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

    • Jeff Lebowski

      Yep. Didn’t like that either. To each their own.

      To be clear: I don’t think it implies the person who uses the phrase as being racist. Other ways to say same thing is the point.

      • It is racist and apparently stems from the British attitude towards the Chinese military as being very disorganized in the early 1900’s. I don’t think the author of this article was meaning to be racist in anyway, just a poor choice.

        • Rockmorton65

          A “Chinese fire drill” was something teenagers did in the 50’s for fun. When there were more than three in a car. When they stopped at a red light, everyone would see if they could get out of the car, run around it once and get in a different door before the light turned green. It gave the impression of chaos, but usually served as entertainment for the other drivers.

          • thymebalm

            Yes, that activity got it’s name from earlier events in history and is offensive to the Chinese community. I have a Chinese sister in law who says it is the same as sayings we no longer use pertaining to Jewish people and Blacks.

          • RedMan

            some people are just resistant to change and do not understand that offensive behaviour by the dominent race that has been allowed for years is no longer acceptable. Anyone that challenges this will be branded as sensitive… but is that bad? why cant we just say “fire drill”

          • Captain Ron

            Growing up in WPG we used to do this all the time when we were in our early teens. It was harmless silly fun.

            Please to all those concerned stop with this overly sensitive nonsense about this being in any way racist.

            It is not racist period

        • SmellOfVictory

          I wouldn’t call that racist. The meaning behind the statement is drawn from the extensive differences in translating between English and the Chinese languages. Adding a nationality as an adjective to a common phrase doesn’t make it inherently racist.

        • Also ridiculous are the Bodog odds that Hartley is the next NHL coach fired and the rumours out of Philly that the Flames are desperate to find a d-man to play with Gio? Suggesting one of their high priced d-men could be coming here in exchange for Glencross. Huh what?

          • RKD

            Agree, Hartley aint going nowhere. The Philly trade rumours are intriguing as they are 1 team on the verge of making bold moves & I would love to see Flames be right in the thick of things. Philly cant score anymore with any consistency. Could Cammi be the target? Cap space would have to come back, like Hartnell? Some other pieces involved, don’t see Coutts tearing things up, maybe he can be had? Maybe Philly would covet a Brossoit while they see what they have in Mason & Emery & we can add a Reinhart or Horak with a good D prospect(Cundari or Russell)to sweeten that deal. I think they would be a very interesting trade partner for the Flames. Cant see Glencross going anywhere or waiving his NT for that matter.

          • everton fc

            Interesting. Would anyone take Hartnell for Cammy, with some additional baggage and salary thrown in?

            I would.

            So Hartnell/Meszaros for Cammy, Russell/Cundari (Butler?) and Reinhart/Horak? (I’d move Reinhard over Horak. But that’s “me”) Would anyone do this deal?? The Flyers are aging, on paper. An influx-injection of youth might be what they are looking for, but what’s in it for the Flames? Take a look at the Flyers. I don’t see a lot of depth in Adirondack, either. What prospects do they have they’d be willing to move? You’d have a better chance at Gardiner, with the Leafs.

            If we made a move like the one I’ve proposed, we’d certainly be in a better position to make the playoffs. Sounds nuts, I know. You’d have Hartnell/Glencross/Baertschi on the left side, along with Bouma. Perhaps Baertschi heads to Abby? (I hope not, but Galiardi could take his place on the left side) Or you have the Hartnell/Glencross/Baertschi(Galiardi)/Bouma on the left side, Stajan/Backlund/Monahan(Galiardi)/Street down the middle (I think Monahan’s here for the season, though) Hudler/Stempniak/Jones/McGrattan or Jackman on the right-side. Am I missing anything? Unless Colborne can learn to play RW on the 4th line. Or you simply see if he clears waivers. Which I doubt they’ll risk.

            Could these lines, none of which are world-class, actually get this beaten-down franchise into the playoffs?

            Glencross/Stajan/Stempniak

            Hartnell/Backlund/Hudler

            Baertschi or Galiardi/Monahan or Galiardi/Jones

            Bouma/Street/McGrattan or Jackman or someone else

            (Or Bouma/Horak/Street, with McGrattan on the bench and Jackman moved. You might get production off this 4th line)

            Of course… You could pass on Hartnell, add Meszaros, and have Galiardi on the left-side of Line 2, with Baertschi remaining on the left side of Line 3. Which makes more sense, I guess. The easier solution is to send Monahan back to junior, and slot Galiardi inside Baertschi and Jones. If you add Hartnell, that is.

          • McRib

            The Flyers are as desperate as they come it seems doing a deal with them isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I think the Flames passing on numerous UFAs this summer (Damien Brunner, Tom Gilbert, Brad Boyes, etc) is an indication ownership enjoys being off the cap ceiling for the time being. So we would need a serious prospect (Philadelphia does not have any) or pick coming our way as well to sweeten the deal.

            All this talk about Philadelphia got me thinking…. What NHL team in a year or two is in for the biggest collapse??? My money would be on Vancouver and Philadelphia. How Paul Holmgren & Mike Gillis both still have owners Confidence / Jobs is baffling. No two teams have drafted as badly as them in the last four or five years. As I said yesterday I don’t understand how Jay Feaster is branded a moron by the hockey world, yet these guys keep skating by as employable GMs.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • the forgotten man

    Maybe I’m biased, but Justin Schultz hasn’t looked good this year. I struggle to see how Edmonton reduces turnovers when they have 5 players trying to win the game on every shift, eggregiously turning pucks over on 1 on 3s as opposed to getting pucks deep. I don’t think they are good enough… or at least they won’t win with that culture they have. Hall was pouting in the media that he felt he shouldn’t have been asked to play center. It sounds like he tries to coach the team.

    Here’s hoping the Flames can steal some points from them this season.

  • Parallex

    “Actually, the consensus is generally that Monahan will be a first line center–if only an average one (ie. not a “franchise” player).”

    Sounds about right. The book on him was that he would be a Bergeron/Toews type center. A guy that won’t bedazzle you on the ice or win any Art Ross trophies but who’ll be almost just as valuable as those who do with other aspects of his play.

    The kind of guy who you’ll be happy to have as your #1 center but who you’d be overjoyed to have as a 2nd line center.

  • book¡e

    TJ Brodie – will be a top pairing Dman for a long time- Book it

    Curtis Glencross-when do the Flames play the Oilers; that’s when his interest will hit stride

  • Jeff Lebowski

    Anyone else notice how Burke’s comments about Sven have faded to black? Who knows, it may come up again but I’m glad it hasn’t become an ongoing narrative and him having to think about it. Too much other good stuff to be preoccupied with or it’s done by Hartley privately and positively.

    • McRib

      I think Sven’s response recognizing that further work needs to be done also helped.

      All Brian Burke is trying to do would be to avoid an Edmonton Oilers situation with a team full of offensively talented young players with no clue about playing in their own zone and praising them constantly since day one (6 Million dollar deals) without accomplishing anything.

      Ensuring Sven develops a more complete game will only pay dividends in the future when we are competitive. Edmonton still is struggling because this wasn’t addressed two seasons ago with most of the young players.

      Bob Hartley had some choice words today regarding Sean Monahan’s -3 play last game… Instead of just looking at his goal and praising him he identified things to work on. You only have to watch a Justin Schultz for five minutes to see what the Flames are trying to avoid. Great offensively, -17 huge liability in own zone that is a weakeness which is constantly overlooked by their coaches and staff.

      Edmonton comes back last night to avoid loosing their third straight game to start the season, but despite winning no one mentions that RHN was -2 and Perron was -1. All they can talk about is barely beating a very mediocre club in dramtic fashion and scoring “fancy” highlight reel goals (This doesn’t win games long term).

      • RexLibris

        There is a little more to the Oilers/Devils game than a bunch of highlight goals, though.

        Nugent-Hopkins was -2 but also played over 28 minutes in his first game back, had 6 shots on net and was 50% in the faceoff dot. Perron, meanwhile, had a goal and an assist, played over 25 minutes, scored the tying goal and won the game in the shootout.

        By the third period their defensive game was nearly airtight, the final Devils goal coming from a deflection off Ference’s skate.

        The first 40 minutes sunk the team, but the lesson was learned and the players adjusted to the coaching scheme during the 2nd intermission. The Corsi events for the evening reflect this more effectively.

        Your position is correct, in that young players, especially those that are offensively gifted, need to learn to play with some defensive awareness in so far as that attention to the defensive game can result in puck possession which then becomes offensive play.

        Don’t pillory the Oilers’ young players for learning this lesson now, though. While I agree that previous coaching regimes were ill-suited in some of their strategies, this was more an extension of mismanagement than coaching. And it took the arrival of Scotty Bowman to turn Steve Yzerman into the player that most people associate him with today. Prior to that he was a perennial top-scorer on a poor team.

        These things take time and that is all the more reason for Baertschi to start learning these lessons now. Burke spoke his mind and needs to back off now and give the player a chance to respond.

      • SmellOfVictory

        Totes agree about Baertsh… I think the Flames are being careful to avoid to a culture of entitlement . (Look what has happened in the past and in other franchises like Edm.)

        I really like the emphasis on hard work so far.

  • RexLibris

    Alright. Let’s all put aside the debate on political correctness, latent colonialist pejoratives, and a general air of offense that is circulating and find some term that best illustrates the activity we can all picture but are struggling to describe.

    How about…”the Flames are an Edmonton Eskimos Concussion Protocol in their own zone sometimes”?

    *I see that Kent has already made the edit that I was going to propose, therefore the above has been modified to offer another, potentially galvanizing option to those residents, either by proximity or emotion, of FlamesLand.