Nothing went right for the Flames in their long awaited return to the second round. While they’ve been overachieving all season long, cracks have occasionally revealed themselves. Game 1 against the Ducks was the biggest of them all; less of a crack and more like a gaping chasm forcing you to stare into the eye of elimination.
Too much? Well, yeah: playoff series aren’t won or lost after one game, unless that game is Game 7, and this was not. The Flames received such a beating, though, that it pretty much felt like it was over.
Everything went wrong. Everything.
Everyone needs to be better
From start to finish, the Ducks dominated the Flames. They outhit, outshot, out-possessed, and most important of all, out-scored Calgary, that last one by a very wide margin. That’s probably not going to happen every game, but the sheer force with which the Ducks approached the game gives you major pause if you’re cheering for the team in the second year of its rebuild.
It was not the Flames losing to the Canucks in the playoffs. The Ducks never showed a hint of letting Calgary even remotely into the game. When the Flames were losing to Vancouver, they retaliated. Not only was that missing from Game 1 in Anaheim, but the second it looked like it may have been starting up when Brandon Bollig and Tim Jackman roughed each other up, the refs put an immediate stop to it.
Not that it probably would have done anything, anyway; there’s no cure for being perfectly outclassed. The forwards need to score, and it can’t be off of just fluke breaks. The defence needs to actually defend, not stand around watching. And yeah, the goalies need to make saves.
Brutal goals were let in by both parties, and at inopportune times. But the Flames aren’t going to win if they can only get one goal on the board, and one not even born of their own merit.
Clear the slot, protect the crease
They aren’t going to win if they let the Ducks walk all over them. Via War on Ice:
Six goals for the Ducks, six from within tight. Flames defenders were either caught watching, getting out-muscled, falling over, heading in the wrong direction for no apparent reason, or having the pucks go in off of them.
Deryk Engelland was on the ice for five of six goals against, and that last point applies specifically to him. Well, most of those points do. Dennis Wideman was heading in the wrong direction for no apparent reason on the goal that got Hiller pulled.
In scoring six goals, the Ducks were a number of things. They were hungrier, they were smarter, and most important of all, they simply are more talented. They’re the better team.
Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo both let in bad goals, but they also needed way more help than they were afforded. This wasn’t a game one of them was going to be able to steal.
This was the scene right before the Ducks scored their first goal:
There’s zero help for him. Engelland has failed to prevent the pass, and Matt Beleskey has slipped by everyone to be wide open with an equally wide open net to shoot into. The Ducks’ beginning of the onslaught was not on Hiller.
The second goal against is a combined team offence:
Engelland, again, failed to prevent the pass. Matt Stajan was out-muscled by Patrick Maroon, who got prime positioning on him. But from the way Hiller is angled, that goal shouldn’t have gotten past him. He should have been ready for it, and kept it out. He didn’t.
The third goal against was also a total team failure, but more on Hiller than anyone else:
Wideman is mid-panicked lunge after going in completely the wrong direction to prevent Corey Perry from scoring, but that should have never gotten past Hiller. Quickly down 3-0, and very much responsible for the straw that broke the camel’s back, Hiller was immediately pulled after the second bad goal he gave up. He finished the night with just 11 saves on 14 shots, good (bad?) for a .786 save percentage.
Things didn’t get a whole lot better from there, though.
Ramo’s filling in
Deja vu: Hiller’s giving up quick goals, so in comes Ramo to clean up the mess. Only this time, not only did the Flames not score for Ramo, but he didn’t do enough to inspire confidence, either. His first goal against saw him give up the rebound that left the puck sitting in the slot, and fail to react to it once the shot was taken.
The rebound didn’t help, but it was a small one trickling out; had any of his skaters been in the vicinity, they would have been able to remove it to safety. As it stands, though, it looks like Josh Jooris is the only guy in white with any clue where the puck is, and he’s too far out to reach it.
Just like Hiller’s first goal against, Ramo was let down by his teammates as he was provided no sight lines to speak of, and nobody nearby to come to his aid. It was an easy goal for Emerson Etem’s picking.
The fifth goal against, however, was totally on Ramo:
You can’t let Perry score from there. You just can’t. Especially not short side.
The sixth goal, while unfortunate, didn’t leave much to inspire confidence in, either:
The puck deflected in off of Engelland’s skate. Ramo can’t control that, but his slow reaction and lethargic flopping over he could control. Yeah, the Flames were down 5-0 and a comeback didn’t look likely at all, but when you’re in net, you simply have to be doing more, no matter what the score may be.
Ramo did not step up.
So, who’s the starter?
Ignore the narrative about Hiller returning to Anaheim in hopes of vanquishing the team that rejected him. It’s a nice story, but it means nothing to the team at large.
Hiller has been the better goaltender between the two all season. He has been the better goaltender over the stretches of their entire careers. Hiller received the majority of the starts in the regular season, just as he will probably receive the majority of the starts in 2015-16.
In the playoffs, you go with your starter.
Just enough has happened recently to throw some questions as to who that really is; Hiller has, after all, been pulled early on in two games now after giving up five relatively quick goals. When Ramo won Game 6, it gave some pause as to who should start in net after Hiller blew it, but Hiller had an outstanding Game 5 right beforehand to singlehandedly keep the Flames in it in an elimination game. You can’t forget that he’s only a few games removed from near winning a playoff series essentially on his own.
He’s also a veteran goalie who deserves the chance to righten the ship.
Two of the three goals Ramo gave up were on the powerplay, whereas all three of Hiller’s came at even strength. Ramo posted a .857 save percentage, though. That’s not a job-stealing number.
Ramo entered the game in what was essentially garbage time, and that’s mostly what he played. The Ducks were done, they’d already gotten all they needed. And still, Ramo let in weak goals against. He was less at fault than Hiller, but he was still at fault.
Goaltending is not perfect in Flames land right now, but despite that, Hiller still remains the best option for a future win.
If soft goals against happen again, the topic can be revisited, but as it stands right now, Ramo did not do enough to take Hiller’s job, and Hiller wasn’t bad enough to hand it over.
Again: Everyone needs to be better
And then, there’s this.
No matter how poor the goaltending is, the Flames aren’t going to do well if they can’t keep the Ducks away from the crease. And they especially aren’t going to do well if they can’t score at all.
Both goalies were bad in Game 1. So was everyone else. It was a true team loss. If the Flames want to even up the series, they’re going to need a lot of help, and it’s going to have to come from every single party wearing the flaming C. Timely goals and timely saves will both have their parts to play, and as it stands right now, Hiller is the best candidate to help out with the latter.