What we learned from the Flames’ 3 on 3 OT

Overtime was awesome before, but it’s even better now. You take all the heart-pounding terror of sudden death, add a whole lot more open space and suddenly, everything is taken up to a whole new level.

Every single play means something. You miss your chance, and you had better get in your own end immediately, because it’s probably coming right back. You make one wrong guess, and you may be conceding the game. There’s almost no margin for error.

And the best part? The Flames have just the personnel to be a good three-on-three team.

This isn’t the first time they’ve played 3 on 3

Think back to last year. In the final game of the 2014 calendar, the Flames and Oilers failed to settle things in regulation, and went to the extra frame. With a catch: Josh Jooris (tripping) and Jeff Petry (embellishment) had taken offsetting penalties with just 59 seconds to go.

That meant 1:01 of three-on-three overtime – a preview for when the rules changed for the next season.

And it was glorious. Sure, you have to account for a handicap here – I mean, they played the Oilers, so – but the Flames played it perfectly.

The first unit Bob Hartley sent out was Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, and Sean Monahan: otherwise known as arguably the best defensive pair in the entire NHL, and one of the fast-rising young centres. Three players who can play defence; three players who can score. 

They controlled the puck the entire time. They didn’t get that many scoring chances themselves, but they were never in danger of giving anything up.

The Flames’ first official 3 on 3

And then, there was the second game of the Flames’ 2015-16 season. Three-on-three overtime is everywhere now, no longer a consequence of timely penalty calls. Everyone has to play by the new rules. Everyone has to have their units set up.

Despite the occasional miscues, the Flames showed: they’re still a team built for this.

The first unit Hartley went was previously established. With Brodie on the injured reserve, it wasn’t totally possible; thankfully, the Flames got another young, top pairing-level defenceman over the offseason. So the first guys sent out were Monahan, Giordano, and Dougie Hamilton.

Monahan stayed on the ice for a line change, and Kris Russell and Johnny Gaudreau came on. The Canucks got a scoring chance out of this when Gaudreau fell, allowing for a nearly clean break; Jonas Hiller, thankfully, froze the puck, and allowed for a new unit to come on.

This was easily Hartley’s biggest mistake of overtime, and one we’ll hopefully never see repeat itself: the trio of Flames on the ice were Russell, Dennis Wideman, and Matt Stajan. They were a total trainwreck, stuck in their own end the entire time out together until Hiller was able to freeze the puck once again.

So Hartley replaced them with his primary overtime unit, and they got the puck out of the defensive zone right away. Maintaining control of it, they were able to get set up in the offensive zone, so when the next unit – Russell, Gaudreau, and Jiri Hudler – came on, they were able to apply some pressure.

The rest is history: Wideman replaced Russell while Gaudreau and Hudler stayed on. Brandon Sutter nearly stripped Gaudreau of the puck, almost setting up a golden chance for the Canucks, only to be thwarted by Wideman chipping the puck back up to Gaudreau. And then Gaudreau scored, ending it.

What we learned

Everything about three-on-three is high risk, high reward. That’s why you need responsible players out there.

Russell and Wideman bleed shot attempts against; having them out together for three-on-three is a terrible idea, and it showed. However, when it was just one out with two of the Flames’ top forwards, they were able to contribute, and Wideman even had a game-saving play.

One thing we definitely learned, though: the Stajan – Russell – Wideman unit is not to be trusted and probably should not be out there again.

Something else we learned: the Monahan – Giordano – Hamilton unit is to be trusted and should be out there as often as possible. And it’s going to get even better when Brodie comes back.

The Flames’ top three defencemen are all guys who can play in the toughest of circumstances, and put major points on the board while doing so. It allows them to throw out two defencemen for overtime and still be on the attack. There’s still risk, but the risk is minimized when you know if someone jumps up into the play, his partner will be able to cover for him.

Something else the Flames have to their advantage: defensively sound forwards. Monahan is getting there. Michael Frolik is already there, though, and he’s proven he can score. Even Mikael Backlund, if given a chance, could prove effective – he did score the Flames’ first overtime goal of 2014-15, after all (even though that was back in the days of four-on-four; Backlund’s abilities should still be able to translate to three-on-three).

And then, there are the guys with pure offensive instincts. Gaudreau and Hudler were out there when the goal was scored; Gaudreau and Hudler have been paired together for nearly a full year now, and they’ve scored a lot together. There’s a little more risk with them, but the reward is pretty high, as Gaudreau showed.

Those are five forwards (without even getting into what Sam Bennett may have in store for us) and three defencemen who should all be able to thrive in three-on-three overtime. What’s really valuable about this group is the Flames can go all-in on offence – those three defenders all have at least 40-point capability – without sacrificing anything on defence.

It’s still high risk, high reward – but the risk doesn’t have to be as high. The Flames are a top-heavy team, and their top players are built for this.

  • Derzie

    Backlund on 3 on 3 would be a death sentence. He is a defensive forward with average offensive skill. A 5v5 & PK player. 3v3 is built for mobile defensemen and high-scoring one-way or 2-way forwards. Stajan should tell you all you need to know about how Backlund would do in OT. 2 guys best suited for the PK really, of which they are very good.

  • Skuehler

    When the sedins were out the flames didnt so much as sniff the puck. It was brutal. Hiller saved the game for the flames. Not sure how much of a threat guys like Stajan and Rusell are in the early stages of 3on3

  • Burnward

    When we get Brodie back, the combinations & permutations of any1 or 2 with Monahan, Gaudreau, Hudler, Bennett, Frolik will be tough for opposing coaches to defend against. You read it here first, by the time March comes around, Hartley’s 3X3 weapons will be the envy of the league.

  • ClayBort

    Forgot, not allowed to be negative about Hartley in the comments, despite the idiocy of a Stajan-Wideman-Russell combination in OT. The worst part is he’ll feel vindicated for that stupid strategy.

    3-on-3 is about playing the odds, and hunkering down in your own end is a moronic strategy.

    • Rockmorton65

      First game of the season, dude. A time to experiment. Maybe he thought they could hold down the fort until he could get Johnny & Huds out there, who knows. Seems kind of silly to call it he reigning coach of the year a moron for one line combination in the first 3 on 3 overtime in the team’s history (which he won btw)

      • ClayBort

        There’s a whole lot to my view of Hartley than a 3-on-3 line. Let’s just say there are a lot of things that bother me about Hartley, and this was a very Hartley move.

        • MontanaMan

          All the guy did was take a bottom feeder team, get the most out of fringe players, make the playoffs, win a playoff round and win coach of the year. I can see why you have so many issues with him.

          • MontanaMan

            Tough crowd. I’m not so naive to believe that Harlley doesn’t have issues, but what he did with this team last year was nothing short of a miracle. And the team’s success was based on a number of things and not just shoothing percentages. Accept that he isn’t your kind of coach but he has had great success with his coachng style.

        • Your posts (i.e. incoherent ramblings) aren’t even worthy of a response but I’ll bite…

          The same Hartley that you have an obsession about bashing 24/7 is the same guy that has chalked up 100 wins and won a Jack Adams coaching a team that was supposed to be in the absolute basement of the league rebuilding for a number of years.

          Give the man some respect, he’s done the unthinkable in his short time here and has a proven track record of driving results everywhere he has been.

        • Rock

          Perhaps he realized the Sedins were just too dangerous and the best play was fall back and play zone defence while letting them tire themselves out skating around the outside, THEN bring out his big guns (ie JH & Huds) for the kill shot against lessor lights.

          It’s not ALL about scoring, sometimes, just like the regular game, you’ve got to hunker down and weather the storm.

          • Rock

            It’s not ALL about scoring, sometimes, just like the regular game, you’ve got to hunker down and weather the storm.

            Yes, but who puts Russell and Wideman on the ice to “weather the storm?”

  • ClayBort

    Personally, I didn’t feel terribly worried when Wideman and Russell were out there. The acted just like the whole Flames team did when the Sedins were out in the playoffs last year: collapse and try to snuff out their attack by keeping them on the perimeter. That said, they would definitely not be my first choice to be out against the Sedins and the chance they gave up wasn’t pretty, but it was also pretty obvious the pass was going to the one beside the net and Hiller read it beautifully.

  • The GREAT Walter White

    BT is really holding out on trading a goalie, there must be some interest out there with the injuries.

    Hopefully he gets a good young winger or high draft pick in return!


    • everton fc

      We could really use a 2nd line LW.

      Kulak may be this year’s Jooris. Can’t see why they’d send him down, regardless of who returns.

      As for Russell and Wideman, perhaps they become the 5/6 pairing, while Kulak pairs with Brodie as our 3/4, upon the latter’s return. Engelland sits in the box preparing for his career as an assistant coach.

  • JumpJet

    I’d like to see more two forward, one defenceman combos in the next OT. One defensive forward (Monahan, Frolik, Backlund), one offensive forward (Gaudreau, Hudler, Bennett), and one of the top 3 D. Anyway you shake it you get 3 solid lines for OT.

    I liked Hartley’s strategy of changing one player at a time, too.

    • Derzie

      I know that Backlund is a darling around here but don’t lump him in with Monahan or Frolik. Not in the same ballpark as those two guys. He is a solid bottom 6 forward. That is not who you want 3 on 3. For reference see Stajan, Matthew.

  • It basically looked exactly how you’d expect a brand new rule in a league to look, especially with one team badly needing the extra point. Hartley and the coaching staff seemed unprepared, and it showed. It was very underwhelming. The choices left a lot to be desired, and given what a tire fire Wideman’s game had been to that point, it was almost a fitting end. That said, for a rule change that is supposed to highlight skill, it did just that with Johnny scoring. I’m sure we’ll grow to love it, especially once Brodie is back, but it’s going to take some smarter choices on behalf of the coaching staff.

    • Burnward

      Unprepared to where Gaudreau said all that practice paid off?

      I get the stylistic differences in opinion on forward versus defense deployment, but this is the strategy they have chosen to start and they did win.

      If they lose repeatedly and nothing changes, then there’s a problem.

      • How long did it take for Gaudreau, the player we all instantly thought of when this rule was changed, to even hit the ice? His practice paid off for sure. He scored, they won. It doesn’t mean parts of that OT weren’t hard to watch and don’t need improvement. It doesn’t mean that Hartley didn’t go to a pairing that had a very weak game and made a 3 on 3 suddenly feel like a penalty kill. Thankfully, the result was a victory. I’m definitely in agreeance that beating game 2 to death is relatively pointless, but I’m baffled that anyone could watch that OT prior to the last 15 seconds and be super proud of it.

        • Avalain

          Waiting until the Sedins are off the ice to put Gaudreau in actually sounds like a smart idea to me. I’m not going to defend the issue of putting Wideman and Russell out there together, but waiting to put Johnny on the ice was a smart move.

          • Rock

            This whole write up was about a strategy and it is obvious that the strategy was to hold down the Sedins and then put the game ending players out there while the Sedins are resting. The results are what counts and the flames won the game. Even for a arm chair coaches should try to look at the results not only possession stats all the time the strategy worked just great

          • ClayBort

            Just me, but I’d rather have the puck in the Canucks end while the Sedins are on the ice rather than give them our blueline and hang on for dear life. It’s hard to score from 200 feet away.

        • Rock

          How long did it take for Gaudreau, the player we all instantly thought of when this rule was changed, to even hit the ice?

          Not very long at all. He came on for Hamilton on the very first line change. Gaudreau was the guy who fell down on the half boards leading to Vancouver’s first scoring chance.

  • MattyFranchise

    Hartley has won everything at every level of hockey during his long career as a coach. I think I’m going to continue to trust him with the Flames.

  • How is this for you the Great Walter White?

    Mark JANKOWSKI set a new career-high on Friday, picking up one goal and three assists in Providence’s 7-3 triumph over Miami.

    ….and named Flames Prospect of the Week!

  • RedMan

    the league has a new strategy, and every team is going to be experimenting and tinkering. OK, I get it, lot’s of us don’t know why Hartley chose Wideman and Russell, and didn’t start with the “obvious” choices (at least, obvious to all the arm chair coaches here).

    Vancouver, on the other hand, went with the obvious choice, and still lost.

    Personally, i have no issue with being patient and not second-guessing Hartley. He has a proven track record at every level, including coaching this team to an astonishing 2nd round last year which nobody in the world expected, us all included.

    part of Hartley “winning” coach package is his loyalty to players who go to the wall for the team, and that seems to be his take on wideman and Russell. this type of team loyalty is important to the makeup – just ask teams like edmonton who are on the opposite side of the scale and nobody has loyalty to each other.

    In fact, Hartley has stated in the past that he has lots of time for the guy who gives 100% and makes mistakes, compared to the guy who is afraid to make mistakes, and plays a perimeter


    every coach is figuring this out on the fly, meanwhile, Hartley is 1-for-1, Vancouver is 0-for-1. Hartley’s record earns him the room to experiment and figure this out.

    • MontanaMan

      Geez Jeff, don’t you know you aren’t allowed to like the coach with some on this site. That’s because they have NHL coaching resumes & are fully qualified to question & nitpick & criticize every decision Hartley makes. So it’s pretty pointless, Hartley could win every game but he will still be a horrible coach who doesn’t know who should be on the ice.