Avalanche 6, Flames 3 post-game embers: There are some silver linings, actually

The Colorado Avalanche are a pretty bad hockey team.

Last night, the Flames found a way to be worse.

A fluke in a whole other direction

Just like last season’s Calgary Flames were nowhere near as good as they appeared, this year’s Calgary Flames are nowhere near as bad as they appear. As it stands, their PDO is currently 94.5, which is the worst in the league. For reference, only eight teams currently have a PDO under 99.0, and none of them are in a playoff spot (and two of them – Anaheim and Columbus – have worse records).

Maybe this doesn’t correct itself over the season, but it’s somewhat nice to know that these probably aren’t the real Flames we’re watching.

Think of it this way: when Mark Giordano scored the game-tying goal, you were excited, right? Because the Flames weren’t playing horrifically awful – or at least not any more so than their opponents – and definitely could have been up by more than a few goals at the time. You were ready for an exciting conclusion to a game it looked like the Flames were fully capable of winning.

And then they Flames’d it, giving up the puck in their own end and allowing for a high danger chance that ended up being the game winner.

Entire games – and recently, this is including stretches of games the Flames have been not-the-worst-team-ever in – are ending up decided for them because of one stupid breakdown that usually gets the snowball consisting of more stupid breakdowns rolling. Mentally, it’s probably not easy to put up with – especially when you had it drilled into your head last year that there wasn’t anything you couldn’t overcome.

Yeah, turns out that was a lie. Sorry about that. It’s not all bad, though.

Sam Bennett and the curious case of the missing hat trick

Sam Bennett could have had four goals last night. Instead, he ended up with one, which is still pretty good, but he could have had four.

This isn’t to say he should have ended up with four. Even though the puck was absolutely going in and there wasn’t anything anybody could have done to stop it, the net was off its mooring before it crossed the line, so it couldn’t be a goal. Then the whistle blew pretty much right when he poked it home on Semyon Varlamov, and with intent to blow being a thing, it wasn’t going to count. And the other try ended up on top of the net, so that one wasn’t even going to go in to begin with (although it looked really close).

Remember when one of the Flames’ problems was that Bennett wasn’t seeming to do anything offensively? Not really a problem anymore, is it?

In fact, Bennett finally took over the centre ice time lead from Sean Monahan. Monahan, who desperately needs his minutes reduced, played 16:52 (and again had no shots); Bennett, who was flying all night, played 18:22. Monahan got seven shifts in the third; Bennett had nine. 

Also, kinda funny: the one goal Bennett did score? A wraparound. His linemate Johnny Gaudreau had, like, four wraparound attempts throughout the game, but those just weren’t going in for him; of course his wrister did, though.

Gaudreau also played 18:22, and led the way with five shots. They played 8:57 even strength minutes together, and had a 66.67% CF while doing so. Keep them together. The Flames’ shooting percentage may have dropped, but those two are still creating chances.

Brandon Bollig played one shift in the third period

Seriously, what is the point? Oh I’m sorry Mikael Backlund isn’t reaching expectations when one of his regular linemates you can’t trust more than 19 seconds to in the third period of a one-score game. He actually puts up good numbers away from him (72.73% ES CF) so, hey, maybe there’s a thought.

Play your top players

Joe Colborne played 19:12, the most out of all Flames forwards. 

Yeah, I don’t get it either. Because whatever your thoughts on Colborne – not an NHLer, not meeting his potential, kid who just needs some confidence – I think we can all agree he is not the Flames’ best chance at creating offence, he is not their best chance at providing adequate defensive coverage, and he is not their top forward.

And yet, he played more than any other up front skater. Only Michael Frolik had more shifts in the third than he did, 13 to his 10.

The fact Colborne posted a 42.86% ES CF doesn’t help much, either. 

On the backend, Kris Russell led the way with 24:02. Yeah, the very same “probably shouldn’t be a top four defenceman probably never really was” Kris Russell. Although the defence ice times were much more spread out than they usually are, with the fourth and fifth place finishers in ice time – Dennis Wideman and Dougie Hamilton, respectively – playing 19:05 and 18:39.

The defence pairings did get shuffled around towards the end of the game, though. Brodie and Giordano were reunited, leaving partnerships of Hamilton and Wideman and then Russell and Engelland to round things out. We’ll see if this sticks, but considering the inexplicable love affair for Russell (and I just feel awful for him at this point, he’s giving up the most out of everybody in the NHL right now and just keeps getting thrown back into the fire), if that means Engelland is back in the top four… hmm. Well.

The Jesus Brodie

You know how fancy stats types don’t like +/-, but sometimes the stat can be telling? In a 6-3 loss, T.J. Brodie was a +3. With 23:06 in ice time. Which instantly reminded me of that disastrous 9-0 loss to the Bruins a couple of years ago, in which Brodie played the most out of everybody on the Flames and was the only guy to finish even.

Even when games turn into blowouts he just quietly goes about his job, doing generally well. It’s ridiculous. For further context into his +3, the highest rating any Avalanche player got – and keep in mind they scored five goals that would have contributed to this stat – was a +2.

Brodie played huge minutes, was defensively sound the entire time, out-worked the opposition, set up a goal, and to top it all off, had a 64.10% ES CF rating. His 25 CF events were second to only Frolik, who had 26. 

Single-game WOWY is a pretty tiny sample size, but let’s go for it anyway. Johnny Gaudreau and Josh Jooris were the only two Flames to post better possession stats when away from Brodie than with him. Literally every single other Flame who spent enough time on ice with him for corsi events to occur (so this exludes just Wideman and Hamilton) posted better possession stats when they were with Brodie than without.

As for the two oddities, Gaudreau had 57.14% ES CF with him, and 59.09% ES CF without, which is nothing. Jooris had 60.00% ES CF with him, and 69.57% ES CF without, which is slightly more substantial, but they also played less together. And even when they were with him, they were still putting up pretty good numbers.

Brodie made just about his entire team better.

I still love you Jarome

Iggy finally scored his first-ever goal against the Flames. And then he got an empty netter for good measure. What a guy. He’s going to hit 600 goals very very soon, and wow, remember when we were waiting for him to get 500? (He hit it the game after that horrific loss to the Bruins mentioned just above!) What a player. He was a threat to score throughout the night (even if he got very much out-corsied at 37.14% ES CF… oops).

Look, Iginla is going to be a free agent on his 40th birthday. The dude will probably still be able to play when he’s 40. And if he doesn’t sign a one-year deal with a resurgent Flames group as a valuable depth winger option who will probably still be able to play top six in a pinch (and probably still be better than Colborne, sorry Joe but you’re from Calgary you probably understand) who will go on to help this team make a statement in the regular season, earn a playoff berth, and win the Cup that year with him being the first person Mark Giordano hands it to after taking his own lap on Calgary home ice beaming that gorgeous smile of his then I am going to be so damn mad.

Look, the Flames aren’t particularly doing anything right now. There’s no quick fix for this, and it doesn’t look like they’re even ready or able to start making minor fixes just yet, so I am going to fantasize about things related to this team that would make me happy and I am going to love it.

  • Greg

    The Russell thing is baffling. More so than any systems complaints, that’s really starting to call Hartley’s competence, and sanity, into question. It needs to stop stat. And I like Russell. But his ice time needs to be in the 15 minute range.

    But the real problem here is the goaltending. Flames are giving up too many shots isn’t even a thing really. There’s 11 teams giving up more shots per game. Yet we are more than .5 GAA worse than 2nd last place Columbus and more than 1.0 worse than 3rd place. You are starting every game with a 0-1 score, even against the worst teams!! It’s more like 0-2 score against any playoff caliber team, and you just can’t win any hockey games when you are spotting the other teams a goal or two every single night.

    That’s a biblical proportion tire fire in our net, and explains the awful PDO itself. Like someone else said, when you’ve got 3 goalies, you’ve got no goalies.

  • Greg

    …so this exludes just Wideman and Hamilton…

    Can we talk about this for a second? Why is Brodie the ONLY defenseman on the team Hamilton NEVER plays with?

    I mean… it just… why?

    Look, I get that they really need to keep some guys together for more than, like, eighteen seconds at a time (was it just me or did Hartley juggle the line combinations after every single goal last night?), but when you have Kris Russell leading the team in ice time… something is broken and needs to be fixed immediately.

  • CDB

    Agreed on Russell.

    Also baffling, joe freaking colborne played more than any other forward last night. Can bob just adopt him already?

    What’s worse, top 6 forward lance bouma or top forward Joe colborne?

  • piscera.infada

    The biggest issue for me–and I feel like I’ve been saying this for a while–is special teams. This team has been surprisingly good at 5v5 lately. Yet, they get short handed and it’s a fire drill in their own zone. Over the last 5 games, the Flames Penalty kill percentage has been 65%. In that span, their power play percentage is only 13%–to put that in perspective (if you don’t think that’s bad), they’ve scored 2 pp goals in 15 attempts, they’ve allowed 2 short handed goals against.

    Look, you can play as well as you want at 5v5, but when the goaltending isn’t holding you in games, the above isn’t anywhere near enough to keep you in games.

    • ClayBort

      This. All day long.

      The Flames are less disciplined this year and the special teams differential is absolutely killing them. Between that and sub-league average goaltending this team was going to suck.

      If the goaltending trends back merely to league average and the Flames get disciplined again, they may make a run at it.

      As for the Defence, BT has got to make some decisions on who the Flames are going to peddle at the TDL irrespective of their playoff hopes because I think there are some promising young defenders in the AHL that can’t be worse than some of the players that are playing big minutes.

  • ClayBort

    Most troubling to me is that I thought Hamilton was promoted up the lineup after playing well the first half of the game. He was skating with Wideman.

    I was wrong, it wasn’t Hamilton that was promoted… it was Engelland. Either that or Wideman was demoted. I’m dumfounded that the worse Russell plays, the more ice time Hartley gives him. It makes no sense.

  • ClayBort

    Good goaltending starts with the goalies,
    Very good goaltending, with the defense,
    Excellent goaltending, with the forwards.
    Outlier goaltending, usually, with the coach.

    Our three guys haven’t been good, and that’s where it starts, but when they ALL have ~86-87% sv%, that tells you something about everything else too.

    • Derbyherb

      He’s that guy constantly trying to gain the zone and thread a pass through 3 guys which never works.

      Someone needs to tell him to leave the ridiculous plays to Johnny, and stay within his limits

  • Burnward

    And yet, as I will keep stating, there is a tonne of hockey left and they are just five points back of San Jose.

    The season is not lost but some changes have to come. Soon.

    • ville de champignons

      I don’t get this ‘they aren’t out because only 5pts back of SJ’ logic. Are you suggesting the cutoff for playoffs will be lower this year?

      I don’t buy that, but if you are, well I guess.

      IMO it’s irrelevant how far back we are from any team on Nov 4. It’s how many points it takes to get to 94 (LA missed with 95 last year, so this is still a rose colored target).

      Fact is to get to 94 points we need to go 18 games over .500 in the rest of the reason. That winning pace over a full season would have resulted in 110pt season, so basically in the conversation for presidents trophy.

      So ya…. Realistically, it’s over. Regardless of how far ahead San Jose is or isn’t. Unless you use some strange math, wishful thinking or think the playoff bubble drops to 85pts. If this team has an epic turnaround and plays lights on from here on, they COULD get 85-90pts. If they go on a few 10 game winning streaks.

      • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

        Plus the fact that Anaheim are currently behind us and who really expects that they will keep scoring at a 1.27 goals per game clip?

        So this means that 2 of the current top 3 teams in the Pacific will need to fall behind us after the Ducks get it together.

        Not gonna happen. Nope. Nuh uh.

        Time to spend the season developing some players and shipping out some vets for prospects and or picks.

        Hudler… trade him now while he still has some value.

        Backlund trade him now with a prospect while he has any value.

        Engelland… If you could ever find a taker for him, it would be now so jump on it while you can.

        Raymond… play him and see if you can get a 3rd around the deadline.

        Russell… play him with Brodie or Gio to hopefully show what he can do with a competent player and then trade his a$$ out as soon as someone will take him. DO NOT sign him.

        Wideman… Give away however you can because with his cap hit at 5M+ you will need to find a team with Doug Risebrough as its GM to give you anything for him.

      • Burnward

        I just look at the standings to figure put where they are.

        Right now, five points out with 69 games to go.

        I have no idea how the year will play out, but to throw in the towel already is weaksauce.

      • cberg

        Third place in the Pacific Division gets in, whether its 95 pts or 85 pts. If nobody grabs the bull by the horns and the Pacific is very competitive internally, yes the playoff threshold may be much lower than 95 points this year. That’s not to say the Flames are still in it. Technically yes, three good games and we could be in third, but if we keep playing like we are there’s no chance.

        • piscera.infada

          I completely agree with you, that yes, this team is a long way out of a meaningful playoff race. It’s extremely unlikely they can get the ship righted abruptly enough, and dramatically enough to truly push for a spot.

          That said, this team, this year, is closer to last year’s Dallas or Minnesota than a lot of people realize. They are pushing the play at even strength, and they seem to be getting better in that regard. They are currently being sunk by poor goaltending, bad puck luck (every miscue costs them), and very poor special teams.

          I think we need to start looking at this season as what the team is actually improving on over last season. The 2014/15 season saw everyone tell the Flames that they were winning unsustainably. Now, the Flames are losing in an unsustainable way.

          This team, although maybe not good enough to be a playoff team this season, is also not bad enough to be the bottom-5 team they are currently. I have no doubt in my mind that this team will turn things around eventually, and will be seen by most people (including the analytics community) as a better team finishing this year, than they were entering this year.

          Also, Colorado’s game last night was exactly how the Flames played last season. It feels weird to lose like that, and still feel like you deserved a better fate, doesn’t it?

          • Cfan in Vic

            I feel exactly the same way about all of this. I couldn’t help asking myself during the entirety of last nights game, if this is what it was like playing against the Flames last year.

            I know at some point they’ll start putting together some wins, and there are plenty of positive aspects to look at, even during so many losses.

            I hope that they start using this season to really evaluate who is going to fill in the D-slots for next year. It’s been said before, but they have some nice options waiting in the wings. Even more so, there are some plugs (Russel/Wideman/Engelland) that surely won’t be part of this team next year, so lets sweep some of these guys out of the way and make room for evaluation. Bad for trade value, but far better for internal decision making and setting up next year’s success.

          • piscera.infada

            I hope that they start using this season to really evaluate who is going to fill in the D-slots for next year. It’s been said before, but they have some nice options waiting in the wings. Even more so, there are some plugs (Russel/Wideman/Engelland) that surely won’t be part of this team next year, so lets sweep some of these guys out of the way and make room for evaluation. Bad for trade value, but far better for internal decision making and setting up next year’s success.

            I completely agree. As was the case in both Dallas and Minnesota this past offseason, tough times like this force management to take a rational, sober look at what’s wrong with the team. I just hope they make the right calls–the one’s that allow them to continue improvement–as opposed to the wrong ones–the ones that abandon some of the positive gains they’ve made in favour of chasing ‘unicorn’ fixes.

        • Peplinski's Thunderbird

          Yup.. this is exactly why our divisional games are so important. I don’t think anyone expected us to make it in as a wildcard due to the strength of the Central division, so as long as we don’t get too far behind San Jose we have a chance.

          The big concern right now IMO is the better-than-expected starts of Vancouver and maybe Edmonton (ugh). I personally wasn’t expecting either to challenge for the playoffs, but they both have shown a ton of improvement.

      • Peplinski's Thunderbird

        Hey Kurt…you wouldn’t know a strong experienced veteran goaltender that the Flames could obtain that would help us get those playoff points you are referring too?

  • Rock

    Russell has played with Wiedman and Hamilton either one knows anything about defense. Last night Brodie and Russell were having a great game. It was Wiedman bringing Gio down that changed everything. So they tried to play Hamilton more and who didn’t block or even attempt to block the goal ahead goal yes it was Hamilton I guess he was told blocking shots was bad.

  • Burnward

    Colborne had a few great games offensively and I find mind him being rewarded for it, but it should be obvious that the guy is no more than a 3rd line winger.

    Figuring out what’s wrong with Monahan is tough to pin down. He needs to get out of his funk though if the team hopes to salvage anything this season.

    Hartley’s fascination with truculence will ironically be his undoing. Bollig can’t play, period. Engelland should be a #7 D at best and Russell should be playing limited minutes on the 3rd pairing.

    Treliving needs to find a way to move out some of the deadweight on the backend in order to make room for fresh blood. It will take some time and it’s not a cure all, but it would be a start.

    No to Iginla. Move on already.

    • Tomas Oppolzer

      This is a warning and advice. You’re very close to getting banned Train. Relevant trolling is okay, but this wasn’t relevant at all. It’s only purpose was to start a argument/fight. Clean up your act.

      P.S: Don’t bring up the trolls on ON, we don’t care about that here. ON isn’t the FN mods responsibility, talk to those in charge of ON for that, rather than trying to start a fight here.

    • Cfan in Vic

      Correlation is not causation, Troll.

      I guess McJesus got injured because he can’t stay on his skates… Oh wait, there are many other factors at play prior/during/after that offensive play that led to his injury.

      Just trying to use an example that you might be able to comprehend.

  • Tomas Oppolzer

    Ari, yes I concur that the game itself had many positive signs. In fact it was the closest to seeing the type of 10 bell chances we were getting last year from the backend. Reason for that is one word…Brodie.

    -Brodie is the best Dman we have bar none. His quick decision IQ of whether to carry the puck or make a tape to tape long transition pass is world class. It’s starting, & very slowly, to rub off on the others. It’ll come.

    -Bennett is a beast. This kid is a gamer & I don’t ever want to hear about trade talk & his name again. If Hartley leaves him with Johnny, he will be in Calder conversations.

    -Gaudreau is worth the price of admission. What a piece to build around. As much as I yearn for just 1 lousy stinking 1st over all pick, Johnny kind of fits the void.

    -Monahan looks like he’s going through the sophomore jinx 1 year late. He’s trying to do things he probably shouldn’t because of the funk he’s in. Pucks are jumping on him at wrong times, his passes not where they should be or where he shouldn’t even be trying to pass. He’s trying too hard. He’s a goal scorer. He will score many goals in a Flames uniform, maybe just not many this year. Like a kidney stone, this will pass.

    -Colborne/Backlund. Just seems like Colborne can’t get any love out of the FN fan base. He actually played a good game. I noticed him on the forecheck & his board work was overall good. The Corsi poster child Backlund was invisible. The 10 minutes he did have he did nothing. I don’t know what is going on here, but if Backlund is playing 4th line & 10 minutes a game, then maybe it’s time to trade him & bring up Arnold to play those minutes.

    -Ramo was OK but OK is not good enough. This team needs one of our goalies to play super human Kipperish & steal this team a win. We are hooped & trading for a goalie is not an option. A new goalie will be a summer task for Treliving. I hope he learned a valuable lesson from this. Ramo was not a necessary signing & now we are cap handcuffed to addressing the goalie situation. We have no choice but to hope one of these guys can find it in them to play above a .900 save percentage.

    I agree with others that are saying forget playoffs. Treat this for what last year should have been, a developmental rebuilding year. If the players can figure it out & get back into the thick of things, fantastic. Management decisions should be based accordingly on a rebuilding team from here on.

  • ville de champignons

    Silver linings, sure, but once again we saw a game with a strong (even inspired) first period followed up by 10 minute stretches of absolute suckage. Anybody see a pattern here?

    Love the Flames and want them to succeed but what’s the value in barely making the playoffs if all we get are two home losses and a first round exit? This team doesn’t need to make the playoffs; this team needs serious roster upgrades. Trouble is, everybody that should be moved out is virtually untradeable, and giving them excessive (unearned) ice-time is diminishing their trade value not showcasing it.

    Don’t think there’s a GM in the league who could do much about the present situation and Treliving will have to be both smart and lucky. A quality draft pick would help but for now, bring up some of the young guys and rotate them into the lineup for evaluation.

    At this point, if you are an optimist like me, a .500 season is a realistic expectation for this year.