Coleman said. “There’s a responsibility to the PK that obviously you want to get the clears and you want to make sure you’re hard on the puck and things like that.

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“But when you have a talented killing partner — like I do (with Sharangovich), and then obviously Backs and (Elias) Lindholm have each other, and there’s (Andrew Mangiapane and Dillon Dubé) — and you have that common belief that when you get full possession, you can take off …”

And good things can happen.

“Understanding that power plays don’t want to be playing defence — that’s not what they’re out there to do — it can be a frustrating thing for them,” continued Coleman. “It’s something that I’ve always tried to round out my game with in this league, and it’s starting to come here in Calgary.”

It’s also come with what’s been a strong season of penalty-killing for the club.

Although they allowed the late first-period PP goal by Sam Reinhart on Monday night, the Flames turned back the Panthers on four other man-advantage situations to sit 10th best in the NHL with 82.0% efficiency.

That’s good solid hard work.

“Really good,” agreed Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom, who was the star on the night with 33 saves — many of the timely and spectacular variety — after returning to the net for the first time since fracturing a finger in early December.

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“The guys are blocking shots,” continued the backstop. “It was a little flipper on the first one that they scored on. But other than that, they didn’t get many shots through. All the guys did the right thing in sacrificing themselves.”

“Your penalty kill has to out-work the power play,” praised Flames head coach Ryan Huska. “And when you do that, you’re going to be more successful than not.”

But success in scoring goals while short-handed?

That’s a big boost that doesn’t often come like it has for the Flames this season.

“Honestly, I think it’s the way power plays are nowadays,” added Huska. “Often times, there’s a lot of motion. And almost every time, there’s one defenceman on the ice. And you get four guys deep a fair bit. So if there’s a missed net or a missed shot, I think our guys (can take it the other way).

“There’s a fine line between cheating and making smart plays, and I think for the most part, they’ve made smart decisions as to when to try to generate offence. But I think that’s a big reason why. If there’s a missed play and someone’s out of position somewhere, we’ve got guys who can skate and read the play well.”

LOOSE PUCKS

C Martin Pospisil netted the other Flames goal to open scoring Monday … D Chris Tanev also returned to the Flames lineup after missing a week with an upper-body injury … The Flames (13-14-5), now with two straight wins and points in each of the last four games, next play the host Anaheim Ducks (12-19-0) on Thursday night in Southern California (8 p.m., Sportsnet West) … They also challenge the host Los Angeles Kings (17-6-4) on the SoCal road-trip, playing Saturday (8 p.m.) to cap their schedule ahead of Christmas.

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