Rangers 4, Flames 1: post-game embers

Well, the Flames tried. They actually did a pretty decent job throughout the game driving pucks to the Rangers’ net, but Antti Raanta and the New York defence stood tall. 

Though you have to wonder how differently the game might have gone if Mikael Backlund, or Michael Frolik immediately following him up, had scored shorthanded…

You probably aren’t going to win many games 1-0, though. And you definitely aren’t going to win many games if your defence is a flailing, chaotic mess, so there’s that, too.

Johnny Gaudreau, top forward

For the past three games in a row, Johnny Gaudreau has led all Flames forwards in ice time. He’s been up there throughout most of the season, too; if he isn’t leading the team, then he’s at least in the top three. Sometimes, he’s even playing as many minutes as the top four defencemen, and this is keeping in mind the fact he doesn’t play on the penalty kill.

So it makes sense he’s leading the Flames in scoring. Sure, he only has the one goal, but add nine assists to that and you get the only Flame into the double digits: 10 points over eight games, tied for 11th in league scoring to start the year. 

Jarome Iginla led the Flames in scoring for years. Then it was Mike Cammalleri and Lee Stempniak for a year, then Jiri Hudler for two. Is this the year Gaudreau takes over the team scoring lead? And if it is, how many years does he hold onto it for?

As poorly as things may be going throughout the team, we still get to watch this kid.

And the centres…

When Gaudreau isn’t leading the forwards in ice time, it’s been Sean Monahan. And Monahan still led Flames centres in ice time last night, playing 19:18.

Right behind him was Backlund at 17:12. We’re a far cry from him getting less ice time than Brandon Bollig, and thank god for that.

Monahan is still the number one centre, but fact is, against the Rangers, Backlund was the more effective player. He was a greater threat to score, with two high danger scoring chances, and four shots on net to Monahan’s none in both categories. He was less lost in the defensive zone.

There’s a lot of pressure on Monahan to continue growing, especially with his new alternate’s ‘A’, but he hasn’t had the best start to his season. He’s also only 21. And the Gaudreau – Monahan – Hudler line is the only combination Bob Hartley has been reluctant to mess with.

I’m not proposing breaking that line up; I’m proposing that, if this continues, experimenting more. If Backlund continues to prove to be more effective, and Monahan shows increasing signs of being overwhelmed, then mix it up.

It’s tricky, because Backlund and Frolik are perfect together, just as Gaudreau and Hudler are as well. But at some point, a Gaudreau – Backlund – Czech Forward line could be worth exploring. If Gaudreau is the best forward available, and Backlund is playing at the top of his game, well… why not?

Sam Bennett is going to be just fine

Sam Bennett played two shifts in the first period. He was only on the ice for 2:02. Bollig received more ice time in the first period than Bennett did.

It also so happened to be the Flames’ worst period, possession-wise. Coincidence? Eh, maybe.

But he made up for it. In the second period, Bennett played 4:15; in the third, 5:31. And he was driving the net extremely hard, registering three actual shots in his desperate attempts to get a goal, which was more than all non-Backlund Flames.

No, he hasn’t scored yet. And it’d be nice if he did. But he really, really wants that first goal, and he’s fighting for it, and it’s going to go in sooner rather than later as long as he keeps this up. There’s nothing to worry about in regards to him. 

Also, as the broadcast pointed out: he spent almost all of last season on the shelf. He played a month of OHL hockey and had some good playoff games. He had a burst of two and a half months or so of playing hockey before it was back to three and a half months or so of off-season, and four and a half months until meaningful hockey was played. It’s not surprising it’s taking him some time.

This is the nice thing about having Backlund, anyway: Bennett’s not working out in the second line centre position, so the Flames can bury him to give him easier minutes. Even if he had some of the lowest zone starts on the team this game (although he was kept away from the Rangers’ top players). 

Speaking of, why did we give up on the Bennett – Backlund combination so soon, anyway? It’d be one thing if it was to play Bennett as the third line centre, but Derek Grant took that role instead. 

New depth forward

Anyway, Grant had a perfectly fine Flames debut. He worked well with Bennett to create chances, he won faceoffs, he did a decent job holding down his 10:38 in ice time.

Really, he’s awesome. Totally effective as a fill-in forward, not taking away ice time or opportunities from a still-developing prospect, and all the while, he gets to live the dream of playing in the NHL (and maybe even scoring his first NHL goal at some point). Everybody wins!

Oh dear sweet lord I cannot wait until T.J. Brodie is ready to come back

“Trainwreck” is probably the nicest way to describe the Flames’ defence. Hopefully Joni Ortio doesn’t have to play behind what Jonas Hiller did, because not only would that not be fair, but it probably would not go well.

Mark Giordano and Dennis Wideman stuck together pretty much the entire night. Once again, though, Kris Russell ended up splitting time between Deryk Engelland and Dougie Hamilton, and once again, he was better with Hamilton (52.94% ES CF compared to 30.43% ES CF with Engelland). Dougie hasn’t had the best start to his Flames career, and he was definitely not great last night, but when he’s getting pretty much the same amount of ice time as Engelland… things are not going well for this defence group.

Really, what’s it going to take to see Jakub Nakladal in? Could he really be that much worse? Than anybody?

We should probably calm down about Joni Ortio

When people are crying out for a 24-year-old with 15 NHL games of experience and a total .899 SV% from them to save this team, this team is in trouble and is not going to be saved, barring Ortio going full-Miikka Kiprusoff and channeling his ghost or smokes or whatever for literally the entire season (and at least Kiprusoff was 27 years old when that happened).

Is it time to see what he can do? Yes. Is he an exciting prospect? Yes. Is he the answer to this team’s problems? Is he going to turn Hamilton’s life around, make Russell a smarter defenceman who can do more than block shots, give Engelland real top four talent, and magically restore Ladislav Smid to his time pre-neck surgeries when he was at his peak playing abilities with the Oilers?

No.

Hopefully he plays well, but just as the losses weren’t all on Hiller or Karri Ramo, Ortio is not the sole decider of this team’s fate. And to place those expectations on a kid who is still fighting to prove he belongs in the NHL is at best unfair, and at worst, disastrous. So let’s just not do that.

  • McRib

    I was thinking the same thing about Ortio.. I hope he doesn’t get hung out to dry.

    I’m really interested in what a Brodie – Hamilton pairing would look like. Maybe that might be enough to spark Hamilton’s game?

    Giordano – Wideman

    Brodie – Hamilton

    • Cfan in Vic

      I think he’s really good for indirect offence, putting his line in a good position for scoring, but his hands are pure granite.

      I like the guy, respect what he does well, and he had a great game last time out. But he just doesn’t score.

  • everton fc

    First, we are still “rebuilding”, though the brass in front office I believe felt we were way ahead of the pace. We aren’t. Our depth looks suspect. We have some decent prospects, but time is needed to determine what they may become. I think we all agree on this…

    The greatest worry is our defence. Second is our inability to score. Two death-nails in the coffin that’s becoming our season. The two have given us a worse-case scenario – a slow start. If we crap out completely in October, we’ll need a blistering start to November to even be in the playoff hunt. Fans and front office need to be realistic, though. Look at our roster. We got a lot of mileage and positive results out of “maybes” like Jooris, Bouma… Russell… And so on. Perhaps this coming back to earth is what we need to truly assess our assets. I think it is. Time will tell, of course.

    Hamilton, to me, is a serious concern. Yeah, he 22, but reports out of Beantown hinted at a bit of an attitude. An over-confidence, perhaps. We’ll, reality has set in for this kid. If he’s best paired w/Engelland, leave him there. I think it wise to pair him with a seasoned vet OTHER THAN GIO!! Keep him away from Gio. Let Gio lead next to Wideman. Did they look horrific last night? I missed the game, so if they did, give me the trash thumbs-down. If they didn’t, keep them together.

    Nakladal would be an interesting addition, but Kulak played well here. We lack jump. We lack any killer instinct. Could guys like Grant, Kulak, Nakladal, Hathaway, Agostino, heck, even Elson, give this team some pep, some jump? I’d like to see a but more hunger out of our team.

    Finally, Monahan and Gaudreau need to score. Ditto Frolik. Backlund.

      • everton fc

        Goals. Not assists. Didn’t sat he isn’t the best player on the ice most nights. But goals would be nice.

        Perhaps a different centre between he and Hudler? Say, Bennett?? Just as an experiment…

        • RickT

          It’s strange to say, and even harder to properly communicate – but those assists of Johnny G. Hockey Esq. are basically goals.

          They are such sublime passes, that lead directly to goals. I feel like Nemisz could be on Johnny’s line and score at a great pace, because Gaudreau is just setting them up on a silver platter.

          I understand that goals are nice and you see the direct result. But, in this case, they are Johnny’s goals – he’s just not the one actually putting the puck in the net.

        • Tomas Oppolzer

          I believe it was Steve Dangle who said something a long the lines of “goals are great, but so are assists. Assists are basically receipts that say ‘I made a goal happen'”

          I would take 40 Gaudreau assists over just 20 goals any day. There’s a reason everyone loves Joe Thornton, and it’s certainly not his somewhat low goal totals.

        • MonsterPod

          We need to put Johnny on a line where he has to be the trigger man….I am worried that if he does not use it he will lose it…and will be easier to defend. I know that if I kept feeding my line mates and they were not finishing I would start taking more shots. I don’t think he feels his shot is as good as the others. When he has time to get his shot off it can be deadly and accurate, the problem is he seems to always be going too wide and is forced to take a bad angle shot or try the wrap around…neither works well. He tries the wraparound a lot but it has only worked once…I feel he had more success with this move in college. What I like about the guy (and there is a lot) is he is not afraid to re-invent himself to succeed.

        • everton fc

          You are bang on…guess who scored a couple of goals in their first games back last year when they were on a line with Johnny…yup Backland…need I say more.

      • MonsterPod

        I have to agree, even the biggest Gaudreau critic would have a hard time saying that Johnny was not the best player on the ice yesterday….his parents are in the crowd for this entire trip….so I expect he will be on fire.

        My only problem is that he still sees himself as a pass first guy. He is a modern day Adam Oates…..can score but prefers to share the wealth with his passes. He needs to shoot more so his shot gets better, when he has time to get his shot off it is strong and accurate when he is leaned on or under pressure there is not much to his shot. Monny has a great shot but he is not explosive enough to get a lot of chances. Hudler is a the best of Johnny and Monny….can score and set up. But this is just one line……

        Biggest problem is Goal keepers not making the timely saves when needed. The powerplay is a concern…great zone time but no finish.

  • Derzie

    Our centers are a big problem right now. Monahan has been worrisome since March of last year. Not sure what’s happening. Backlund has no finish. Unlike Sean, he is what he is. A defensive depth center suited for PK and 3rd line duties. Arguing otherwise is silly and half of the posters here know that, the other half trash Backlund reality posts. Stajan is past it. Sam Bennett needs a year or 2 but is not ready. The depth guys at center are all borderline AHL guys. Our goal differential is 29th in the league. Center, D and goal have to be solid. They have been terrible. The last 2 games the Flames have played Flames hockey but Hiller had a Jekyll game & a Hyde game. One win, one loss. Last year everyone overachieved. This year, only Gaudreau has. The rest are underwhelming.

  • Burnward

    I pray to baby Jeebus that Ortio plays well tonight so we don’t have to be subjected to more of Hiller and his untimely weak goals, poor rebound control, close to 4.00 GAA and .870 SV%

    • MonsterPod

      Ortio is the best! He’s going to be WAAAYYY better than Kipper! Johnny Hockey is awesome!! The Flames are going to lead the league in goals for this year, hands down! Dougie Hamilton is just the best darned thing to ever happen to hockey, let alone the Flames! I hope it doesn’t slow Ortio’s development playing behind a defence that never lets any shots through!
      It won’t be a Cup parade this year, it will be a Cup Deluge for the next 10!

  • MonsterPod

    I heard a John Lennon song on the radio this morning, Imagine & couldn’t help but think, Imagine if the Flames has a bonafide veteran #1 line & Monahan & Gaudreau were the 2nd line. I don’t think we would be discussing secondary scoring or lack of. Everything seems to be a domino in this game. If Backlund or Frolik buried that incredible shorthanded opportunity & made it 2-0. Hmmmm… possibly a different game & different confidence to feed off of. Imagine if our goalies made saves the way Raanta did consistently…. maybe some of these soft goals wouldn’t be so deflating. The mental aspect of the game is a huge factor when things aren’t going good. Rebuild is still on & we are missing a lot of pieces.

    Bennett by the way is going to be a very good Calgary Flame.

  • MonsterPod

    I have a great feeling about Ortio. I think this nine game wait is going to fire him up. And the past two games the Flames are playing much better overall, which will only help him.

    The group needs confidence in the dude between the pipes. If he can give them a few solid games to build that up, we may be able to turn this ship around.

    LA started the season with 3 home losses, outscored 12-2. They’re now 5-3 on top the Pac. Let’s go boys. It’s still early enough.

    GFG