There are some things you just can’t do anything about. Mark Giordano’s injury is one of them, although Gio seems to be trying his best to get around that. Raphael Diaz’s injury is another. So is Lance Bouma’s. Players are going to get hurt in contact sports, and you need to learn to live without them.
The Flames are doing that right now, albeit just barely.
Flash back to the majesty that was the playoff-clinching game against the Los Angeles Kings. Jonas Hiller was amazing. The top line came together to score just as much as they needed to. The patchwork defence did what they had to do.
Corey Potter played 2:26. Total.
The Flames looked at the best possession team in the league, hungry and desperate and needing a win to stay alive in the playoff race, and decided to play with five defencemen. TJ Brodie played 29 minutes. Dennis Wideman, 28. Kris Russell, 27. Deryk Engelland, 25.
That’s pretty massive, and has to be pretty exhausting. Hence a bunch of sitting for the final meaningless regular game of the season.
But now it’s playoff time, and in the playoffs, you simply play, no matter what.
Sparse ice time
Potter didn’t play 2:26 in the first game against the Vancouver Canucks. Instead, he played 3:56. He had all of one shift in the third period.
Again, the Flames effectively decided to utilize just five defencemen, but this time, in a playoff game.
Wideman played 30 minutes. Russell, 29. Brodie, 26. They’ve already been doing this all season; can it last in the playoffs, too? Especially when they’re facing the same team for however many games in a row, a team with more chances to study their specific habits and usage and learn to exploit it? After all, without Giordano or even Diaz, the Flames are essentially down a man on the backend.
Brandon Bollig played 6:51. Markus Granlund, 7:20. Josh Jooris, who initially started out as their linemate, was somewhat spared, ultimately getting 10:16 of ice time.
Jooris is a capable player. The Flames, throughout this season, have been capable of running four functional lines. A touch less so at the moment thanks to injuries, but there are easy solutions to that. There have been easy solutions all season long, starting with the most obvious answer: bite the bullet, admit you messed up on the Bollig trade, and simply stop playing him.
Or, you know, take a player who you said could totally handle a bigger role. A player who averaged 9:11 of ice time over three seasons and 125 games with the Chicago Blackhawks. And then give him an even smaller role: an 8:36 average with his new team. And continue to act like there are no other solutions but to play your depth defenceman signed for basic roster security purposes.
It’s working now, but pretty much everything about the Flames is inexplicably working now. How long does it last?
Play someone who can play
Mason Raymond is right there. Mason Raymond has not been super good as of late. He also plays more minutes than Bollig, and has a tendency to be able to actually score on occasion.
Put it this way: you need a goal. You have two players to choose between. Who do you choose?
With the top line struggling so far, and the Flames absolutely needing them to come through, the most balanced forward lineup possible is crucial. Balanced does not include playing guys for five minutes. That’s the opposite.
Balanced is what the Canucks did, where their least-played guys got 13 minutes, and their most, 22.
While this isn’t entirely anyone’s fault – Paul Byron looks like he may come back any day now, and then it will be the fault of the roster-maker – it’s not exactly the best strategy to go on.
Especially on a heavy-minutes position such as defence.
Russell and Wideman have had to play above their heads all season long, and that only got compounded when Giordano went down. The occasional 24-minute game turned into increasingly frequent half hour-long ones. Brodie has been forced into this role as well.
It’s not as though the Flames’ top defence prospect isn’t available, and hasn’t been available multiple times throughout the season, yet always sat so Potter could play seven minutes, if he was lucky.
This is not to speak ill of Potter at all, but it’s clear his coach does not trust him. And he’s right not to. So what’s the worst that’s going to happen, here, exactly, if someone else takes Potter’s place? Wotherspoon plays four minutes in a playoff game and… then what? There are still five defencemen actually being used, three or four overly so, but at least it’s better than sticking with what we already know isn’t exactly working. Maybe the new guy would show something better, and the Flames can go back to six defencemen.
How long does this last?
Either until bodies come back, including Giordano’s apparently inevitable miraculous recovery, or the Flames exit the playoffs, whenever that may be.
Rookies have already overtaken the spots of lesser players on the roster. Jooris is one of them. Ferland, at least at present time, appears to be another. Devin Setoguchi and Brian McGrattan were banished. Bolig seems immune, albeit Bouma’s injury likely has a lot to do with that.
Meanwhile, Wotherspoon has been recalled four times throughout the regular season, and has gotten all of one game: a game in which anyone of consequence (re: everyone Hartley has to entrust 30 minutes of ice time to because there is absolutely nobody else to take it) was not playing.
Something happened with Wotherspoon in between his season-ending shoulder surgery from last season and whatever has been going on this season.
The entire team is getting growing and improving; soon enough, Bollig’s physicality won’t be able to save him a spot in the lineup. Definitely not with kids who are already better than him coming along.
Poor Markus Granlund is left without option, simply clearly not NHL-ready just yet. One day, probably. Now? No.
And while the Flames do have better immediate solutions for persistent problems, instead, they ignore them, and continue following through with decisions that have brought the Flame success in spite of them, rather than because of.
Exhibiting no trust in a player but continuing to play the player in the face of other solutions is somewhat odd, though. Let’s see how playing down a few guys plays out over a best of seven where the opposition doesn’t do that.