5 things: The big game(s)

1. This is basically it

At this point you can basically surmise that the entire 80-game season to this point comes down to tonight’s game with Los Angeles.

Not actually and not all the way, of course, because the Kings could still win and then the playoff outcomes reset to being entirely dependent upon Saturday’s games, but the Flames haven’t played anything even resembling a game this big in years. Let alone one in the regular season.

And obviously the results from Tuesday are critical here. Calgary got by Arizona just fine, which was to be expected, and the Kings dominated the Oilers but lost, because they started Martin Jones for some reason and also didn’t score any goals at all at even strength despite putting 27 shots on net in total.

Just a very odd result that — once again — was a goofy bounce in Calgary’s favor, complementing a season already chock full of them. Had things gone as expected (Calgary and Los Angeles both win), a Flames regulation loss tonight would have essentially ended their season for all intents and purposes. Now, the opposite is true. Flames win in any fashion and Los Angeles is actually done. The Flames would go to the postseason for the first time in six years, and probably get their brains beat in by the Canucks.

2. So what does that mean?

Calgary had better be ready to have the kitchen sink thrown at them, is what it means.

Look, results aside this season, the Flames have gotten smoked in possession in every game they’ve played against the Kings this year. These games haven’t been close. But the Flames have taken three of four meetings between the teams this season (two in OT) so that might portend good things if you’re a Calgary partisan.

Given how high the stakes really are here, though, one has to wonder just how much the Flames are going to be able to resist them again. You can only stick so many fingers in the dam before it bursts and you drown, right?

It’s just such a tough thing to predict or even make expectations. Luck makes up 40 percent of any hockey result, so the Kings could have the puck like 75 percent of the time and still not be assured victory. The most likely result, based on what we’ve seen, is a Calgary loss, but obviously it hasn’t worked out that way to this point, and that’s true of almost every games the Flames have played; they always get outpossessed.

But Los Angeles is going to be raw here. Losing like they did? To Edmonton? That stings, and with both the season on the line and the hiding they took at the hands of one of the worst teams in the league this year, they’re bound to be out for blood. Who knows how that translates, but lack of motivation isn’t going to be a factor on either side.

3. Then there’s Winnipeg

The game on Saturday could end up not mattering at all. Winnipeg and Calgary will both be in if the Flames win tonight, and that means a lot of rest. Like, borderline AHL rosters.

But if not, then this game is one of deep, deep intrigue. Obviously the Flames will probably need to win it to be reasonably assured a spot, because you can’t expect the Kings to lose to the Oilers and Sharks in the same week. And obviously, it might not be easy, because Dustin Byfuglien will be back for that one regardless, and that makes the hill just a little more difficult to climb. Not impossible, because if anything, this season has proven that the Flames are perfectly capable of defying the odds. They’ve picked up all these wins when they absolutely shouldn’t have. They got career-best performances from guys who have no business giving them. They’ve continued to win even after losing a basically guaranteed Norris winner for the season.

So no, two wins in these final two games shouldn’t be that difficult by those parameters. But at the same time, the Flames have never had the horses to make things easy on themselves unless they were playing truly bad teams. They win despite themselves, really. Granted, Winnipeg’s spot in the playoffs is more or less secured. Most simulations have them at least in the 90 percent range when it comes to their odds at this point — it would take a confluence of circumstances for the last two playoff spots to go to Los Angeles and Calgary; the Flames would have to lose to the Kings but beat the Jets, while the Kings beat San Jose — but you don’t get the feeling that they’d just lay down for the Flames either, even if they would prefer the Kings not make the postseason.

As with the Kings, but obviously not to the same extent, the Jets are a much better team than the Flames both on paper and on the ice. They also have a weirdly hot goaltender in Ondrej Pavelec (I can’t believe it either) who’s going to make it difficult for teams to do much against them. Unless, of course, Winnipeg starts Michael Hutchinson for No. 82 instead.

But the Flames have a few days to worry about that. If they have to at all.

4. A word about Sean Monahan

I’ve gotten a lot of crap from Flames fans for the past week or so — a pleasant change of pace — because I didn’t think Sean Monahan should have been on the team last season, and that I thought he wasn’t very good for the full 82.

“Well he’s on 30 goals and 30 assists now,” they said, “so obviously you were wrong.”

Well, not really. My main objection to him being on the roster last season was that it burned a year of his entry-level deal and got him a year closer to free agency. Moreover, the fact that he did often struggle last season did nothing to dissuade me of the belief that he was best left in junior.

That, though, has nothing to do with what has been a very good season here in 2014-15. Did playing against NHLers for the majority of last season help his development? We can’t prove it definitively one way or another. All we know now is that it certainly didn’t hurt.

But it did burn that year (again, for no reason; the Flames get run over with or without him), meaning next season is his contract year. Meaning that kid’s eligible to get paid a boatload of money starting July 1. He’d be a fool to accept an offer, because if he can build on this season he’s probably looking at Ryan Johansen money in 2016-17.

Great to have a guy worth that much, not so great to have to pay him if the team isn’t playoff-competitive. And that’s a real risk.

5. A helpful reminder

Don’t forget, gang. Two college hockey games that will be of interest to you air this afternoon. We’re talkin’ 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. local time, which should serve as a nice precursor to the big Kings/Flames game. Both are on TSN2.

The early game features Providence College (with Jon Gillies, Mark Jankowski, and John Gilmour) taking on Nebraska-Omaha in the national semifinal. Then a few hours later, it’s BU (Brandon Hickey and Jack Eichel) versus North Dakota. My prediction is that both the teams with Flames prospects advance, because they are better than the ones without them.

Should that be the case and they both advance, or one of the two advances (or neither and you just wanna watch a good college hockey game), the national title game is at 5:30 on Saturday on TSN3.

I’d recommend tuning in.

  • SSB1963

    There is no question about it – Lambert typifies the term “head stuck up one’s own arse”. The only thing unclear is whether he put it up there by choice or if he is in fact waddling around unaware of his predicament. Do we laugh at him or pity him? Seems like it would be a lot easier if we could just ignore his existence altogether…

    • DoubleDIon

      The sad thing is I’ve actually met Lambert in person and he is an even bigger POS in real life than his articles would indicate…if that’s even possible.

      He’s a lost cause folks…better to not even acknowledge his ignorance and instead focus on the product on the ice, it’s been quite enjoyable as those of us that actually watch the games know

  • All's.Fair

    ‘The most likely result, based on what we’ve seen, is a Calgary loss’ if we have won 3 of 4 meetings this year wouldn’t that point to the Flames winning? Sure L.A has the fancy stats but guess what Ryan? There behind the Flames and have been for quite awhile. We have scored more goals in 3 of 4 games this year and that is all the matters! This guy is a joke. Monahan in junior last year!! Yeah right. Been reading you all year and all you do is post about how bad the Flames are. Go watch your college hockey. Idiot

  • SSB1963

    Insert generic Ryan Lambert “purely luck no talent Flames because Corsi” article with minor mention of the only actual contribution he has to this blog (college reports). Rinse & repeat.

    I can mail it in every week and write something about the Flames, where do I sign up FN?

  • DoubleDIon

    As usual, mostly rehashed drivel. Lambert’s value to this site is the college game. Children have more insight at the NHL level.

    The ONLY team I think we can beat in the west is Vancouver. They don’t scare me at all.

    Cheaping out on contracts with players like Monahan is stupid. Just don’t sign players you don’t need to rich deals. Ie. Raymond and Engelland. There’s 6 million right there for Monahan.

    I’m becoming more and more convinced that advanced stats people are even more neolithic than the folks who like coke machines that punch faces. They can’t adjust and just prattle on about corsi. Corsi is useful, but it’s certainly not the greatest stat in the world. Anything that counts a Backlund floater from the sideboards the same as a shot from the slot by the 1st line has it’s weaknesses too. Not to mention the complete lack of shot blocking. What does it matter if a shot is directed at the net from the point and blocked? It’s counted as a corsi event even if it leads to a breakaway against.

    Writers like Lambert don’t understand the weaknesses of assessment though corsi in isolation.

  • Ramskull

    As our freind Mr Lambert (could be a missus for all I know. It is the internet after all. Not that there is anything wrong with that. I like women in sports as much as the next guy.)doesnt seem to be that up on reality and consistantly puts out articles that are highly suspect on the facts. I decided I wouldnt even read his article today because he is so consistant in his approach, that I could spout crap like “Ryan doesnt know what the hell he is talking about again” or “Why doesnt this guy move to Edmonton (Loserville) so that his comments might actually reflect the reality of the team he is talking about” or whatever other crap can be issued forth just to piss off the intelligent and loyal masses this city has for fans. BUT I WONT.

    I will simply leave it at “Thank you Ryan for maintaining the same displined appraoch to the TMZ style reporting that we expect from you.”

    GO FLAMES GO.

  • Ramskull

    If we have to pay Monahan millions after next year(almost a certainty) then it’s because he’s worth it. I’m ok with that. There is also the possibility that we get him signed to a Tavares type deal where it’s tough to swallow paying a 22 year old 5 million dollars a year at the start of the contract and the best deal in hockey by the end of it.

    Can you imagine the kings winning the lottery after the flames eliminate them tonight?

  • Ramskull

    Geez, Ryan did you wake up this grumpy or is it just a bloggers need to be controversial? Why based on this years record against Vancouver and Van’s (and the Sedins) play-off history would you think they are going to beat our heads in?

  • Avalain

    Ryan Lambert reminds me of Glen Healy.

    Unable to stand on the merits insight, knowledge, or communicative talent, these scavengers don’t let their enormous deficiencies stop them from getting paid. Oh no, not when there is a tailor-made position just waiting for them… that of inflammatory blowhard.

    And what a job they both do…spewing written diarrhea so rank that even a hazmat suit doesn’t offer enough protection.

    • RedMan

      Remember at the beginning of the year when Healy was running Gaudreau down, basically saying he is not “Johnny Hockey” and hasn’t earned anything?

      If he had an ounce of integrity and a grain of courage he would admit that he miss called this one. Give the kid the credit due.

    • Parallex

      Blocked shots are bad… they’re the result of a shot being taken by someone not on your team and the last time I checked other teams firing the rubber at the direction of your net wasn’t a good thing. They’re not as bad as a goal against or shot on net against but they’re still not good.

      Frankly I feel for you if you’re not able to see that the other team shooting is a bad thing.

  • Avalain

    Ok, so the part I’m stuck on here is about Sean Monahan. How exactly is burning a year on his ELC bad? Calgary doesn’t have any issues with cap space right now and I’d be shocked if they have cap space issues next year. So no, it can’t possibly be about cap space. So does that leave the issue of real money being spent by the owners? Because I imagine that the number of extra seats and Monahan memorabilia would offset the one extra year of playing at a higher price tag. And why do you care about the owners’ bottom line?

    • Parallex

      We’ll have to. Saying blocking a shot is a good thing is the logical equivalency of saying getting punched in the gut is a good thing… sure it’s better then getting punched in the genitals but you’re still getting punched (and getting punched is never good).

  • RedMan

    Some specious reasoning on your part to be sure, but okay.

    Shots taken by opponents will happen. That is just a fact. I am not talking about the number of shots taken or the quality.

    Since shots will be taken, I would prefer that as many of them as possible be blocked.

    Go Flames.

    • Parallex

      As would I… none-the-less the point remain, just as I would prefer to be punched in the gut rather then the nuts I would more prefer to just not be punched at all. By the same logic while I would prefer to have a shot against blocked as opposed to having it go on net I would more prefer that the team just not allow the shot in the first place.

      It’s not specious reasoning at all. A blocked shot is a measure of a “less bad” outcome not a measure of a “good” outcome.

      • Parallex

        And death is a non-favorable life event as well but the reality is it happens to everyone (just like shots against)…your argument can work both ways and in itself really offers nothing of value.

        At the end of the day I’ll take a guy that will throw his body on the line and commit to doing whatever it takes to win and help his team over someone that doesn’t. Russell is an absolute warrior and has picked up the slack more than anyone in Gio’s absence, we should cheering for these guys, not berating them

          • DoubleDIon

            He’s not a bad poster usually. Just can’t really see past the corsi. He’s partially right, it’s better to have no shots directed at your net at all. It’s just not realistic. The least amount of shots a team has given up per game this year is 27.1 while league average is 30.2.

            I think the point the rest of us are making is it’s better to give up 50 attempts if half of them are blocked than it is to give up 30 and none of them are blocked.

            It’s interesting to note that we give up the 12th fewest shots per game. So we’re better than most in that regard.

            We give up the 4th most attempts per game. So much worse than most in that regard.

            Our record (results) seems to indicate that people who see corsi as the chief determiner of who wins are wrong.

            As I’ve said many times, advanced stats are awesome, but we need better advanced stats. Xdiff is a much better predictor of who wins and loses than corsi. The refusal of advanced stats people to embrace and recognize it shows they’re guilty of the very thing they accused old school hockey people of being:

            Stuck in the past and unwilling to embrace the truth or change.

          • Parallex

            “I think the point the rest of us are making is it’s better to give up 50 attempts if half of them are blocked than it is to give up 30 and none of them are blocked.”

            No, the rest of them are pretty much just saying “Blocks = Good”. If they bothered to add that reasonable amount of context and acknowledge that the opponent shooting the puck isn’t a good thing we’d be having a different conversation.

            And I still havn’t seen anybody prove xDiff (or even make an attempt to determine if it’s repeatable on a consistent basis). Some McGill undergrad project isn’t going to convince anyone without subsequent research. Peer review is important.

          • DoubleDIon

            Read the comments and do your research. It’s been a FAR better predictor of record than Corsi. It’s not even remotely close.

            It’s basically a corsi/fenwick combo, but accounting for blocks, where shots are taken and soon to be who is shooting them. Anybody even semi-rational would have to acknowledge Monahan or Gaudreau shooting has much more value than Smid or Engelland shooting or that a shot from 5 feet out directly in front of the net has much more value than a shot from the sideboards of the blueline with no traffic.

            A shot that gets through to the net has more value than a shot that is blocked. All of these things are failings of corsi.

            That’s not even taking into consideration the colossal failure of corsi at even strength as a team based stat. Team corsi should include special teams. It only creates bias when talking about individual players since they may play on the PP and not the PK or vice versa.

            The point at least some of us were making is giving up shots is inevitable. You’re better off blocking them than letting them through. The shots we allow through to the net are 12th best in the league. Denying a correlation between that and our record being better than our corsi numbers is just silly.

          • Parallex

            Great reply DoubleDion. The analysis and interpretation of the data itself is also severely lacking at this point, albeit we are still in the infancy stage of enhanced statistics, hopefully the ability to interpret it in a more meaningful way evolves moving forward

        • Parallex

          Of course they’ll happen (shots attempted against I mean). The fact that they’ll inevitably happen (and some blocked) doesn’t make them a good thing. Having a lot of blocked shots means your opponents are directing a lot of rubber at your net (and that’s bad).

          Context is important. Would I prefer that our boys block shots rather then let them pass? Of course, like I said it’s a “less bad” measure so if the alternative is worse then that less bad outcome… but I’d rather they improve upon limiting their opponents ability to force that action.

          Essentually: Proclaiming “Blocks = Good” is inaccurate.

  • RedMan

    Not to mention what that tells me about the shot blocker’s toughness, courage (a form of courage to be sure), desire, love of team and love of the game. . .how can a true fan not enjoy a blocked shot?

  • Parallex

    The Flames are not good, they are lucky.

    As a fan of the Flames, better to cheer for a bad team that is lucky than a good team that is not lucky (ie Carolina).

    The Flames will be just fine. It would be nice to have a shot at another top four pick, but I can’t remember when I last enjoyed watching this team as much as their current roster, and that includes 2004, when the game of hockey was reduced, essentially, to football on skates.

  • Parallex

    Parallex,

    Of course, not having a shot attempted is better than having the shot attempted. I did not realize this disclaimer was needed. And, yes, I would prefer to have possession of the puck 90% of the time in the offensive zone.

    You win. In our perfect world, we won’t have shots attempted.

    But, in my imperfect world, if a shot is attempted I would prefer as many as possible to be blocked by a player in those beautiful road whites (should still be home whites by the way).

  • Parallex

    I mean this sincerely, with the victory and playoff clinch tonight, I want Ryan “buzz kill” Lambert to write his next “5 things” around the topic; “5 ways Ryan was an idiot about the 2014/2015 season”

    I’ve stopped reading his crap since November, but that article would be just enough to get me to respect him as a flames analyst and get me to start reading again.

    Until such time his opinion is less than worthless to me just as it always has been.

  • Parallex

    Eat a dick Lambert!!! Hope u finally own it in your next article and give credit where it’s due to this group that have done the unthinkable. Playoffs baby!!!

  • DoubleDIon

    Goals Per Game
    5th
    2.91 GPG

    Goals Against
    15th
    2.57 GAA

    Power Play Pct
    13th
    19%

    Penalty Kill Pct
    22nd

    These stats tell me the Flames are a playoff team! The PK Pct is misleading, considering they take few penalties. These stats are more telling (along with Wins, ROW, Pts) than Fancy Stats any day!