Post-Game: The Track Meet

Ryan Pike
January 28 2014 11:07PM

Tuesday night's contest was an opportunity on many fronts for the Calgary Flames. It was their chance to continue a string of solid efforts that pre-dates their current winning string. It was a chance to clinch the season series against the reigning Stanley Cup Champions from Chicago. It was also their chance to win three in a row for the first time all year, something they had failed to do three times previous.

It was also considered a potential measuring-stick game for the club, a chance to see how they stacked up against one of the most complete hockey clubs in the NHL. But sometimes things turn out a bit weirdly, and as a result, the Flames were engaged for two periods in a bit of a track meet.

Oh, and Reto Berra failed to get a regulation win for the 22nd time this season. That's gotta be some sort of record.

THE RUNDOWN

The Flames opened the score early, with the top line taking advantage of some shoddy neutral zone play by the Blackhawks and transitioning the puck into the Chicago zone. Mikael Backlund scored off a nice feed from Lee Stempniak. That lead didn't last long, though, as Kris Versteeg beat Matt Stajan and T.J. Brodie to a loose puck and fed Patrick Kane in front of the net to tie it up at one apiece.

Of course, that didn't last, as the Flames scored midway through the period, with a weird shot from the left wing by Lance Bouma hit Antti Raanta high and eluded him, trickling over him and into the net. That lead didn't last, with Jonathan Toews driving the net. Reto Berra made a nice save, then Patrick Sharp swiped at the loose rebound, hitting Marian Hossa's stick, which hit the puck and tied the game. Hossa got credit for the goal and Sharp didn't even get an assist. The game went into the intermission tied 2-2. Chicago led in shots (10-8) and shot attempts (26-13), but Calgary held the advantage at the face-off dot by a 12-8 margin.

The Flames pulled out to a nice advantage in the second period. First, Matt Stajan was set up by David Jones on a nice rush off a transition play, putting the Flames up 3-2. Later on, with Ben Street in the penalty box, the Flames again took advantage of a turnover, rushing up the ice on a short-handed 3-on-1 chance. Giordano fed Stempniak, who fed Backlund, who scored his second of the game (and 11th of the season). The Flames were up 4-2 and Antti Raanta's night was over after 4 goals on 15 shots./p>

But that didn't last.

First, an innocent-looking shot from Ben Smith from just inside the blueline beat Reto Berra glove-side to make it 3-2. Later on, with Johnny Oduya in the box, the Blackhawks scored on a short-handed opportunity. A 2-on-1 failed, but Berra flailed around looking for the rebound, with little help from his scrambling defense, and two shots later, it was all tied up du to a Marian Hossa goal (his second of the game). The second period shots were 14-10 Chicago, attempts were 25-17 Chicago, and face-offs were even at 10-10.

Karri Ramo came in for the third period and things seemed to calm the heck down. Both teams played more structured, although still a bit sloppily in all three zones. Nobody scored. We went to overtime, where the Flames pushed the pace and just 2:26 in, Lee Stempniak won a board battle and charged the neck. Amidst a bit of a scramble, T.J. Brodie potted his 4th of the year to send the fans home happy. Shots in the third and overtime were 11-9 Calgary, although Chicago had the edge in shot attempts (20-16) and face-offs (10-6).

WHY THE FLAMES WON (IN OT)

The Blackhawks didn't play especially well and the Flames took it to them quite a bit in the first two periods, taking advantage of their chances and generally pushing the pace. Reto Berra allowed a couple soft goals to keep things close. In the third, the Flames managed to rein the track meet in a little bit, calm things down and score an opportunistic goal in overtime to win.

Chicago played just bad enough to lose and Calgary played just well enough to win.

RED WARRIOR

Lots of contenders here – Lee Stempniak had three assists and T.J. Brodie had the game-winning goal – but I'm gonna go with FlamesNation darling Mikael Backlund. Good ol' number 11 had a pair of goals, both of them ones where he drove the net and played hard. He led the game in shots (with 5) and played over 20 minutes. Another strong effort in a string of them.

SUM IT UP

The Flames walk away from their season series with the Chicago Blackhawks, reigning Stanley Cup champs, with four of a possible six points. They sit 19-27-7 on the year, four points back of 27th-place Florida and five points up on 28th-place Edmonton with two games in hand.

They return to action on Thursday night, where they rematch with the San Jose Sharks, who beat them 3-2 in Calgary's last loss on January 20 at the Shark Tank.

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Ryan Pike is a Calgary native and FlamesNation's managing editor. He's covered the Flames and the NHL since 2010. His work can also be found at The Hockey Writers and The Wrestling Observer.
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#1 ianberg1
January 28 2014, 11:16PM
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The Flames win their season series with the Blackhawks. Yet its well within the realm of possibility that the Blackhawks win a 2014 playoff series against a team that swept the Flames this season. This game provided yet more evidence that Berra will never be the Flames #1 goalie.

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#2 ianberg1
January 28 2014, 11:16PM
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The Flames win their season series with the Blackhawks. Yet its well within the realm of possibility that the Blackhawks win a 2014 playoff series against a team that swept the Flames this season. This game provided yet more evidence that Berra will never be the Flames #1 goalie.

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#3 Jeff In Lethbridge
January 28 2014, 11:31PM
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its past time to swap out Bera for Ortio or whatever his name is on the farm.

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#4 loudogYYC
January 28 2014, 11:32PM
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Heck of a game! Brodie picked a great game to step up. He and Gio as a pair are good enough for any teams top 4. If we can trade Butler and acquire a top defensive pick with Stemp or Cammo this D core will be just fine for the next 4+ years.

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#5 lionlager
January 28 2014, 11:42PM
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What was that Bob Mckenzie said after the 2nd, that "there's no mistaking Backlund for a number 2 center on any other NHL team, but he's great tonight" or something to that effect. He's not Malkin, but I think Bob's not giving him enough credit.

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#6 SeanCharles
January 28 2014, 11:45PM
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Backlund, Brodie and Bouma have really flourished of late.

Having young guys like this makes it easier to like where things are headed...

This also speaks loudly against trading away prospects, especially high end guys who are struggling.

All three of those guys were drafted by us.

Our drafting sucked for along time but around the tail end of Sutter's reign it improved drastically.

We should hang on and properly develop our picks like we did these guys and add more names to the list of homegrown talent.

As evidenced by the Stajan re-signing and the O'Brien demotion it's clear Burke will do what needs to be done to ensure everyone earns what they are given. This will help strengthen our prospects work ethic and compete level and should result in more youngsters contributing on a regular basis is the near future.

It's exciting to see we look to be re-building the right way...

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#7 exsanguinator
January 28 2014, 11:49PM
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loudogYYC wrote:

Heck of a game! Brodie picked a great game to step up. He and Gio as a pair are good enough for any teams top 4. If we can trade Butler and acquire a top defensive pick with Stemp or Cammo this D core will be just fine for the next 4+ years.

Aside from the bottom 2 this D is pretty alright. When your points leader is Hudler, that is the problem. Goaltending may or may not be a problem with Ramo in net but imo it's too soon to tell.

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#8 Daves Waves
January 28 2014, 11:59PM
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a heck of a game! really noticed Mickis and Bouma out there. we have something special in Mickis here, and i'm glad to see that Burke and 'artley are also seeing that in him. overall, exciting hockey, fantastic game to witness live!

ps. I love you loudogYYC.

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#9 Stan
January 29 2014, 12:01AM
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exsanguinator wrote:

Aside from the bottom 2 this D is pretty alright. When your points leader is Hudler, that is the problem. Goaltending may or may not be a problem with Ramo in net but imo it's too soon to tell.

I agree - we could use more offense. That being said, I think if we can grab Ekblad in this draft then we need too. Imagine a future top 4 of brodie, gio, russell and ekblad. We would be set on defence for quite awhile. Then hopefully some of gaudreau, sven, klimchuk, poirier, knight, arnold, granlund, etc... can take their game to the next level and hopefully we can get a nice forward (cough mcdavid/eichel cough) in the following draft. I don't think we need to worry too too much about goalies, we have Ortio, Gillies, Roy in the pipeline and Ramo has been improving.

Anyways, its games like this, the one against Nashville and the one against St. Louis that give me hope for the future :)

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#10 calgary candle
January 29 2014, 12:18AM
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Was at the game tonight and was impressed by the Flames in general except for Berra who had a very weak night.

Jones was a force again. What the Flames hoped for in the trade may finally be showing up.

There does seem to be a viable core to build around -- Backs, Bouma, Gio, Russell, Money, Hudler, Stajan. Colborne is a project, but shouldn't be written off yet. GlenX should also contribute when back after the Olympics. Hopefully in a couple of years Gudreau and Poirier make an impact and Granlund and Knight solidify the team.

Ramo was solid in the third and has looked like an NHL goalie the last 7-8 games. Even against Nashville there was bad bounces on goalies 2 and 3.

I definitely feel hope!

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#11 loudogYYC
January 29 2014, 12:19AM
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Daves Waves wrote:

a heck of a game! really noticed Mickis and Bouma out there. we have something special in Mickis here, and i'm glad to see that Burke and 'artley are also seeing that in him. overall, exciting hockey, fantastic game to witness live!

ps. I love you loudogYYC.

Lol, glad you enjoyed it man. The Saddledome needed to see a game like that.

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#12 Nighteyes
January 29 2014, 01:01AM
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I really think Ramo should not be exempted from consideration as our starter when we are competitive. IMO, he shouldn't be frivolously thrown into trade deals for prospects. He's at a mature enough age for a goalie and has showed on numerous occasions he can win games behind a mediocre roster at best. And when he does get shelled, of course sometimes its his fault but more often its from bad defence. He has that Finnish icy-ness, technicality and composure that reminds me of a certain Kipper.

Oh and Backlund is a really good player. He might not be an elite or first liner centre on a competitive team, but saying his ceiling is in the bottom six would be blasphemy. His all around game is so valuable. Hope he stays a Flame for a long time. Long live FN worship of the Backs.

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#13 beloch
January 29 2014, 01:03AM
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SeanCharles wrote:

Backlund, Brodie and Bouma have really flourished of late.

Having young guys like this makes it easier to like where things are headed...

This also speaks loudly against trading away prospects, especially high end guys who are struggling.

All three of those guys were drafted by us.

Our drafting sucked for along time but around the tail end of Sutter's reign it improved drastically.

We should hang on and properly develop our picks like we did these guys and add more names to the list of homegrown talent.

As evidenced by the Stajan re-signing and the O'Brien demotion it's clear Burke will do what needs to be done to ensure everyone earns what they are given. This will help strengthen our prospects work ethic and compete level and should result in more youngsters contributing on a regular basis is the near future.

It's exciting to see we look to be re-building the right way...

Bouma was a 3rd round pick and Brodie was a 4th rounder! Bouma turning into a quality energy player is certainly a win, but Brodie turning into a top-pairing defender? That's freakin' miraculous!

All NHL teams have to make tough choices about which players to keep and which to let go. The majority of drafted players never make a big dent in the NHL and there simply aren't enough contract slots to keep every one of them around until they retire. Several players drafted by the Flames will be let go this summer to make room for new prospects. No matter how hopeless these guys look today, it's not impossible some of them will figure things out and make it into the NHL somewhere else. This is how things work.

It really is encouraging that some recent mid-to-late round picks have turned into quality players. That's a sign of good scouting and a good player development system, or at least some good luck. Identifying the people that made a difference in Brodie's career should be one of Burke's goals, since those are probably people you don't want to can.

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#14 Dave
January 29 2014, 07:23AM
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I just want to give some credit to Hartley. I think he's done a great job with this roster. Everyone was jumping on Hartley at the start of the year when he was challenging Backlund and making him earn his spot. It sure seems like his strategy is working.

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#15 Michael
January 29 2014, 07:29AM
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Pity we got the two points though, I would hate to see another late season rally that pushes us out of a top three pick. Maybe we should have left SOB on the squad to help us in the loss column.

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#16 the-wolf
January 29 2014, 07:53AM
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Dave wrote:

I just want to give some credit to Hartley. I think he's done a great job with this roster. Everyone was jumping on Hartley at the start of the year when he was challenging Backlund and making him earn his spot. It sure seems like his strategy is working.

Or.....there were a deries of injuries and Bob had no choice but to play him more and with better players and Backs played so well that BOb had no choice but to roll with it.

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#17 Lordmork
January 29 2014, 07:57AM
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That A looks great on Backlund. I really hope he can finish the season on a high note.

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#18 Baalzamon
January 29 2014, 08:43AM
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I just wanted to say that David Jones FINALLY had a good game. This is literally the first time this season I wasn't tearing my hair out every time he stepped on the ice.

It wasn't just that he made a few good plays (because a. did he ever? and b. he always does that) but because he didn't so consistently make horrific decisions. In fact, I can't remember a single one. Amazing.

Just feel he should get some recognition for that.

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#19 SeanCharles
January 29 2014, 08:50AM
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^I've never minded the idea of Jones as our 3rd line RW..

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#20 Justin Azevedo
January 29 2014, 09:15AM
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backlund is not playing any differently than he was at the beginning of the season. he is just getting more time on the ice. i'm not going to give hartley credit for recognizing that he should be playing a good player more than a bad one. that is literally the most basic function a hockey coach performs.

hartley has nothing to do with his success. backlund does well regardless of deployment.

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#21 Kent Wilson
January 29 2014, 09:26AM
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Im going to give Hartley credit for starting to sort out the deployment of the players though. He looked totally lost in November - elevating Colborne, benching Backlund and all sorts of nonsense - but he seems to have his bearings now.

If he could be cured of his goon-aphilia, I'd be pretty happy with his work.

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#22 seve927
January 29 2014, 09:43AM
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I like playing with Excel. It tells me things like this:

In games where Backs has played more than 18 minutes, he has averaged ~.8 pts/g and is +4 (playing for the 2013-14 Calgary Flames!). That's about a 65 point pace.

Not saying I think he's a 65 point guy, but even though he's only on pace for about 35 points this year, I think he's shown he should be at least a .5 pt/g guy, with realistic potential to score in the 50's.

Edit: That seemed a little high - my mistake, that should be about .7 and 55 points

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#23 the-wolf
January 29 2014, 09:54AM
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seve927 wrote:

I like playing with Excel. It tells me things like this:

In games where Backs has played more than 18 minutes, he has averaged ~.8 pts/g and is +4 (playing for the 2013-14 Calgary Flames!). That's about a 65 point pace.

Not saying I think he's a 65 point guy, but even though he's only on pace for about 35 points this year, I think he's shown he should be at least a .5 pt/g guy, with realistic potential to score in the 50's.

Edit: That seemed a little high - my mistake, that should be about .7 and 55 points

Backs is an elite 3C and a solid 2C with the right linemates.

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#24 the-wolf
January 29 2014, 09:59AM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

Im going to give Hartley credit for starting to sort out the deployment of the players though. He looked totally lost in November - elevating Colborne, benching Backlund and all sorts of nonsense - but he seems to have his bearings now.

If he could be cured of his goon-aphilia, I'd be pretty happy with his work.

The fact that Hartley had no choice but to increase Backs ice time due to injuries is a not a "checkmark" in his favor. Hartley is no more responsiblefor Backlund's game than Gilbert was for making Savard a superstar. One hears the same song and dance with Kadri, "thank goodness he was treated like dirt. That's why he's so good today."

Tough love has it's place and players need to earn what they get, but the stats show Backs has been doing that for at least 2 seasons prior.

In other words, if Backs had been demoted or benched now and again because he was invisible and now he was playingonsistent, I'd credit Hartley. But being started out behind Colborne and played on the 4th line was just poor decision-making, plain and simple. Backs usage only increased when the injuries started.

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#25 Colin.S
January 29 2014, 10:07AM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

Im going to give Hartley credit for starting to sort out the deployment of the players though. He looked totally lost in November - elevating Colborne, benching Backlund and all sorts of nonsense - but he seems to have his bearings now.

If he could be cured of his goon-aphilia, I'd be pretty happy with his work.

Couldn't agree more with the second thought. We do not under any circumstance need to play both McGratton AND Westgarth in any game together. They should play on a rotating basis.

Unless Byron was injured there is no reason either goon should kick him out of the lineup, he's been playing with a ton of energy and jump out there and isn't going to take half the penalties Westgarth does.

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#26 Dave
January 29 2014, 10:22AM
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@the-wolf

I disagree. I think that Backlund was playing inconstant to start the season, plus Hartley wanted to give colborne a legitimate chance to prove himself and you do that by giving him lots of time in all sorts of roles. I don't expect Hartly to make a judgment call on Colbourne after one or 2 games. The fact that he took a couple months to look at colborne and he is now playing on the wing in a 3rd/4th line role means that Hartley didn't jump to conclusions.

Same thing with Berra and Ramo, it's no coincidence that Ramo has been starting more, but each goalie was given legit time to show their stuff.

People are always talking about sample size here but are expecting the coach to look at a player and make a decision based off a game or a week (which is way too small of sample size). it seems that Hartley is taking the proper due diligence to evaluate his new players. I give him credit for that.

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#27 SeanCharles
January 29 2014, 10:36AM
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Kent Wilson wrote:

Im going to give Hartley credit for starting to sort out the deployment of the players though. He looked totally lost in November - elevating Colborne, benching Backlund and all sorts of nonsense - but he seems to have his bearings now.

If he could be cured of his goon-aphilia, I'd be pretty happy with his work.

In saying that do you not consider if he had not benched the players when they weren't playing well they would not be playing as well as they are now?

I was frustrated too but in retrospect I now know it was for the best for both the player and the organization.

Challenging players to be better, instead of catering to their egos, is going to help us rise up from the ashes much sooner than anticipated.

We can't spoon feed players when they are not performing.. As good as Backs has been all season he was struggling with confidence early on and I believe Hartleys 'tough love' tatics are a huge reason why he is currently thriving.

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#28 Nick24
January 29 2014, 10:41AM
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I've said it before and I'll say it again. Backlund is going to be a solid second line center in the NHL, and hopefully for the Flames. He has too much skill, and he is too good defensively.

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#29 the-wolf
January 29 2014, 11:09AM
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Dave wrote:

I disagree. I think that Backlund was playing inconstant to start the season, plus Hartley wanted to give colborne a legitimate chance to prove himself and you do that by giving him lots of time in all sorts of roles. I don't expect Hartly to make a judgment call on Colbourne after one or 2 games. The fact that he took a couple months to look at colborne and he is now playing on the wing in a 3rd/4th line role means that Hartley didn't jump to conclusions.

Same thing with Berra and Ramo, it's no coincidence that Ramo has been starting more, but each goalie was given legit time to show their stuff.

People are always talking about sample size here but are expecting the coach to look at a player and make a decision based off a game or a week (which is way too small of sample size). it seems that Hartley is taking the proper due diligence to evaluate his new players. I give him credit for that.

I can buy that, regarding Colborne and Berra.

But, it's a bit of a weird tact to take when the coach and GM and team as a whole has stated they want to win as much as possible, draft position be damned.

So I wonder if it was really Hartley's master plan or just favortism that didn't work out? I'll give him the benefit of the doubt to a degree in regards to showcasing guys, but I don't credit Hartley with Backs success.

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#30 the-wolf
January 29 2014, 11:14AM
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Nick24 wrote:

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Backlund is going to be a solid second line center in the NHL, and hopefully for the Flames. He has too much skill, and he is too good defensively.

Agreed.

IMO, Backs is vital to the rebuild. Yes, "VITAL." People constantly point out the Oilers' shortcomings and how they moved out vets, well, Backs is the perfect age to keep through the rebuild.

Plus, I don't think the team gets equal value back for him in a trade. I think he still has untapped potential offensivley (to a degree) and he's a Flames draft pick. One can argue that it's all about what you get back in a trade, but unless it's an absolute clear win, his age, underlying stats and the act that he's always been Flames' property make him essential. Great contract too.

If you haven't guessed, I'm a fan of Backlund.

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#31 Jeff In Lethbridge
January 29 2014, 11:41AM
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Colin.S wrote:

Couldn't agree more with the second thought. We do not under any circumstance need to play both McGratton AND Westgarth in any game together. They should play on a rotating basis.

Unless Byron was injured there is no reason either goon should kick him out of the lineup, he's been playing with a ton of energy and jump out there and isn't going to take half the penalties Westgarth does.

I am thinking that by beating Chicago when playing both Mcgraten and Westgarth, we deserve some kind of special prize.

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#32 John
January 29 2014, 12:35PM
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I'm going to say that Hartley isn't a genius in his handling of Backlund. At one point this season, there were rumors of Backlund being traded and that he likely wouldn't be with the Flames next year. I will say Hartley has his favorites, ie Reto Berra, who is usually put in right away when Ramo has a bad game, its not always the case for Ramo when Reto has a bad game.

Right now, Hartley is giving Backlund plenty of ice time but Backlund earned it. No, when you look at the roster, Hartley has his favorites and his dogs (Bartchi).

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#33 BurningSensation
January 29 2014, 12:36PM
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I, for one, appreciate the correct use of 'rein' and 'reign'.

Nicely done Ryan

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#34 BurningSensation
January 29 2014, 12:38PM
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Nick24 wrote:

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Backlund is going to be a solid second line center in the NHL, and hopefully for the Flames. He has too much skill, and he is too good defensively.

I share this very optimistic delusion.

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#35 MyTwoCents
January 29 2014, 01:31PM
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I've been a Backlund fan since day 1 (mac's midget tournament in Calgary). I know how good he is defensively but he needed to be more offensive to be considered a top 6. I think Hartley handled Backlund perfectly by challenging him to be a more complete player and when Backlund got a chance he stepped up. Hartley obviously noticed and not only did he get more minutes, he got an "A" slapped on his chest. Great job Hartley and Backlund!

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