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.