Post-Game: Moral Victories

Ryan Pike
October 03 2013 08:51PM

 

 

The Calgary Flames began the long road back to relevance tonight in Washington, D.C., with a game in the Verizon Center against the Washington Capitals. With a roster featuring the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green, the Capitals were heavy favourites going into their home-opener.
 
However, in a game they were expected to get trounced in, the Flames provided a preview of how they may tackle things this season.

THE RUNDOWN

In enemy territory, the Flames kept things rather simple in the first period. They moved their feet and beat the Capitals to a lot of loose pucks. They back-checked. They fore-checked. They even got into a fight.
 
The result after 20 minutes was a 3-0 lead. For the Flames.
 
David Jones opened the scoring by rifling a shot from the right wing over Braden Holtby's shoulder. The play was created by Sean Monahan, who got his first career NHL assist on the goal, pressuring the puck-carrier and causing a turn-over.
 
Kris Russell and Alex Ovechkin got into a shoving and chopping match in the Flames zone later in the period. Both got coincidental minors. On the ensuing 4-on-4 play, the Flames quartet of Brodie, Giordano, Stempniak and Backlund cycled the puck around well, beating out the Capitals defenders on at least three occasions. On one such instance, Stempniak rimmed the puck around, headed to the net and potted home a rebound off of a Mark Giordano shot to give the Flames a 2-0 lead.
 
Later on, Brian McGrattan drew a penalty in the offensive zone. On the ensuing power-play, the Capitals collapsed down low. Brodie and Giordano passed it back and forth, allowing Jiri Hudler to position himself in a shooting lane. Combine that with a nice Mikael Backlund screen and, voila, against all odds the Flames lead 3-0. Braden Holtby's game ended here.
 
The Capitals came out full of piss and vinegar in the second, moving their feet a lot better and executing plays. Outside of a five-minute span, though, the Flames kept beating them to loose pucks. The difference between the first and second was the Flames making a few mistakes here and there.
 
After a power-play, the Flames executed a sloppy line change, allowing young Tyler Carrick to step out of the penalty box and score on a breakaway to cut the lead to 3-1. However, that goal was quickly met by another Flames marker, with Ben Street sacrificing his body to chip the puck behind the Washington net, Michael Neuvirth mis-playing it and Brian McGrattan finding Lance Bouma for a one-timer goal to make it 4-1. (Bouma also had a fight in the first period.)
 
However, after that, the story of the game was the Capitals power-play and Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin added two second period goals – both of them one-timers, one of them on the power-play – to cut the Flames lead to 4-3. One of the goals was a weird tip off Jiri Hudler's stick off of a face-off loss, the other was on a PP caused by a David Jones high-stick.
 
The Flames survived the second and generally carried the play throughout much of the third period. They had a couple penalty kills, though. While Matt Stajan got a weird penalty for knocking Karl Alzner's stick out of Alzner's one hand (he had one hand on the stick, which seems like it's baiting that call), the Flames killed the penalty off rather well. However, T.J. Galiardi took a penalty for essentially shoving Neuvirth in the face in front of the net, and Nicklas Backstrom scored the second Capitals PP goal of the game to tie things at 4-4.
 
Overtime solved nothing, despite the Flames playing well and carrying 95% of the play. We went to the home-run derby, er, shootout, where Sven Baertschi and Jiri Hudler failed to score, while Ovechkin and Mikhail Grabovski scored for the Capitals.
 
But hey, at least the Flames got a point.

WHY THE FLAMES LOST

First and foremost, the Capitals are a more talented hockey team. Their power-play is insanely good and scored twice, and the Flames should actually get credit for killing off the single penalty they did, as that was the difference between zero points and a single point.
 
The Capitals also destroyed the Flames in the face-off circle. Calgary won 29 of 75 face-offs for 39% on the night. They were at 29% on the PP and 43% on the PK. That's awful, especially that PP number, which is why the Flames only scored once on their five power-plays.
 
However, the Flames generally out-worked the Capitals. They were constantly fore-checking and back-checking, and their four goals were all caused – either entirely or in part via penalties – caused by them out-working the Capitals and causing the Caps to make mistakes. The fact that the Flames fourth line (Street-Bouma-McGrattan) produced offense and drew a penalty is a great sign, as well.

RED WARRIOR

There are a few candidates, but I went with Lee Stempniak. Stempniak scored a goal, played over 20 minutes and led the Flames with 8 shots on goal. He was generally the best guy on the Flames' top line tonight and was always noticeable on the ice.
 
Honourable mention to Mark Giordano (with two assists) and Lance Bouma (with a goal and a fight).

SCORING CHANCES

# Player EV     PP     SH    
4 RUSSELL, KRIS 14:45 4 5 04:57 1 1 00:00 0 0
5 GIORDANO, MARK 21:40 7 6 02:56 1 0 02:18 0 1
6 WIDEMAN, DENNIS 19:54 6 7 05:52 1 1 00:38 0 1
7 BRODIE, TJ 20:47 7 6 03:24 1 0 02:18 0 1
11 BACKLUND, MIKAEL 14:10 4 5 04:58 0 1 01:14 0 0
16 MCGRATTAN, BRIAN 04:08 3 1 00:00 0 0 00:00 0 0
17 BOUMA, LANCE 06:35 5 1 00:00 0 0 00:09 0 0
18 STAJAN, MATT 19:11 6 5 02:28 1 0 00:44 0 1
20 GLENCROSS, CURTIS 18:00 8 6 03:07 2 0 01:45 0 2
22 STEMPNIAK, LEE 17:01 6 5 03:00 2 0 00:09 0 0
23 MONAHAN, SEAN 11:39 1 6 00:01 0 0 00:00 0 0
24 HUDLER, JIRI 14:31 5 7 05:25 1 1 00:00 0 0
31 RAMO, KARRI   17 19   2 1   0 2
38 STREET, BEN 07:34 4 2 01:10 0 0 00:49 0 1
39 GALIARDI, TJ 16:09 4 7 00:01 0 0 01:02 0 0
44 BUTLER, CHRIS 16:50 6 8 00:01 0 0 00:38 0 1
47 BAERTSCHI, SVEN 11:23 2 5 00:01 0 0 00:00 0 0
54 JONES, DAVID 12:58 1 6 05:34 0 1 00:00 0 0
55 O'BRIEN, SHANE 13:10 4 6 00:00 0 0 00:00 0 0

 

Period Totals EV PP 5v3 PP SH 5v3 SH
1 8 8 8 8 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2 3 8 2 7 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
3 8 6 7 4 0 0 1 0 0 2 0 0

Flames Chances

Caps Chances

SUM IT UP

The Flames opened the season on the road against a team they usually are awful against. Instead of laying down and accepting defeat, they fought and scraped and generally out-worked their more talented opposition. Their reward for their efforts was a shoot-out loss, but also likely a feeling that Bob Hartley's system might actually work.
 
There aren't a lot of teams in the NHL that are as talented as the Capitals, after all.
 
The Flames (0-0-1) take their point and hop into a plane, as they fly to Columbus tonight. They visit the Columbus Blue Jackets tomorrow at Nationwide Arena in the Jackets' first game of the season. Game-time is 5pm MT and you can catch the game on the radio on Sportsnet 960 The Fan, on TV via Sportsnet West, and get all kinds of coverage online from this site right here.
 
One game down, 81 to go.

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Now in his third full season covering the Calgary Flames and the NHL, Ryan Pike is a Calgary native and FlamesNation's managing editor. He's trying to keep his head up, his stick on the ice and is giving it 110% every shift. You can also find his work at The Hockey Writers, the Wrestling Observer and Tough Talk MMA.
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#51 CDB
October 04 2013, 01:26PM
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Scoring chances really painted Russell in a favorable light compared to actual play. Funny how watching a game can really dampen some offseason optimism. I only really watched him when he had the puck in St Louis and CBJ.

Now the cost of a 5th round pick makes a lot more sense!

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#52 Kent Wilson
October 04 2013, 01:29PM
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@CDB

I didn't like Russell either. The Caps targeted him a bit and he looked completely over his head whenever they got their first line out there against him.

Course, ideally he's a guy who should be on the 3rd pairing, but oh well.

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#53 CDB
October 04 2013, 01:51PM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

I didn't like Russell either. The Caps targeted him a bit and he looked completely over his head whenever they got their first line out there against him.

Course, ideally he's a guy who should be on the 3rd pairing, but oh well.

Agreed Kent. He was definitely targeted as a matchup opportunity for the Caps top line and unfortunately was exposed. No sure if Ovechkin was actively seeking him out when Oates had him on the ice with Russell or if it was a result of Russell manning the LD spot which meant a lot of one on one time with Ovie as a RW. It did not turn out well regardless. Though, as you say he should be a 5th or 6th D man and not a 4th.

He was an acquisition I thought where value may exceed the cost it took to acquire (and still might, one game isn't a sample size), and I say this despite the fact I was well aware he has always posted middling possession and advanced stat numbers. I see a player who was so dominant in junior, who skates so well. Though small I am surprised how poor he is defensively (despite being mareketed as a guy Hitchcock has had an affinity for). My biggest surprise was how poor of "a stick" (ability to direct attacking players to where he wants, and knock away pucks / passes) he displayed. His poor play was not generally a result of his stature and being outmuscled, but at area where small D man generally must be adept at in order to survive.

Be interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out for him. One game against a strong Caps team with a lot of mathcups against Ovechkin is pretty tough. But early returns show the Flames probably paid fair price.

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#54 CDB
October 04 2013, 03:08PM
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Baalzamon wrote:

A little perspective people: Even a legitimate #4 defenseman would have been eviscerated in that matchup. Ovechkin and Backstrom frequently make top two defenders look stupid.

Was Russell over his head? yes. But if he hadn't looked horrible when ambushed by the most recent Rocket Richard trophy winner, he would never have been traded from St Louis.

I never claimed he was supposed to shut Ovechkin down (not sure where Backstrom came from), just commented that he was feasted on, as everyone saw, and that he may have been especially targeted.

Apparently I didnt make it clear enough what I originally intended to allude to, and this is that it makes sense after watching him, he only cost a 5th from St Louis. Had always thought reasonably highly of him, despite his numbers, though watching him more intently reinforces he probably is what he has been in his career, a 5th or 6th who needs to be sheltered.

The surprising, and possibly concerning part is that it he wasnt exposed for his lack of size or strength, but toe dragging and backing him in when skating (and I had thought a quality stick) is his strength. Context of the matchup and circumstance are important though, I just expected a bit more from him.

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#55 everton fc
October 04 2013, 03:45PM
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CDB wrote:

I never claimed he was supposed to shut Ovechkin down (not sure where Backstrom came from), just commented that he was feasted on, as everyone saw, and that he may have been especially targeted.

Apparently I didnt make it clear enough what I originally intended to allude to, and this is that it makes sense after watching him, he only cost a 5th from St Louis. Had always thought reasonably highly of him, despite his numbers, though watching him more intently reinforces he probably is what he has been in his career, a 5th or 6th who needs to be sheltered.

The surprising, and possibly concerning part is that it he wasnt exposed for his lack of size or strength, but toe dragging and backing him in when skating (and I had thought a quality stick) is his strength. Context of the matchup and circumstance are important though, I just expected a bit more from him.

Russell's "smallish". Wasn't he billed as an "offencive" defenceman with good wheels when he came out of junior? He has not become the same, in the NHL.

He was +3 on a below average Jackets squad a few years ago. I am assuming he might have been on the PP. Regardless, he's a 5/6 d-man. Having a good #4 d-man would be a good move for this club.

How did O'Brien and Butler look?

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#56 Baalzamon
October 04 2013, 04:02PM
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@everton fc

"How did O'Brien and Butler look?"

The scoring chance numbers flatter them.

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#57 kittensandcookies
October 04 2013, 05:18PM
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@coachedpotatoe

Ramo is what he was before - limited side to side mobility, tends to go down early.

I doubt the vets play more - if anything, they play the way have in previous years (i.e. badly). The kids seem to have a better grasp on Hartley's system.

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#58 MC Hockey
October 04 2013, 07:31PM
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MonsterPod wrote:

I love McGrattan. I agree, I think he sees the writing on the wall, that the staged fights are on the way out and he wants to stick around. They said he came into training camp ripped. I also agree that Jackman is probably expendable, if only because he's not as good a fighter. But he has been an all heart guy for us for years, so it makes me sad.

Now we just need to make him funnier...change his name to McCracken....and first name to Bracken! Can you imagine Bracken McCracken with the big right?

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#59 SlapSchtick
October 05 2013, 02:14AM
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"However, in a game they were expected to get trounced in, the Flames provided a preview of how they may tackle things this season" So playing teams back up goalies all season is how the Flames are going to 'tackle' things this year? Guess what? Every team in the league looks at games against Calgary as games they can take it easy in... and I'm not implying that is the opposing teams outright strategy, but when you are playing the worst team in the league, it's difficult to get motivated... even at the NHL level. It's human nature, so please fans, don't go jumping on the playoff bandwagon after one game in which the Flames had something to prove and their opposition didn't. And let's all refrain from propping up Monahan's play on the first goal simply for getting hit with a puck. Don't get me wrong, he doesn't look too out of place, but he's not a game changer yet, so let's abjure from building a statue of him after one game. I also love how in the pre-game article, Washington is labeled as a 1.1 line team, yet here they are (seemingly) the contenders in the east. The Flames lost a game where their opposition chose not to show up for a large portion of it... I see nothing too positive in that. But let's all get excited to watch teams play down to the Flames level all season, then we can compare the Flames best efforts to the other teams lackluster performances and (as we have for the last 8 seasons) overrate this mismanaged and delusion organization.

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