Post-Game: Moral Victories



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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.


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.


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.

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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).


# 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

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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.

  • Jeff Lebowski

    Backlund wasn’t bad BUT he reached a level of consistent, strong play at the end of last year that hasn’t shown up during training camp, preseason and MOST of last night’s game. It started to turn better for him during later shifts.

    The only way Ovi’s second goal doesn’t go in, is if Backlund doesn’t lose the draw so clean. The release, velocity of his shot is 99.9th percentile stuff.

    When Backlund is ‘on’ the puck is on a string, he doesn’t dangle guys on end to end rushes, rather he sucks defenders at him then dishes with short, clever passes. I kind of felt he let Hudler control the puck too much. Backlund should be the guy who controls the puck, makes his wingers skate through seams in order to recieve his pass.

    Backlund is instrumental to Calgary. If he takes another step forward this year he will accelerate the rebuild. First he has to get back to the sublime level he finished at last year and then build. Just think of the Flames’ future centre depth chart…tantalizing.

    It’s coming for him. You could see it late in third.

    The vets, although I do love em, just don’t have the ability to consistently beat their match ups – 5v5 or special teams. They might sneak a few wins but over the course of the year…

    Just look at the numbers of players on the ice during the goals (for and against) for Calgary. Vets because they have the ice time (which they should because you can’t have kids getting their heads beat in).

    For Baertschi and Monahan to make their greatest impact offensively, they have to do what all offensive players get to do, get some PP time. Hartley either wants them to earn it first, is easing them into these, or is just going with vets.

    The best talent in the org is with the youth. Until the youth take over the special team units, Calgary is going to get beat more times than not in those situations.

    5v3 for 50 seconds and rarely dangerous. Just one PP goal with all those chances and the game is over.

    People are blaming, Gali or Ramo. It’s the lack of vet execution during special teams-face offs-zone entries etc- that ultimately cost (and will continue to cost) Calgary the win.

  • CDB

    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!

    • 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.

      • CDB

        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.

  • CDB

    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.

    • CDB

      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.

      • everton fc

        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?

  • CDB

    First I want to admit I did not see all of the game; I actually only saw the first period so I have had to read a lot into the game. Firstly it’s to early to throw a parade or throw anyone under a bus like a few people have already suggested about Ramo. What I saw was a team trying hard and playing like a team, yahoo. I saw a coach who was letting everyone play and they were earning their playing time. My concern is that Hartley began trying to preserve the win(play the vets) rather than going with game plan of playing those who have earned it. It will be hard for him and his staff to realize this is not an ordinary season and the sooner that happens the sooner we will know what we have in our young players. Here’s what I saw Sven seems to have gotten some of the message I actually say him back check on a couple of shifts. Bouma seems ready to be an NHL 3rd/4th line winger; a goal, some hits and a fight. Monahan will do nothing but get better as he plays with and against men. Although thye lost they showed that as a team they cannot be taken lightly. What was also shown last night was if you don;t have some elite forwards or at least very good forwards you will have difficulty beating teams that do. There is a long way to go but I was pleased with the effort.

    • everton fc

      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.

  • beloch

    “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.