If you’re familiar with how I wrote recaps back at Matchsticks & Gasoline, you’ll remember I included a “stray observations” section that would probably make up the bulk of the recap. Well, with Ryan handling most of the immediate post-games over here, I figured I could take what I did before and translate it to a morning after column, filled with general impressions and stats I found interesting about the game. So… that’s what this is.
It was clear this game was different from the Flames’ other games to start the season. They turned it on in the second period, and never really turned it off. Of course you wanted the Flames to win, but had they lost, it was a loss you could have been satisfied with, because you knew the team gave it their all.
Except finally, when they worked hard, it paid off. The entire team played well, but naturally, there were a couple of really impressive standouts. So let’s acknowledge them, and the additional quirks and oddities found throughout.
Roll the lines
Johnny Gaudreau was king, as is becoming a growing trend. He led all Flames forwards with 24:27 on the ice. Second up was Sean Monahan with 23:35, and third, Jiri Hudler with 20:08, although he certainly lost a few minutes when sitting for his five minute major (the first fight of his career!).
Micheal Ferland only played 4:53 because he left the game prematurely due to injury; otherwise, the forward with the least amount of ice time was Josh Jooris, who played just 10:07. (Weird note on Jooris: he only had three shifts in the second period, but eight in the third.) Sam Bennett played just 10:20, and Matt Stajan, 10:51.
So there you have your forward breakdown for the night: the top line plays very, very big minutes, while the fourth sits at 10 or so. Mason Raymond and David Jones were on the lower end of the spectrum, with 12:27 and 12:35 respectively, while Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik played 16:43 and 16:34. To round things out, Joe Colborne played 14:51.
Everyone healthy at least reached double digits, and the guys who only got 10 probably could have played more. The Flames had the right personnel to step up into more minutes when Ferland went down. That’s forward depth.
Mikael Backlund, second line centre
Backlund had an incredible game. Despite a 33.33% offensive zone start, he led the way with a 72.73% even strength corsi. He was on the puck throughout the night, and even though he had no points, was one of the most dangerous Flames. Six shots on net, four scoring chances, and two high danger scoring chances puts him right at the top of the team, and makes him one of the best forwards.
When Backlund was on the ice, basically only good was happening. So it was a little surprising, but fully earned, to see him start off the overtime period… and nearly end it on the same shift, getting golden chances on Jimmy Howard from the get-go.
If you show faith in Backlund, he tends to respond, and he made a statement last night. He may only have one goal through seven games, but he’s a threat whenever he steps out there. He makes clean zone entries, he generates chances, and he does it all while starting from a position of weakness. The most common forward he went up against was Henrik Zetterberg, and that’s no easy feat; he also had a CF of 83.33% against him.
It’s also just one game, but worth noting: Backlund and Frolik played 8:36 together at even strength, which means they spent roughly six minutes apart. Backlund and Frolik together had a 72.22% CF, which is very, very good. Backlund apart from Frolik was still at 73.33% CF (his next most common linemate was Raymond), while Frolik apart from Backlund was… 33.33% (Jones being his next most common linemate).
Until further notice (i.e. Bennett getting accustomed to the NHL and taking the reins, probably), Backlund is the Flames’ second line centre.
The kids are killers
Jooris nailed Mike Green with a huge hit early in the first, and that ended Green’s night with just 6:03 played. Jooris stapled Green to the boards right after he’d gotten rid of the puck, and the Calgary native was never seen again.
Colborne was called for cross checking on Dylan Larkin right when the first period ended. Really, though, he led with his elbow on the play in what probably wasn’t a malicious, but was, at absolute minimum, reckless. Thankfully, Larkin remained in the game.
Ferland went for a huge hit on Tomas Tatar while killing a penalty, and ended his own night in the process. The penalty kill isn’t the time to bring out huge hits, but Ferland went for it anyway. He only registered one hit on the night, so that… could have gone better. It was his first and only shift in the second period.
Bennett gave Kyle Quincey a nasty headshot that kept the Detroit defenceman down for a while, and even halted play when he wasn’t getting back up. (Fortunately, he did, and was able to finish the game.) Quincey’s head was down, but Bennett was leading with his shoulder and probably targeting it, so… that’s really not good. There was no penalty on the play.
Final tally: the Flames took out one of the Wings, and one of themselves. They also had two stupid plays that could have ended a whole lot worse.
Sorting out the defencemen
Dennis Wideman played 31:41, the most out of any skater on both teams. Interestingly enough, he actually led the way on the penalty kill, with 3:58 played. Only he, Kris Russell (2:58), and Frolik (2:45) had substantial kill time.
Wideman’s former partner, Russell, followed up with 27:23 on the ice, while Mark Giordano played 26:04. A reason for this disparity is likely that Giordano didn’t get much time on special teams. He only played 2:43 on special teams, while Wideman played 6:06, and Russell, 5:50.
Dougie Hamilton registered 18:55 all in all, the first time this season he hasn’t hit the 20 minute mark. He was still easily within the top four, though, as Deryk Engelland only played 12:34, and Ladislav Smid, 8:05.
Hamilton played 7:51 even strength minutes with Smid and had a 26.67% CF with him; he played 7:14 with Russell and registered 63.64% CF with him. Granted, Hamilton had better zone starts with Russell (50.00% compared to 25.00%), but that’s a massive disparity. Russell was greatly improved when he played with Hamilton as opposed to Engelland (44.44% CF), too.
Smid only played two shifts in the third period, resulting in just 1:02 of ice time. This may have been because he was not particularly great – his 26.67% CF was the worst on the Flames – but also simply because he hasn’t played hockey since January. If anyone’s justified in receiving an AHL conditioning stint, it’s him.
Welcome back, Captain
Of course Giordano was the standout on the backend. It wasn’t just his two goals (and incredible patience on the overtime winner), either. He led the way with seven shots on net, as well as three individual scoring chances, including one high danger one (and that one went pretty well). He was the Norris-worthy Giordano we saw just last season.
Giordano finished the night with a 72.22% CF at even strength, pretty much right on Backlund’s level. He did it with 57.89% zone starts, so a little less impressive on that front, but hey – he killed it. He played 22:36 even strength minutes with Wideman, and together, the two were at 75.00% CF, so that’s likely a pairing we can expect to see remain with one another, at least for the next game.
It’s a small sample size, but Wideman fared much worse away from Giordano than Giordano did away from him. Giordano really drives this team, and he proved it in their second overtime victory.
Down to two goalies
Jonas Hiller had an outstanding night. The Red Wings couldn’t get anything past him without the man advantage, and he battled extremely hard to keep it a one-goal game – and then to keep his team in it in overtime. He out-duelled Howard, and that’s nothing to sneeze at, considering Howard was having himself a hell of a game to try to get his Wings the victory, too. (He saw 40 shots throughout the night!)
You can’t firmly say it’s because the Flames finally solved their goalie conundrum, but it’s entirely possible that played its own role in the win. Hiller was composed throughout the night, and it really, really could have been 4-1 for the Wings in the third period. Instead, Hiller kept it a 2-1 game.
This was not the same Hiller that started the season. This was the Hiller we can hope to see throughout the year, though: the guy who proved himself a starting NHL goaltender years ago.
Joni Ortio’s time will come (especially perhaps since the Flames’ next two games are back-to-backs). But it was definitely the right move to choose Hiller over Karri Ramo, and have him start the next game. He proved exactly why.