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?
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.