Senators 5, Flames 4 (SO) post-game embers: Two steps forward, one step back

That was a game the Flames should have won. Aside from a few mental errors here and there – mental errors that the Senators capitalized on, much like the Flames of the previous season would have – they were the better team. 

Really, it wasn’t even close. The Flames thoroughly dominated the game, but allowing the Sens the few chances they got, combined with Jonas Hiller not doing what he needed, and Calgary’s streak of bad luck to start this season continued.

The team deserved a better fate.

Bizarro goaltending

The Senators’ first goal was a seeing-eye snipe, but the trouble really began when Josh Jooris coughed up the puck. Hard to solely fault Hiller on that one.

And that first goal really wasn’t the problem, because the Flames didn’t roll over and die with it.

The Sens’ second goal, though, can’t happen. Not that soon after a break. I was watching the end of the second period play out, thinking, “It’s a good thing there’s going to be a buzzer soon – Ottawa really looks like they’re about to score,” and lo and behold, they did. Mikael Backlund was caught sleeping, and Hiller shouldn’t have let that one in.

Goals three and four against were just a chaotic cluster of a mess. As easy as it is to fault Hiller, though – and don’t get me wrong, he definitely deserves some of the blame – those back-to-back goals were both the result of mad scrambles in prime scoring areas. Hiller can’t let those in, but the skaters in front of him can’t let those situations materialize, either. It was a total team breakdown that really cost them the game.

On the other end of the ice, Craig Anderson didn’t show his best stuff, either. Hard to fault him on Dougie Hamilton’s goal, just like Zack Smith’s, but the way Joe Colborne and Kris Russell’s goals went in – especially Russell – is on him.

Which left you thinking: seriously, this guy couldn’t save Russell’s whiffler, but he stopped Johnny Gaudreau’s perfect chance in overtime? What the hell? Hockey is stupid.

Kudos to Joni Ortio for coming in cold and suddenly having to play both his first three-on-three overtime and shootout, though. It’s not fair he was saddled with the loss.

T.J. Brodie and Mark Giordano still got it

T.J. Brodie returned, and holy crap, were the Flames ever missing him. He had one of the weaker possession stats of the Flames’ night (51.35% ES CF), but mind, that came with him only getting 23.08% zone starts: the worst on the Flames, aside from Mark Giordano.

That’s right: the Flames’ top defence pairing is back. They took atrocious zone starts, and they crushed them, along with their opponents. The Flames had seriously been missing this to start the year, though you have to wonder just how much better a start they would have had if Brodie had never been injured.

Brodie opened up with 25:10 of ice time, third highest on the Flames. He was a regular feature on the penalty kill, with 3:59 played, second only to Mark Giordano’s 4:17. 

Most importantly, though, he was a breath of fresh air. He was calm on the ice, and never panicked. If he was the lone defenceman back, you knew nothing bad was going to befall the Flames, because he could handle it. He’s a tremendous skater, and he has the intelligence to use that ability well, completely cutting off opponents or ensuring they never create anything dangerous. He was on the ice for some goals against, but they were hardly on him.

The only real question is: how much of this is the Flames’ top defence pairing being back, and how much of it is the opponent they faced? The Rangers and Islanders are two of the top teams in the Metro division, while the Senators were closer to the bottom of the Atlantic than the top. All three are sub-50% possession teams to start the season, though, but the Rangers and Islanders seem to be objectively better.

We’ll find out when Montreal comes to town. But in the meantime, we should all feel very, very good about these two being back together.

The backend on the powerplay

The only really disappointing thing regarding Brodie is how he wasn’t used on the powerplay. He had no shots on net, either. Here’s the thing with that, though:

The second he’s able to start contributing offensively, he needs to be out there.

Because he wasn’t last night, we had Dennis Wideman and Dougie Hamilton – two righties – on one powerplay unit, while Mark Giordano and Kris Russell – two lefties – played the other. Of those four, it’s Russell who needs to be off the man advantage, simply because he does not have that scoring propensity.

But it’s also a matter of evening the pairings out. On initial thought, it seems obvious to just put Wideman with Russell (if they’re playing together elsewhere against all good reason, why not go all-in?) and Giordano with Hamilton, but then you remember how badly that latter pairing worked out, and okay, so you don’t do that.

But Giordano and Wideman seemed okay together, so why not put them on the same powerplay unit? That would leave you with Hamilton and Russell, who also seemed okay together.

It seems like a better move than forcing one of Hamilton or Wideman to play on the wrong side at least. But you add Brodie into the mix, and you have another defenceman you can trust implicitly to cover for his partner, and play either side. He’s valuable. Use him there as soon as you can, because he’s a point scorer, too.

Trending different directions

Hamilton looked good, but he only played 15:36. Russell looked less good, and he played 25:24.

The love affair with Russell is straight up baffling by this point. Okay, he blocks shots: this is worthy of the second most minutes on the Flames? Russell had the worst corsi on the team, with 39.39% ES CF, and that’s with 83.33% zone starts. That’s not acceptable. This is a relic of the previous season, too: shelter him as much as you can, only for the play to go against him regardless.

Hamilton, on the other hand, was also sheltered – 80% zone starts – but put up a 74.29% ES CF, third best on the Flames. Granted, as the third pairing guy he almost certainly faced easier competition, but that doesn’t excuse just how badly Russell plummeted possession-wise.

The main takeaway from this, though, should be that Hamilton had a good game. Hamilton is a 22-year-old defenceman who played a good NHL game. That’s something for him to build on, and something Brad Treliving talked about him needing to do hours before puck drop. He’ll probably work his way back into the top four by the season’s end. Dougie had seven shots on the night, leading all skaters, and boy, did he need them.

Meanwhile, are we even going to try to find out what Jakub Nakladal can do at this level, or nah?

First or second line?

So, the top six got jumbled up. Joe Colborne ended up winging with Sean Monahan and Jiri Hudler, while Sam Bennett got Michael Frolik and – gasp – Johnny Gaudreau.

Here were their shift counts after two periods:

Colborne (19) – Monahan (18) – Hudler (15)

Gaudreau (17) – Bennett (16) – Frolik (17)

It doesn’t really leave a clear distinction between lines, does it? The two were used basically evenly through two.

That changed by the game’s end, though:

Colborne (32) – Monahan (33) – Hudler (27)

Gaudreau (27) – Bennett (24) – Frolik (28)

Here’s the main issue to have with this usage: in what world does Colborne deserve more shifts than Gaudreau? Gaudreau had more ice time, but only by 20 seconds.

That’s not even an attack on Colborne; that’s more an acknowledgement that Gaudreau has been, by far, the Flames’ best forward to start this season, and it shows

That said, this is where we reach our conundrum: Gaudreau paired up with Bennett makes so much sense, but having Bennett play top line minutes does not yet. Them being on the same line really makes sense for two reasons:

  • They are both offensively dynamic and talented, and work stupidly well together. A 60.71% ES CF? Okay.
  • They should both get major offensive zone starts, and they did: 87.5% for Bennett, and 77.78% with Gaudreau.

This is a combination to keep together. Bennett finally broke out offensively, and hopefully, this is a sign of things to come. And really, considering the idea seems to be that Gaudreau is going to be an offensive player, and Monahan a two-way guy, keeping Gaudreau and Bennett together makes sense for the short and long-term. Maybe this is the first line of the future?

Assuming Bob Hartley finds line combinations he actually sticks to, then hopefully, Bennett adapts pretty quickly, and becomes worthy of greater minutes sooner rather than later. Because if Gaudreau is going to be his regular winger, the Flames will need them on the ice more often than not.

Sam Bennett is 19 years old

Just checking in to make sure you guys knew that. I’m not sure if the broadcast mentioned it. Did you know he’s really young, like only 19 years old?

He’s a pretty good 19-year-old player, too. One of the Flames’ most consistent offensive threats of the night (and past few games), really. Which is why it’s… incredibly odd he didn’t get any shifts in overtime.

And yet, this:

Okay, but you literally didn’t do that. And if there was ever a time to give a kid a taste of three-on-three overtime, it’s absolutely when he set up your team’s third goal and scored the fourth.

Trying to understand bottom six forward usage

Last time, I expressed extreme bafflement about Brandon Bollig’s place in the lineup. This has not changed, so I won’t go into a detailed spiel again. I’ll just mention that Bollig took yet another inane, undisciplined penalty, and he also only played 6:17. His last shift came about halfway through the third period, further begging the question: seriously, what is the point?

Instead, I’ll express bafflement over the usage of another player. Mason Raymond has been a healthy scratch for four of the Flames’ 10 games thus far. And whatever, fine: dude was waived, isn’t meeting his salary expectations, what have you will. I don’t like him being scratched in favour of Bollig, but at this point, I just shrug and accept it because nothing involving the bearded wonder is ever going to make sense.

Here’s what I seriously don’t get, though. Hartley is willing to scratch Raymond for 40% of the games – but in the 60% he’s played, he has played on the powerplay. Every. Single. Time. As long as Raymond is in for a game, he gets powerplay time, guaranteed. The first two, it wasn’t that much – 25 and 26 seconds – but after that, he’s been a regular. He’s gotten powerplay times of 1:50, 1:20, 1:52, and 2:37 as long as he’s in the lineup.

The powerplay is for scoring. When you have the man advantage, you put out the players you feel give you the best chance to score. Apparently, Hartley feels this way about Raymond – at least enough to consistently give him time out there with the man advantage – but he’ll also scratch him in favour of players he knows aren’t going to score. What gives there? It doesn’t coincide at all.

  • everton fc

    They simply give up too many goals. Can’t win giving up 4 a night. Or more.

    At least they scored a few. A good sign? Let’s hope so. I think they give Ortio the #1 spot in goal and ride him for a while.

    • KACaribou

      Flames fans, myself included, wanted Ortio to start (last night included) at least 2 games in a row to get out of the funk of alternating goalies and hence losses.

      Maybe a LT Hiller injury would be the best thing that happened to the Flames this season..

      Onward we go into the week from hell….back home and play Habs and Oilers on back to back rest for the unwashed! Habs left Vancouver after their game Tuesday night and are waiting and well-rested for the Flames…

      • mk

        If the stars align, Ortio will be able to take this opportunity (Hiller injured) to grab hold of the starter job, or at least show he should be in the rotation more regularly.

        It would be a poor choice if Ramo were recalled and given the job right away. I hope he’s recalled to be the backup – give Ortio a chance to sink or swim. At least to learn what the team has there.

        Gillies? I doubt he’s recalled – its best that he plays a ton in the AHL than split time in the big show for now.

  • EhPierre

    I would trade Russell, or at least make him a Healthy scratch to send him a message.

    Same with Bollig.

    Also, not very impressed with Hiller.

    The positives are that we have Gillies coming up in the ranks, and that Hiller and Ramo are UFA’s after this year.

    But hopefully Ortio will step it up or it will be a long season.

    • mk

      Is this a rumour or report? Or just speculation on your part? Genuine question.

      Cam Ward would be…an odd choice to trade for. I assume the Hurricanes would want something a bit valuable for him and he doesn’t have a great track record as a starter. At best, he is slightly better than a replacement-level goaltender @ $6.3M as a rental for the season. He’s only 2 years younger than Hiller and has worse stats over his career.

      I wouldn’t want the Flames to give up more than a low (4th round) pick for him. Somehow, I doubt the ‘Canes would want less than that.

      Treliving – please, say no to Ward.

  • JMK

    Bolligs penalty completed changed the moment in Ottawas favor and shortly after the penalty ended the back-to-back goals came. Treliving has to get rid of him and soon! Engellend is there thats plenty toughness until Ferland and/or Bouma come back.

    Edit: PS. I love Brodie!! I genuinely think he’s Calgarys most important player.

  • KACaribou

    Gio paired with anyone else was not the Norris Trophy candidate we saw last year. Suddenly Brodie comes back, and Gio looks like his old self.

    Certainly one of the best pairings in the NHL, if not the best, and because of injuries to both it has been a long time since we have seen them together. It was easy to forget in the better part of a year just how good they are.

    I think we needed to see both the team and Gio without Brodie, so that we could fairly analyse his significance.

    Maybe he needs to be given a lot more credit in providing Gio with the instruments to be great – because without Brodie he looks just average. Or maybe we need to give TJ the credit he deserves as perhaps the most important member of our D-Core?

    • KACaribou

      Bennett is the Energizer Bunny on the Flames!

      By the way, will the Habs finally play Paul Byron after their winning ways ended?? He is on the road trip with the Habs…I hope NOT.

  • KACaribou

    Bennett’s usage in overtime (or lack thereof) was completely nonsensical. Given the speed he was flashing throughout the game, you figure Hartley would let him open it up and keep the momentum going…

    Either way, that spin move to shake off Borowiecki was a thing of beauty.

    • Burnward

      Gotta remember, he just unseated Backlund for 2C and probably hadn’t had a lot of practice given their forward usage so far in OT.

      He will feature prominently moving forward one has to think.

      Agree though he was flying and might have made a difference.

  • Burnward

    Another good write-up. I really liked the top 2 lines last night as both were really going and it distributed the offence around a bit and forced the opposition to make a choice as to who they would send their best defenders out against. It worked and I’d like to see more. I also felt last night was both Bennett’s and Monahan’s best games of the season. More, please!

    I don’t think Bollig played that poorly last night, but then again, he didn’t play that great. I would agree with you that I believe we have better in the system and sooner rather than later they need to, and will get their shot.

    As far as Bollig vs Raymond goes I agree with you as far as it goes. The thing is is that they have different roles and either get in or not for different reasons. When Raymond gets in then scoring is his role and Yes he should be on the power play, and needs to score. He hasn’t been scoring but at least he seems to be more involved in the action and mixing it up more than last year. That’s a positive but the same as with Bollig I believe we have better on the farm and if he doesn’t start scoring others will get their shot.

    Finally, the team is a bit trapped at the moment with excess bodies, and some underperforming ones that they can’t get rid of. Some seem to think that’s because BH is terrible and falls in love with certain players, i tend to think its more about roles required to be done and the extreme difficulty of making trades in real life. Add to that is the challenge of managing player’s and their egos/feelings while keeping them committed to the game. Sometimes you just have to roll with who you’ve got, versus pulling/trading/sitting a guy after a few mistakes or poor games.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    Bollig’s ice-time indicates he is likely the next to sit.

    Russell should be in that vein as well, however his ice-time indicates Hartley loves him. Ice time is a great indicator of what Hartley is thinking and for some reason he is giving Russell and incredibly long rope.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    An actual pylon could defend better on the rush than Russell.

    “Top 4” D man getting consistently blown past by 4th liners. Fucking pathetic.

    If he has any semblance of value left, trade him.

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    A pylon could literally play better defence on the rush than Russell.

    This guys is supposed to be a top 4 d man and is getting blown by by 4th liners. Oh, but he’s really good at getting hit by pucks, which makes him a Hartley favourite.

    If he has any semblance of trade value left, get rid of him asap.

    • OKG

      Maybe, if Bennett can get good at faceoffs it’s got all the makings of a true top line.

      Alternatively if the faceoffs never come: