November 28 2016 08:00AM
This road trip has been a roller coaster of emotions. The surreal highs of seeing intervals of this Calgary Flames team looking like a cohesive entity complete with goals and capable netminding; those crippling lows that a lot of us are growing accustom to. There have been bizarro-world situations where good and bad have transpired, too.
Last night was a weird mix of all three, plus the Stamps lost. For now at least, away from the teary eyes and reality that Calgary sports teams failed to win let's discuss three things intertwined with each other: penalties, shorthanded goals, and the penalty kill.
Penalties: What's up with that?
It's a bizarre state of affairs when it comes to the Flames and when penalties are called against them. On one hand, yes, some calls will be legitimate. Occasionally - under normal circumstances - officials may miss a call, make a bad call, and likely give you a freebie later.
On the other, there is a burgeoning belief that all referees are out to get the team (due to Dennis Earl Wideman's continued existence) and every opportunity to strike down the Flames by forcing them to play shorthanded is a blessing to enact some fanatical revenge.
Somewhere in the middle - like most things on this planet - is the truth. Some of the calls last night, like Matthew Tkachuk's holding penalty (if you could call it that), stand out as massive injustices. And it's true, it was a questionable call:
Tkachuk just got two minutes for this?— AOL Keyword: Mike (@mikeFAIL) November 28, 2016
Two minutes for leaning in and saying “Six years, $30 million” to McDonald? pic.twitter.com/KCupThwjuG
This has been a recurring theme with this team so far. That said, you could make a case for every team falling victim to this cat-and-mouse game of calls that should happen (often in favor) and calls that shouldn't. If we looked at the year-over-year in the first 24 games played is there any real difference? Via NHL.com:
Yes, it's noticeable. Very noticeable, in fact, as the team has been assessed 38 more penalties through 24 games this year than last year's first 24. The variance in both penalties assessed and PIM year-over-year is quite obvious and it's easy to accept that this is putting enormous strain on the penalty kill to come up big.
Part of it is discipline - or rather the lack of discipline - from some criminal offenders, and some of it is some bizarre, poorly called penalties. When we look at the 5v5 results of this team, it's grotesque for some (via Corsica Hockey, excluding last night):
Notably Sam Bennett, Dougie Hamilton, and Brett Kulak stand out as the big three here. To go one step further: when on the man advantage Tkachuk has a -3 penalty differential, Deryk Engelland has a -3 differential, and Lance Bouma has a -2 differential. It's peculiar to say the least and it compounds the special teams woes of this team.
Finding a way to play on the edge, drawing calls, and putting oneself in an opportunity to succeed are things that aren't happening. And when it comes to Tkachuk, someone who can draw calls, you need to work with him in his development to refine this area of his game.
Tkachuk's weird hold and the scrum with Travis Konecny weren't ideal, but he's young and maybe he'll come out on the positive side of things by season's end.
Normally fans would be jumping for joy over shorthanded goals (nice ones, too), but it's not that way for reasonable cause. The team has scored five shorthanded goals on the season, three fewer than their total with the Dave Cameron-led power play. We've spoken at great length about the shortcomings of the power play. We've spoken at great length about the penalty kill, too (something I may have jinxed early on).
Last night did show some continued vital signs from the PK, of which might be strictly from a "Hey, they scored twice while shorthanded so things are rebounding" perspective. Which is fair and true, the penalty kill over this road trip has been pretty acceptable and finding ways to score goals is a good thing.
The first goal itself was a very great example of winning a puck battle (thank you Wideman) which gave Bennett an opportunity to pass to Mikael Backlund who deliciously fed a streaking T.J. Brodie for his first of the year:
Bennett -> Backlund -> Brodie -> Beauty pic.twitter.com/LxvtgQsQUU— FlamesNation (@FlamesNation) November 28, 2016
The second, involving Bennett and Brodie again, really came from Bennett's insistence on killing time on the clock. From there it was a simple tic-tac-toe play with a streaking Dougie Hamilton, whose well-placed shot led to a rebound for Alex Chiasson:
A game with two SHG and they still can’t win…— FlamesNation (@FlamesNation) November 28, 2016
Chiasson with a shorty pic.twitter.com/CMLKOCZZX8
They finished the night with four shots (one blocked), three on net, and two goals. Not a bad showing there. The flip side being they did surrender 21 shots total (blocked/missed/on net), 12 of which ended up on net, and one lone goal against from the league's second-best power play.
Last night's PK: Vital signs...?
Surrendering that volume of shots against in a game isn't stellar. The fact that the Flames spent so much time shorthanded does add a bit more context to the situation, but it's still not ideal. Shots and goals do happen on the penalty kill but the objective should be to find a way to suppress them from happening.
Part of the problem that we've identified internally with the Flames' PK is the innate nature of it being passive at times when it could benefit from being aggressive and vice versa. The kinks are slowly being worked out from adapting to a more triangle+1 system.
Besides the random, unlucky bounce off Mark Giordano's stick, the need to be a bit more aggressive at times, and the shot totals against, there was some positives to be found:
The good: First PK (Brodie SHG + aggressive kill)
- Found way to suppress zone entries against and when they got entries, the Flyers' PP was unable to fully set up/get into formation and generate high-danger shots.
- Utilized triangle+1 in an aggressive format (Czech Press) after which a Mark Streit point-shot forces puck battles along the boards.
- Streit shot was left without a screen which allowed Chad Johnson to track the puck, have a clear line of sight on the shooter, and get set. Rebound was forced to the boards.
- Great puck support by defense and forwards, giving them room to work even when Wideman initially overskated the puck. Brodie's positioning helped disrupt the Flyers' support. This played into Bennett's ability to capitalize on the loose puck.
- Streit pinching there in hopes of poking the puck away exposed the lane and it's impossible at that point for him to get back into the play.
- Quick, short pass to Backlund to exit the zone and move into full speed with Brodie who received a perfect pass to put it past Anthony Stolarz.
Another decent showing (elements of passiveness and aggressiveness)
- Giving Johnson clear lines of sight on shooters is a nice touch. At the very least - if possible - this should be attempted. The team has struggled this season in screening their own goalie, which has caused issues.
- All shots allowed on this penalty kill were clear lines of sight for Johnson.
- Finding ways to break up passes and disrupt passing lanes helped in breaking up formation and if successful can eat time off the clock if the puck exits the defensive zone.
- Backlund and Giordano read the press well, breaking it up along the boards and causing a puck battle, which ended the sequence with a Flyer's pass not connecting and exiting the zone.
- Feedback: the triangle that the Flames often deploy in this formation is a little too tight, as well as passive at times. There was an opportunity to open it up more as the play formed in their own zone rather than collapsing in on net.
- There was an opportunity there to push the puck carrier out a bit more, along the +1 to change depending on where the puck was, press when needed, and disrupt lanes (shooting/passing).
Overall there are some positives in these examples. Stringing together more and more consistency here under Paul Jerrard's new system, finding a way to use Bennett a bit more, and maximizing OTF (on-the-fly) starts vs zone starts might go a long way for this team.