1. The comeback
The entire confluence of events that led to Calgary’s comeback on Tuesday night encapsulated everything weird about this season for the Flames. Everything goes their way all the time, even when they don’t deserve it.
And make no mistake, they didn’t deserve to win on Tuesday. The confluence of circumstances that came together for the team’s third and fourth goals were outlandish to say the least.
The circumstances are these:
- Matt Stajan straight-up runs Frederik Andersen, and is shoved to the ice by Simon Despres. This happens all the time in the NHL and usually it’s the guy who ran the goalie getting the penalty. But because it was less than two minutes to go in a one-goal game in which there had already been controversy, the officials matched up the penalties and created a 4-on-4 situation.
- Calgary pulls the goalie to effectively give the Flames a power play.
- Less than a minute later, Sami Vatanen tries to knock down an airborne puck and swats it over the glass instead. This too happens all the time, except for the over-the-glass part. The referees, of course, had to call the infraction. It’s now 5-on-3 for Calgary.
- Johnny Gaudreau scores on a ludicrously high-skill shot, placing the puck in a part of the net where he could have fit the puck and maybe one or two additional hairs.
- Referees ignore a Flames hold as the Ducks attack early in overtime. That’s letting them play, and it’s right in line with how every other series has been called. Fair enough for all observers.
- Referees then decide to call a Ducks infraction in front of the net, which is odd given what they just let go, and that allows Calgary to pull the goalie. Anaheim never came close to controlling it on the ensuing extra-attacker play, and Mikael Backlund put it through approximately 600 bodies to secure the win.
Again, this is all luck. The Flames won a game they had no real business winning. War on Ice had them at a very, very slim chance of winning before they got that penalty. Which makes a lot of sense.
Again, counting on these fluke things to keep winning games has to not-work at some point. Especially if they get so easily handled by the Ducks in the first 57 minutes of the game. Nice comeback and everything, but man everyone on this team has about a dozen horseshoes each up their asses.
2. Was it a goal?
No. Save the conspiracy theories and everything else: The rules here are that there has to be definitive evidence to overturn a referee’s decision. The league isn’t holding back footage and it’s not using one angle. It has angles fans and media alike never saw, and ruled that people back in Toronto couldn’t overrule the referees in Calgary. Pretty simple.
But it does bring up an interesting issue for the NHL. Not only about puck-tracking technology that really ought to be implemented (though doing so would more difficult than most people think), but also about the transparency of the process. In recent years, the league has taken to explaining decisions like this on an official blog, sometimes even releasing video that includes those not-for-public-consumption angles to make the point.
But in the aftermath of this decision, there was only a few sentences explaining the situation, and that’s it. More needs to be done here, especially if these decisions end up mattering. The league dodged a bullet with Calgary winning that game, that’s for sure.
3. Roster mismanagement
I’ve long said that Bob Hartley is not a good coach, and this series has done little to dissuade me from that feeling. Sure, you’re going to start trying to shake things up when your team is getting throttled as badly as Hartley’s in the first two games, but there’s no excuse for any decision in which David Wolf got first-line minutes for literally even one second. It’s idiotic
Hartley mixes up lines regularly to little effect. Often, given how shallow the roster is, you literally have to have Wolf playing with Hudler or whatever, because you just can’t get swap in anyone else actually worth playing there. You make do with what you have, and Hartley doesn’t have much.
Then there’s the minutes distribution among defensemen: Three guys — TJ Brodie, Dennis Wideman, and Kris Russell — regularly pull 26 or 27 minutes, Deryk Engelland usually pushes 20 or 21, and the rest are in the 17-and-less range. Hartley says it doesn’t matter, and maybe he’s right insofar as they’re not winning this series anyway, so he can run whoever he wants into the ground at his leisure. Certainly, his hand is forced to some extent by the continued absence of Mark Giordano, but there are better ways to do it. Like not letting Engelland play that much.
You can say it’s working, but only because they won last night. It was very profoundly not-working in Games 1 and 2, and performances like those are more the norm than Tuesday’s when you play a team as dominant as the Ducks.
4. Something wrong with Monahan
Speaking of mismanaging the roster, I’m 100000 percent convinced that Sean Monahan is playing with at least one injury that limits his physical abilities. His shots are weak, he can’t handle passes, he’s getting murdered at the dot.
And so at some point you have to think to yourself, if you’re Bob Hartley, that maybe playing him 20-plus minutes isn’t a good idea. I don’t know. The Flames have really been good in this series so it’s clearly working just kidding it’s not.
I love how the team swears up and down that he’s healthy. “Oh yeah remember when he looked great earlier this season? Hmm well yes he’s still exactly that healthy and as to why he looks like garbage, I don’t know but he’s definitely feeling perfectly fit.”
5. Burning a year
Finally, here’s some roster mismanagement that is out of Hartley’s hands: The team allowing Sam Bennett to torch a year of his ELC on, at most, five playoff games. Has he been good? Yes, he has, but that’s not the issue, much like performance wasn’t the issue for Sean Monahan last season.
It’s about making sure your roster stays as affordable as possible for as long as possible. The Flames are nowhere near Cup contention but they’ve got some nice pieces in place, Bennett included, who might one day push them to that level (it’s hard to imagine watching the proceedings in this round, between this series and the one between Chicago and Minnesota; Calgary’s not even at the Wild’s level and Chicago is feeding them their lunch).
And as we see time and again, you need actual contributors on their ELCs or close to it to actually be Cup-competitive. Therefore, the longer the Flames pushed out both Monahan and Bennett (at least within reason), the more likely they would be to actually keep player costs down. Now, both will be reaching unrestricted free agency right around the time the team is likely to be at or near the height of its powers. That’s going to be very costly.
And the funny thing is players don’t even get paid for the playoffs, so really, they’re saying Bennett playing 15 minutes a night in the postseason after a single regular-season game is enough to warrant burning that year. I don’t get it. At best, I’d say he hasn’t-not earned it.