Pre-Season Post-Game: The Final Challenge

The good news? The pre-season is over! The bad news? The Flames ended it with an uneven 3-2 loss to the visiting Winnipeg Jets at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

The Flames finish the pre-season with a 4-4-0 record, for whatever that’s worth. (Spoiler: very little.)

THE RUNDOWN

Nobody scored in the opening period, but it was about as good as you’d hope to get for a pre-season performance for the Flames. They skated hard. They made hits (especially Brandon Bollig). They created turnovers. They just could not bury a bloody scoring chance. (They out-chanced the Jets by my count roughly 6-1.) They even had a stretch where they managed to roll three of their four lines without letting the Jets get the puck over their blueline. Shots were 15-5 in the first.

Compared to their first period, the second period unfolded like the Flames decided to leave something in the chamber for Wednesday’s season-opener. Well, you’d hope so, because it was almost the exact opposite of their first period. They didn’t get an official shot on goal until about 10 minutes into the period. And by that point, the Jets were up 2-0. First, a Toby Enstrom shot made it through some traffic in front of Ramo and was tipped very nicely by Blake Wheeler to make it 1-0. A few minutes later, Ben Chiarot saw the Jet out front of Ramo tied up by Brett Kulak and decided to shoot the puck. The shot found a hole between the post, the crossbar and Ramo’s shoulder – the Flames netminder probably could’ve hugged the post more – to make it 2-0 for the visitors. The Flames showed signs of life late, including a few nice scoring opportunities, but went to the dressing room staring at a goose-egg on the scoreboard. Shots were 9-5 Winnipeg in the middle period.

After disappearing for stretches in the second, the Flames were much better in the third – as you’d hope. They were without Jiri Hudler, however, as he left the game for precautionary reasons with a lower-body malady. That led to the Flames shuffling up their lines a bit. Lance Bouma scored early in the period to make it close, but the Flames couldn’t bury their chances – just like in the first period. Drew Stafford scored on an empty net late and despite David Jones’ late goal, it was too little, too late.

But hey, it’s only the pre-season!

NOTABLES

Sam Bennett was the second line center. He was 7-for-12 overall in face-offs, with strong first (3-for-3) and third period (3-for-4) performances sandwiching a 1-for-5 second period. He was skating well and creating chances, so he was pretty solid.

Generally-speaking, Hartley rolled four lines and ignored deployments. But he leaned on Backlund and Stajan a bit more in the defensive zone and Monahan and Bennett a bit more in the offensive end, for whatever it’s worth in a pre-season context.

Brett Kulak looked like an NHL player. He was out-muscled along the boards a bit here and there, but he was positionally sound and played a good defensive game with simple plays. He played 16:37, almost exclusively with Deryk Engelland. (Bob Hartley praised his performance after the game, characterizing him as looking like a “playoff defenseman” in a game that was a big test for him.)

RED WARRIOR

Mikael Backlund had 3 shots and was 10-for-14 at the face-off dot. In a game where it seemed like many veterans were on auto-pilot, Backlund was pretty good.

And hey, Brandon Bollig was throwing his body around like somebody told him he was finally allowed to. He was credited with 3 hits (and 3 shots), and was well-deserving of an honourable mention serving on the fourth line with Matt Stajan and David Jones.

UP NEXT

The pre-season is (mercifully) OVER. The Flames will have until 3pm MT on Tuesday to get down to their opening night roster of 23 active players. So expect some moves – even if they’re just a demotion (or two) to the AHL and declaring some players non-roster/injured.

But beware: if there’s gonna be big moves and chaos of any kind, it’ll happen on Monday during the big waiver shuffle that happens league-wide.

They play Vancouver on Wednesday night at the Saddledome in a game that actually matters in the standings.

  • everton fc

    Kulak looked calm and confident. He never panicked. Very steady, very mobile, and a good passer.

    Bollig also had a good night, for the most part. Ditto Bouma, who is a real leader on the ice. Never quits.

    Wideman made some silly passes in front of the net, but Russell looked real good. Stajan’s line had some jump. Ramo made some good saves. First line seems to have been shut down affectively, though Gaudreau had his moment. He’s a tenacious forechecker, for his size.

    Ferland fit well on the PK. Good news. Faceoffs looked good, as well.

  • The GREAT Walter White

    So the obvious question is: how did the great WW know that McSuck & Luck2015 was nothing special , while the rest of the world thought he was a generational player ???!!!!

    The obvious answer : I watched him play ….

    At the World juniors he was never the best player on the ice.

    At the OHL playoffs he was never the best player on the ice.

    In Penticton he was never the best player on the ice.

    Pre season: …..nothing…playing almost ALL power play time.

    All against players his own age.

    Sure he is going to be a good player; he is a first overall pick after all !!!
    I’m sure he will be as good as Hall, RNH , Yak.

    But generational?! Give me a break.

    WW

    • RedMan

      Of course Walter, you’re the Greatest Hockey Mind on the planet. We get that already.

      Now what have you got to say about the Flames/Jets game tonight??

      We’re waiting for your WORDS OF WISDOM…..

    • Captain Ron

      It seems you are correct. I mean wouldn’t a generational player be rapping off goals and assists in his first preseason games like he’s collecting coins in Mario?

      Another top pick about to fall short of expectations in Deadmonton. Of course he never really had a chance

    • Captain Ron

      While I would love for you to be right, the fact that you think that your proclamation deserves any kudos after the kid’s first PRESEASON is pretty embarrassing. It’s almost as though you’re inviting all the Oiler trolls to come out of hiding…

    • MontanaMan

      Don’t disagree with much of your post but remember, McDavid is fresh out of junior, needs to learn the NHL game and needs to beef up a scrawny body all the while having the Toronto media watching his every move. There is no doubt the kid is a great hockey player. Generational? That’s a tag hung on him by the media and one that he didn’t ask for or want. He has tremendous pressure on him internally (dressing room) and externally. Although I thoroughly dislike the Oilers organization, I’m not down on McDavid and will choose to wait three years before proclaiming him a Gretzky or a Daigle.

    • STIXLER

      Oh WAlly
      You are so delusional, Mcdavid is going to make you eat those words.
      I have come to realize that you and the other resident troll ultrathinskin are the same person.
      How else to explain how you are always stroking each other over your obviously insecure drivel.

  • Captain Ron

    Honestly I think Bollig could work rather well on a fourth line with Stajan and Jones. It’s not entirely dissimilar to the line he played on in Chicago, with Marcus Kruger as the center.

  • Captain Ron

    I’m anxious already to get Brodie back ASAP and make Engelland a popcorn muncher. I liked Kulak’s game tonight and wouldn’t mind if Brodie mentored him a bit at some point when he returns.

  • beloch

    This was truly a test for Kulak given that playing with Engelland made even Brodie look bad at times. It wasn’t a good possession night for Kulak and Engelland (CF% of 43% and 39% respectively according to hockeystats.ca), but they were absolutely buried in defensive zone starts (just 22% o-zone starts for the pair!). For what it’s worth, Russel’s CF% was only slightly higher, and he had a whopping 75% o-zone starts!

    Tonight was actually pretty representative of how Hartley deployed his pairs last season, and likely how he will this season until Brodie returns. The top pair gets buried in defensive zone starts against the toughs. The bottom pair gets buried in defensive zone starts against the fourth line pluggers. The bulk of the offensive zone starts go to Wideman and Russel, who somehow manage to generate defensive zone starts for the other two pairs.

    What does this mean? Kulak isn’t good enough to make the third pair functional if his partner is going to be Engelland and they get typical deployment from Hartley. They simply weren’t good enough tonight, but nobody has yet proven to be good enough to consistently break past a CF% of 50% when paired with Engelland. Engelland is bad at hockey. However, the fact that the Kulak/Engelland pair wasn’t a complete gong-show suggests Kulak may actually be a competent #5-6 NHL guy. Who saw that coming from a guy who played in the ECHL last season!? I sure didn’t.

    Kulak has earned a start with the big team next Wednesday. The task in front of him now is to show he’s good enough to bump Engelland to the press-box once Brodie returns.

    Does this mean Ryan Wilson should be released from his PTO? I say no. He’s shown some promise. Sign that guy to a one-year, league-minimum contract and improve your odds of putting Engelland in the press box sooner rather than later. He may have to clear waivers to make room for Kulak to start the season, but that likely won’t be an issue.

    P.S. I know I’m probably being too hard on Engelland. A big part of the reason everybody who plays with him looks bad is that he gets the worst zone starts on the team. Even Brodie (when he wasn’t playing with Engelland) and Giordano had better zone starts last season. Other teams usually try to either even out their pairs or shelter their weakest pair, but Hartley buries Engelland and his unfortunate partners in defensive zone starts every night. That will hopefully change once Brodie returns.

    • McRib

      In Brett Kulak’s defence he got sent down to the ECHL because he wasn’t getting any ice time, it really wasn’t that he played bad. I watched a couple games early last season and he didn’t see a regular shift at all. When he got called up again in February he had 11 Points in 17 Games. He was also an extremely late bloomer growing a couple of inches even after his draft (5’11” draft year) so obviously he spent time adding muscle this offseason being behind curve. He actually was projected as a Top. 60 pick pre-draft before being selected by us, but teams shied away due to height, then he sprouted even more the next year (he was 5’6″ in Bantam, which is why he was never even drafted into the WHL).

      For me he always looked like a future NHLer when I watched him in the WHL, he had 60 Points in 69 Games his last year in Vancouver on a bad team to boot. If he was on a good club he would have led the WHL in scoring for a defenceman he was that good (he was four points away from being his teams leading scorer from the backend). As a comparable Tyler Wotherspoon had 37 Points his 19 year old season in the WHL paired with Seth Jones (wish we took Nikita Kucherov that pick, apparently that’s who Jay Feaster wanted to take).

      Not criticizing what you are saying it is strange for someone to go from ECHL to NHL next year for sure, but I don’t think the Flames really gave him a fair shake at the start of last year in the AHL and they clearly realized it by calling him up at the end of the year for a game. Top. 4 potential isn’t beyond the realm of reason for me, as the kid can flat out play, after all Mark Giordano had 0.24 PPG his first AHL season, Kulak had 0.50 PPG last year (0.65 PPG when he got a chance at end of season if you eliminate games before being sent down).

  • Burnward

    Might be a shot in the dark, but Wilson/Kulak on the 3rd pair would be A-okay with me to start the season until Brodie gets back. It’s probably not realistic with the money being given to Engelland though.

  • Burnward

    ZERO need to resign Wilson with Brodie coming back soon and Smid eventually. Combine that with Wotherspoon and Nakladal ready and able to adequately backfill until Brodie and Smid are back and we do not need to waste a contract (we’re already at 47 or 48) on a player that we have adequate depth at already for that position.

    Let the kids play and develop

      • RedMan

        I was excited for the potential that Wilson brought, thinking that if he was up to speed, it could be a great n risk deal. unfortunately, he did NOT look up to speed, and Kulak isn’t the only prospect that outplayed him.

        His best hope is to land on the Oilers, where lack of depth would automatically mean 2nd pairing.

  • hulkingloooooob

    kulak was fantastic!
    so was jooris! damn he’s pesky.
    bennett better in the circle,
    and russell was awesome too! most under appreciated flame for sure.
    all in all a good game, just not a win.

    now we get down to bizness!

    go flames go!