Random Thoughts – Flames Through the Early Going



The new season is freshly born, and with it new sights and wonders. The Flames have burst out of the gate with a 1-0-2 start, which would be wholly disappointing if Calgary had not been roundly pick by pundits to finish last in the league with a bullet. Each game was a one goal affair and the Flames have led for long stretches of all of them. With a bit more luck, a few less errors or a bit more NHL-level goaltending, the club could easily be 3-0-0.

Here’s some thoughts and observations after the first week…

– What a difference a shift in perception makes. Had the Flames brass instead decided to stay the course again this year, a 1-0-2 start featuring not one but two blown leads in the third period, there would be an angry mob already forming at the steps of the Saddledome. Instead, the faithful is relatively pleased with the club’s efforts.

Given that reaction, it’s kind of amazing the decision makers waited this long to shift gears. If you can’t build a winner, it’s a marketing coup to build a club that can meet or exceed very low expectations instead.

– It also helps that all of the games have been wildly entertaining so far, a marked improvement from seemingly endless years of slow, plodding, "off-the-glass" style hockey. The Flames are a Chinese Oilers fire drill in their own zone, their special teams need quite a bit of work and no one knows if they will even have average goaltending this year, but at least they’re flying around with some gumption.

– That’s the list of things the Flames have struggled with so far. On the good side of the ledger is a faster transition game out of their own end and through the neutral zone. One problem that plagued Calgary’s top-six in particular the last few years was a slow, turn-over prone transition through the center ice, which frequently resulted in the puck going the wrong way and the team spending and starting way too many shifts in their own zone.

One of the changes that seems to be promoting the quicker counter punch is the mobility and puck handling of the blueline. A top pairing of Giordano and Brodie means the clubs gets the puck out of their end in a hurry. Wideman and Russell are pretty good at this too. More ice time for players like Backlund and Stempniak has also meant a more complete 200′ foot game, at least when it comes to puck pursuit and backchecking. 

– Speaking of Giordano and Brodie, they have been outstanding at even strength so far. They are mostly skating against other team’s top lines and have the best possession rates on the team. Giordano co-leads the team in scoring, Brodie is averaging over 24 minutes in ice time. They aren’t merely suviving the tough sledding, they’re excelling. If some people are wondering why the Flames don’t seem quite as terrible as expected, look no further than the top of the Flames blueline rotation as at least some of the explanation.

– Wideman has also been pretty decent, although Hartley has him starting almost exclusively in the offensive zone at ES and he plays a ton on the PP, which helps. His frequent partner Russell is generally decent, but a true step back of the club’s clear top-3 options. The former Blue Jacket is quick and good with the puck, but is prone to egregious errors from time-to-time and doesn’t seem to be boast good decision making when things go awry. Already three times this season the opposition has scored goals while Russell has slid out of frame on his belly. Ideally he’s probably a guy who should be a #5 or 6 in the rotation.

– Sean Monahan has had a pretty strong start to the season given his counting stats (2 goals, 1 assist) and hasn’t looked out of place the last two games. That siad, he’s also operating with an ES on-ice SH% of 13.3, which is bound to come crashing back down to earth at some point. Hartley has also made sure to gift the kid a 60% zone start, which is about as easy as it’s going to get and his underlying numbers aren’t all that exemplary.

In other words, things only get tougher for Monahan from here on in. I don’t think he’ll be able to keep seeing that favorable ratio of face-offs and the puck isn’t going to go in at nearly the same rate all year. Keep that in mind as the team wrestles with the decision of keeping him up beyond game nine.

– Curtis Glencross has fine stats across the board, but he has looked awful by eye. Lackluster decision making and uninspired compete level all over the ice. I’m stunned most of his results are adequate. On the plus side, he’s capable of being a lot better and will likely improve as the season progresses.

– Speaking of the kids, another thing that’s probably floating their boat is Lee Stempniak, who for my money might be the best all around forward on the club right now. He currently leads the team with 16 shots on net in three games, despite mostly playing with a pair of rookies (talented rookies, but rookie notheless). At some point Hartley will move him up with either Glencross or Backlund and he’ll help raise the performance of one of those lines as well.

If other clubs are smart, they’ll start calling the Flames about Stemps as a deadline rental as soon as Christmas is over. Of course, one wonders if he keeps this up if Calgary will try to retain him as a veteran to stabilize things during the on-going rebuild instead. Naturally, that would depend on Stempniak wanting to stick around in that kind of role…

– It’s somewhat gratifying to see read a lot of positive reviews on Backs from all corners of Flames fandom so far this year. He looked tentative in the offensive zone (like rookie Backlund) initially, but has grown more assertive over the first three games. Hudler’s been picking corners which has helped his output, but it will be interesting to see how the line does once Cammalleri replaces Galiardi.

– On the other hand, new guy Joe Colborne has been pretty underwhelming. Hartley hasn’t given him too much room to strut his stuff, but then Colborne hasn’t done anything that would convince the coach to move him up the depth chart. In contrast, journeyman Ben Street seems to have become a new favorite of the bench boss. I always liked Street when I saw him on the Heat and he always struck me as player who would have high utlity in a bottom-6 role in the NHL. He probably shouldn’t be playing against the Sedins in an ideal world, but as a third or fourth liner, he’s much more useful than the Mike Brown’s of the league.

– Some interesting numbers so far: The Flames are averaging 35 shots on net per game (!), but also giving up 33 (frown). Still, that’s a positive shot differential. Huzzah! Their ES shooting percentage is over 11%, so expect that to regress at some point. Their goaltending is actually better at 5on5 this year than it was last year, but is still bad (.904). That said, it’s actually PK SV% that has really sunk the club (57.1!!!). At the very least, the puck stopping short-handed should get much better at some point because nobody is that bad.

– Of course, let’s keep in mind we’re just three games in so making any sort of projections or analysis is fraught with caveats. The first 10 games of the season tend to be kind of screwy. People treat them as predictive of the rest of the season because it’s the first bit of information about the new team, but it just isn’t so. You usually have to wait 20-30 games to get any kind of real read on an NHL team, and even that is the bare minimum to say anything meaningful.

Around the Nation

  • thymebalm

    Holy crap are the PC police in full force today. Chinese fire drill is both poetic and accurate. It’s not some grave event were a bunch of Chinese people died in a fire drill, its just an expression about running around and lack of communication. Its only distasteful to the most sensitive of palate.

  • Just wow…. Apparently Hartley us going with Joey Mc for the next game.
    One big save is greater then the loss. Man does the coach and management have a hard on for career .900 goalies.

    If this continues I hope Ramo asks to be moved to another team that actually wants to build their goalies. Frustrating…….

  • Jeff Lebowski

    With respect to Monahan’s underlying numbers, I recall a shift he had during the Columbus game:

    The Calgary line 47-23-22 started on the fly and was countered by Richards with the Gaborik line. The play got into Calgary’s zone and eventually Gaborik got a shot on net from the right boards a little more than 5 feet down from blueline.
    Calgary then took the puck up ice (dmen started) and played in Columbus zone for remainder of shift. They tried a couple of times to set up Stempniak for a shot but he was tightly checked.

    Monahan was his normal self, quick touches, not being a play killer and heading to the front of net. Even at 18 he’s a load to handle for a guy like Wisnewski. Monahan just kind of leans on him.

    Anyway the point is although the stat shows him being underwater that shift, he really wasn’t. In fact, in terms of executing what you want : trying to create “QUALITY” chances in the scoring area, Monahan’s line outplayed the Gaborik line. However the if you read the stat line you would think Monahan was hemmed in that shift.

    Perhaps, on another shift he was hemmed in and over the course of the game the stat line is ‘descriptive’ of what happened on the ice.

    I just don’t see it happening a lot where he is outplayed. It happens for sure, some mistakes but when you look at his ice time, the shots he’s generating and specifically where and how he is generating just ‘seem’ to fly in the face of ‘underlying numbers’.

    Regardless of where he starts, or how he starts (on the fly) he kind of ends up in the offensive zone most often than not. The puck is either being moved by him quickly or he puts on net.

    And he’s got that knack to win 50-50 pucks with a quick little kick with his skates or bump it up the boards to his winger.

    Believe me, I understand the value of advanced stats in sports (the use, not the actual crunching – boring but I get the concepts) so I’m not trying to shoot down that data. It’s just they aren’t describing how he’s playing shift to shift.

    Over a season maybe a little more descriptive but still only directional.

    The zone starts are more reflective of his learning opposing centremen in the dot. you look at his % and go ‘oh man 44% – he’s stuggling’ but he wins 4 loses 5. Mostly on how adept he is already. Once he learns the league?

    Is he improving at the same rate as in preseason? Hartley knows that. Maybe junior is in his cards but from my pov. His underlying numbers being less than exemplary is not accurate of his play. It’s accurate on how unsophisticated that specific analysis is (ie scoring chance data, shot location, quality of competition including on the fly matchups etc) would be more descriptive.

    I think Colborne just isn’t at the same fitness level. With the new systems it’s taking time.

    I can’t wait for a Flames Jets game. That way Kevin McCartney could break down the tactics. I think Calgary’s game is all about puck support and 4 guys making a box around the guy who has the puck or defensively, the opponent who has the puck.

    Calgary 5v5 production is insane. 12 goals and what 1 PP marker?

    With guys like McGrattan it’s fair I guess to comment about his mistakes but leaving out how he is skating, drawing penalties and not being just a meat head screams confirmation bias.

    I see that a lot here. Things go quiet when people preform different than the way they precieved. Not honest, IMO.

    I must admit, the season is playing out how I’ve wanted. The team plays well, especially the young guys, they score but their goaltending lets them down so they ultimately get a choice draft position.

    I don’t care about that anymore. I want them to have success. As much as possible. They should be 3-0 and if they could just put out some PP goals that would help.

    For the love of all things sane, please do not trade for a goalie. The future in net is bright (Gillies, Ortio, Brossoit) and trading a young guy for more NHL wins now would weaken the future.

    Just play Backlund and Hudler PP1 and let those guys gain the zone with possession skills. Or anyone else really.

    I am extraordinarily impressed with Feaster and Hartley/Ward. I won’t make this long post even longer but if you listen, really listen, to what they talk about in terms of how they develop and play guys at camps to how they handle guys with the two big clubs in terms of systems and style of play it really is something special. Maybe I’m reading too much into it but its different. Look at how players were utilized in Penticton compared to other teams – look at ice time and type (EV,PP,PK).

    Listen to how positive the talk is (even crusty Burke – he’s just more direct than flowering, effusive Feaster). Mistakes are acceptable if you learn from them. Always moving forward with positive mindset. I love what Gio has to say post games.

    If you think this philosophy through in terms of playing with and growing confidence you might come to the same conclusion as me. We are witnessing something really, really great beginning here.

    Blah, blah maybe it’s all babble. I just see a powerhouse in the making. I know how premature it is to say that and a ton of work has to be done. However the environment this organization is creating makes me think it’s inevitable.

    People who really want to be good know they have to work hard and they want to be held accountable. Darryl used to say that. He’s 100% right. Feaster culled the best from Darryl’s regime (those that could thrive under the Feaster/Weisbrod manifesto). I trust my eyes and my gut. I could be wrong. Time will tell.

    I really like what this team is now but I LOVE what they are going to be. Soon.

  • Nighteyes

    Hey everyone I’m new here, nice to meet you all. If this might seem unrelated to Kent’s post, let me know. I’m rather dismayed that Hartley just announced Mcbackup is starting against the Habs tomorrow. I really do not understand this logic; he has not been horrible but from what I saw of Ramo in Washington he seemed to have better fundamental goaltending sense and technique. Also, we already know what we can get from Macdonald but Ramo is still a mystery and this season very much intended to solve them.

    Furthermore, McGrattan is yet again in the line up for tomorrow. This decision by Hartley again puzzles me. Jackman seems to be a better choice for that role–his mobility, hands and decision-making is vastly better for a fourth liner than McGrattan in my opinion. Thoughts?

    • The Last Big Bear

      Ramo should be in, and MacBackup should be MacBackup. The only explanation I can come up with is that MacDonald has been showing the coaches what they want to see in practice, or Ramo has been doing something in practice that they don’t like.

      As for McGrattan, I like having him in the lineup, and I see no real role for Jackman at the moment. Jackman is a slightly better player fundamentally, but McGrattan has been comparably good lately, is infinitely better at fighting, and is as intimidating as all hell. If McGrattan has a rough patch, or gets injured, then by all means bring in Jackman. But for now I’m happy enough leaving him in the press box.

    • SmellOfVictory

      I agree with your post.

      Although I think they are rewarding Mcgrit for his good play thus far. He has drawn some penalties and hasnt done anything that stupid.

      I am getting the feeling that Jackman may be banged up or something as he would have been my obvious choice to start the season

  • Avalain

    Gio & Brodie have been awesome so far, I think getting the captaincy was the best tonic for rejuvenating Gio. I am really really hoping to see Ramage, Tspoon, Seiloff & Cundari get some prime time this year.

    We need to see a run of Ramo, win or lose, watching Macdonald is like eating Kraft dinner when I was expecting BBQ steak.

  • the forgotten man

    To the PC police trolling Flames Nation today:

    At Dictionary.com we find the word “Canuck” in reference to Canadians is deemed “sometimes offensive” (Random House); “often derogatory” (Online Etymology Dictionary) and “often offensive” ( American Heritage Dictionary).

    Wow Kent, better get rid of C&$@ck Nation on your banner…don’t want to rattle some delicate sensitivities.

    • piscera.infada

      I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being cognisant to what might be offensive to a group. For you to deem those people who bring it up “delicate sensitives” shows just how ignorant you are. And please, spare me the “we’re talking about sports here” argument. There is no sacred ground where ignorance is defensible, let alone acceptable. [Kent, I don’t mean you were being ignorant. Terms like that are pervasive in society, it’s easy to drop them without a moment’s notice. I’m just not sure how people can be so dead-set against pointing it out.]

      In regards to Ramo, I don’t like the decision either – I want to see Karri play. I imagine the coaching staff simply wants to give him some time getting used to the speed and style of play of regular season NHL hockey – I’m not sure the bench and practice are the best places to do that, but I’m also not an NHL coach.

      • the forgotten man

        Sorry buddy, but using your line of argument, it is all or nothing…”by the book” the word C@#$ck is derogatory to English and French Canadians – by your lofty standards, Vancouver should not use that name and it should be changed – I hope you don’t use it in reference to their hockey team or you are just being a hypocrite, plain and simple.

        • piscera.infada

          Actually, it’s not all or nothing – I’m sorry if that was unclear. Let me clarify by saying it’s a contextual issue.

          The word “Canuck” in the context of the organization, refers to Johnny Canuck, not the derogatory term used for French-Canadian migrants to the US. Johnny Canuck was a super hero used to reclaim that term by way of making it term of endearment to Canadians during WWII – in the comic book it helped defeat Hitler, while using good ol’ fashioned Canadian hard work to contrast uncle Sam. Great name for a comic book? Probably not, but that’s besides the point.

          In contrast, organizational names like the Blackhawks, Indians, Redskins, etc. all use those terms to convey something entirely different. They appeal to an appropriation of indigenous culture(s) as warrior-like and savage. As such, these titles are negative IMO.

          I see the term “Chinese firedrill” to be similar. It conveys mass disorganization by way of comparing it to a entire nationality – it’s a negative connotation. As such, there’s no context in which you portray that saying in a positive light.

  • Christian Roatis

    The perspective thing you mentioned is brilliant. Bang on. How pissed would everyone be if we blew a 3-0, 4-1 lead to the Caps and then a 3-1 third period lead to the Canucks and rebuild hadn’t started? My guess is livid.

    • Robear

      Good results so far.
      I expect that this year everyone will be sunshine and rainbows and flying unicorns, as long as it looks like the team is trying.

      But thats only because its the new shiny bauble and expectations have been altered. The real test will be in years 2 and 3 of the re-build as the shine wears off the bauble, people start to expect more and the team is still struggling. Thats when people will start getting snippy and wanting more out of the team, when the expectations should still be low.