The Calgary Flames won a game in regulation in October. Some of the usual things went wrong – too many pucks past a Calgary goaltender, too many glorious chances for the Flames just not getting through – but many more things went right.
For one thing, the Oilers were missing several golden chances of their own, often times not even able to get their sticks on what would have been a sure goal. For another thing, Michael Frolik’s hat trick is probably the most hilarious hat trick ever witnessed.
For another thing, the Flames won a game they deserved to win.
Let’s talk corsi for a second
The Flames outshot the Oilers 32-23, an indication of outplaying them. However, both teams registered 48 corsi events, implying the game was relatively even – and it was, particularly when it was tied.
It’s always fun to watch two teams who are on each other’s level play one another. True, it’s usually best when those teams are good, but even two bad teams can make for a fantastic game. This was one of those games: a lot of back and forth action, stupid mistakes leading to regretful payoffs, and each team with a handful of players who really, really stood out.
But anyway. The corsi count was 48-47 for the Oilers until Frolik’s hat trick shot, which is, of course, hilarious. The Flames gave themselves a true 50% possession game as a result of that one shot that should seriously not have gone in.
Their possession rates were actually negative through the first two periods – 48.72% and 48.48% – but they really turned it on the third, controlling the puck 54.17% of the time. They played a good game.
They were the better even strength team, too: 36 corsi attempts to Edmonton’s 32. And at even strength, they were a pure, positive possession team: 54.55% CF in the first period, then 57.14%, then 50.00%.
The Flames are slowly becoming a much better even strength team over the past few games. We’ll get into that in a little bit, though.
Give it up for Matt Stajan
Frolik is getting the attention from this game due to his hat trick, and he deserves it. As flukey as his goals were, he was in the right place at the right time to capitalize on all of them. You’re never going to go if you don’t try; Frolik tried.
But you know who needs more love? His centre for the night, Matty Franchise himself. Frolik’s first goal doesn’t happen without Stajan hustling up the ice in time to pick off a Cam Talbot whatever-he-was-doing and dish it right to his winger right in front of the net.
And even more importantly, the game winner doesn’t happen without Stajan beating out that icing call. Without Stajan again showing some major hustle – and in the last seconds of a game looking destined for overtime, no less – that’s an icing call. The Oilers get one last chance in regulation to win a faceoff and put the puck past Karri Ramo.
Stajan made sure that didn’t happen, Stajan kept the play alive, Stajan gave the Flames that one last chance instead, and it paid off.
So when you praise Frolik, spare an additional thought for Stajan, too, because two of his goals don’t happen without him.
Monahan needs fewer minutes
Sean Monahan is struggling.
As Kent noted in his immediate post-game, there were five players in particular who struggled throughout the night. Monahan, along with Joe Colborne, Jiri Hudler, Dennis Wideman, and Mark Giordano were the only negative possession players for the Flames. (Well, and Mason Raymond, too, but he only played 6:50.)
Here’s the thing with Monahan: he played 22:31, the only Flames forward to eclipse 20 minutes. His ES CF of 33.33% was rough; the only one who had it worse was Colborne, with 28.57% (and he played 18:52, the second most minutes).
It hurt his team, with no clearer example than the Oilers’ fourth goal.
Hudler’s blind pass ends up on an Oilers stick, and Monahan is straight dogging it trying to go back. He can’t keep up with them, even though he’s starting from the same position as them. Leon Draisaitl has no problems cutting in front of him to score the tying goal.
There was no need for it to come to that. Because while Monahan got the bulk of the minutes, the Flames do actually have centre depth – and yet, one of them only played 9:22.
Mikael Backlund was left with the short end of the stick throughout the night, barely receiving ice time and not getting a single offensive zone start throughout the game. Despite that, he still put up 55.56% ES CF. Or, to put it another way: despite Backlund never once starting off in a position that would indicate he be a possession player, he consistently controlled the puck throughout the night.
That is to say, Backlund is an oustanding defensive centre, and it’s okay – encouraged, really – to entrust him with more ice time.
(And for the “he can’t score” crowd: despite leading in ice time, Monahan had no shots on net; despite receiving fourth line minutes, Backlund had three. Neither player scored, but Backlund was much more likely to. After all, as Frolik showed us: throw things at the net, and good things may happen.)
This is what it comes down to: there is no need to overtax Monahan. He is just 21 years old, still a growing player yet to realize his full potential. He has not played like a first line centre this season, and yet, he keeps getting first line minutes.
It needs to stop. This is a team that, in addition to Monahan, also has Sam Bennett, Backlund, and Stajan available. There’s no need to overtax one guy when there are three others who can all handle a reasonable bulk of minutes. And Monahan clearly cannot handle them at this point in time. So utilize the depth you have, and you’ll probably see better results.
Thoughts on Brandon Bollig
Brandon Bollig can be a capable enough hockey player. He’s not the best, he’s never going to be the best, he doesn’t have the talent to truly be a lineup regular or receive more than 10 minutes a game. But he can play sometimes. He’s not a pure goon, he’s just mostly a goon.
One of his biggest problems as of late has been taking stupid, undisciplined, unforced penalties, putting his team down a man. He did not do that last night, and deserves a shoutout for that.
His inability to handle real minutes is a problem, though, and an indicator of why he should sit when the Flames get healthier. Bollig played 7:33; Raymond, just 6:50 for some reason – but Bollig has only averaged 8:37 this season, while Raymond has averaged 12:57.
And really, there’s no need to throw away an entire line’s playing time if you have the personnel to make it not happen.
T.J. Brodie, the Flames’ number one defenceman
Earlier, I mentioned the Flames becoming a better even strength team. You can actually trace that back to one specific moment: when T.J. Brodie returned to action.
Since Brodie came back three games ago, at even strength, they’ve registered 57.14%, 55.21%, and 54.17% CF. No matter who he ends up paired with, be it Mark Giordano or Kris Russell or whoever may happen to be next (please be Dougie), the Flames have become a significantly better team. Their bad luck has simply persisted.
Which really does make you wonder: what would the Flames’ record be if Brodie had started the season healthy? It might still be 3-8-1, but I get the feeling it’d be at least a little better.
Brodie was everywhere throughout the game. Of course, with a team-high 40 shifts and 25:32 played, you’d expect him to be. His skating is so incredible it allows him to get anywhere on the ice at any time; his brain is so cerebral he knows where he needs to go.
Oh, and one other thing: his shot.
When people think about offensive defencemen for the Flames, Brodie is more of an afterthought compared to Giordano, Wideman, and even Hamilton. After all, he’s much quieter, and while both he and Hamilton had some pretty major breakout years last season, Brodie’s wasn’t as dramatic as Hamilton’s, nor does he have the pedigree of a first round pick.
But last night, Brodie:
- was responsible for Bollig’s goal, rifling the shot he was able to tip in the first place,
- rifled it through on the powerplay for his first of the year, and,
- could have had his second of the year through the exact same means, were it not for David Jones’ goaltender interference.
Three instances that created two could-have-been-three goals. From a guy coming off of a broken hand.
I repeat: Brodie is Keith. (Two different links, guys.)
He is absolutely going to win a Norris at some point in his career.
T.J. Brodie, the Flames’ MVP?
I’m going to go ahead and say it: yes.
While it’s still early yet, compare the Flames through their first nine games to the Flames since Brodie returned. Adding a top pairing defenceman back to any lineup is huge, but the Flames have completely turned it around since his return, even if they haven’t been winning all the time.
It isn’t even just that, though. It isn’t even that since returning from injury, he’s immediately stepped into huge minutes, playing in all situations and controlling the play each time. It isn’t that he’s currently leading the team with a 59.22% 5v5 CF, which is flat out ridiculous, even though it really does need to be stressed it’s early.
Giordano did not look Norris-caliber until he started playing with Brodie. He’s still a perfectly good player, but Brodie took him to the next level. Without him, he isn’t performing as well.
So, to that end, I would really like to see Brodie paired with Hamilton. Hamilton’s struggles have disappeared in third pairing minutes; Russell’s, on the other hand, remain (although they’re less magnified when he has a not-Wideman partner). Hamilton was anticipated to come in as a top four defenceman, and given that he’s 22 years old, he’ll have ample time to work his way back into that role with the Flames.
But if Brodie can turn Giordano into a Norris contender, what can he do with Hamilton? This could still very well be the top pairing of the future, and the two deserve a look together.
This is a completely different team with Brodie in the lineup.
And his cap hit is only $4.65 million. Until he’s 30 years old.
Goaltending: the easiest scapegoat
Karri Ramo had a save percentage of .826%. That’s bad.
He let in four goals on 23 shots: two at even strength, and two on the powerplay. The four goals were:
- A tip. A tip Ramo was in position to be able to save, but a tip nonetheless.
- A powerplay rifle probably nobody was stopping.
- Fancy schmany powerplay puck movement, complete with a pass from one side to the other that nobody reacted quickly enough to stop.
- A turnover 180 feet away, complete with inadequate backchecking and a third man coming in to finish the play off, leaving next to no chance.
Could Ramo have stopped some of those? Yeah. He could have been in position to deal with the tip. He could have gotten a hand on the point shot. He could have had quicker lateral movement.
But while he didn’t, the Oilers didn’t score any garbage goals (though you can debate that tip amongst yourselves). Goals three and four, in particular, are more on the skaters than the goalie: a passive penalty kill that allowed for an open net, and a complete breakdown by the forwards on the ice.
The Flames having a terrible save percentage is a concern, but it’s far from the only concern. Trading for a new goalie likely does not stop any of those issues.