Flames 2, Flyers 1 (OT) post-game embers: Mikael Backlund is good at hockey

mickissogoodwow

Photo description. Photo Credit: Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports

Well, it wasn’t a perfect game. Far from it, really. A struggling Philadelphia Flyers squad came to town to face a struggling Flames, and the game played out pretty much as you’d expect.

The Flames got some puck luck on their goals, though, and they got more when it came to shots against them (i.e. Karri Ramo actually made saves through 60 minutes!). It wasn’t perfect, but it was an improvement, and at this point, that’s all you can really ask for.

Wake up

That said, the one Flyers goal came in a familiar time: the last minute of a period.

Michael Raffl tied the game with a softie (and some questionable defence allowing the softie to happen to begin with) with just 36 seconds left in the second period. It really took the air out of the Flames’ sails, not that they’d had a ton before then – their last shot attempt of the period came with almost four minutes remaining.

Their next shot attempt didn’t come again until 3:22 in the third period. That’s 7:06 minutes without a single shot attempt by the Flames, albeit split over two periods.

That’s not acceptable, especially in such a close game. It took about half the third period for the Flames to actually get going again. This was in a tied game they were more than capable of winning. They were playing just fine before then, so what gives?

Also: this is the fifth time over just 14 games this season the Flames have given up a goal within the final minute of the period (not counting empty netters). Five times in 14 games? How does this keep happening? It’s something that definitely needs to be addressed, because it’s a special kind of deflating backbreaker.

A tale of two overtime units

So far, three-on-three overtime is fun this season. The Flames are 3-0 with it, and 0-1 in the shootout (and if Craig Anderson hadn’t pulled that amazing save, they’d be 4-0 in overtime and we wouldn’t even remember what a shootout was). 

This was an exceptionally fast overtime; really, it only gave time to two units. The first unit gave up a scoring chance, while the second unit ended it.

The first unit was Bob Hartley’s go-to of Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, and Sean Monahan. Monahan’s presence out there was odd, as he really wasn’t having the best game; indeed, all he exhibited in his bonus hockey time was getting out of Claude Giroux’s way, and weakly swiping at him with his stick as he entered the zone. He did absolutely nothing to help, so why was he out there?

The second unit, on the other hand, composed of three guys who fully earned the right to be out there: Brodie, Johnny Gaudreau, and Mikael Backlund. Very little surprise that they ended it, although they were the beneficiaries of a benevolent bounce. But hey, they created that one. It was earned.

Also: is Gaudreau some kind of overtime wizard? He’s scored one winner, and had primary assists on the other two. He could have had the winner on Anderson. I guess the message here is: can Gaudreau play five straight minutes of overtime? Because every time he’s out there the Flames are on the verge of ending it (and, three out of four times, they have). Three-on-three was made for this kid.

Also also: nothing to do with overtime, but Gaudreau is probably just a straight up wizard in general. 

Good lord.

‘Always earned, never given’ isn’t real

Bob Hartley debuted new line combinations for this game. Part way through the third, with just one goal scored, Hartley mixed them up. Most obviously, he reunited an old staple: Sam Bennett was dropped, and Jiri Hudler was back on the top line. He had the most shifts in the third period with 11.

Just one problem with that: Hudler was having an absolutely garbage game, and nothing in his performance indicated he deserved more minutes to end the night.

Raffl, who scored the game-tying goal late in the second, was Hudler’s man. Rather than covering him, Hudler was floating near the top of the faceoff circle, and by the time he realized there might be a problem, Raffl was already wide open to receive the pass that turned into a goal.

That was the most prominent example of his messing up. But throughout the game, well, the fancy numbers (via NaturalStatTrick) really aren’t kind to him:

hudlerawful

He spent the majority of the game with the Flames’ top defence pairing and two good possession linemates. When he was away from them, every single shot attempt went against him. Why increase his minutes in the third? What about his invisible performance earlier in the night indicated he should play more?

The Gaudreau – Monahan – Hudler line was dominant to close out last year’s regular season. So far, this year, the only player really worth anything has been Gaudreau.

Mikael Backlund is a good player

Giroux evaded him late in the second and was able to get the pass off for Raffl’s goal. On the other hand, Backlund helped ensure Josh Jooris’ goal could even happen at all by getting it out to the front of the net, and in overtime he was the beneficiary of a fortunate bounce because he charged the net and was in perfect position for the puck to go off of.

Neither were the prettiest points he’s ever scored, but pretty doesn’t matter as long as it goes in. 

Backlund is a smart player, and with 17:33 in ice time and Michael Frolik on his wing throughout the game, he was able to show it. With 58.33% ES CF, he was one of just three Flames to be a positive possession player on the night (the other two were Dougie Hamilton and, uh, Brandon Bollig… Though it should be noted Bollig only played 7:50, while every other Flame had at least 10 minutes).

Backlund usually has a good performance when put in position to do so. He rewards a coach’s faith in him. He can’t do that if it’s not there.

And really, considering how abhorrent the powerplay was throughout the game, maybe Backlund should have gotten some time on it. The Flames couldn’t gain the zone to save their lives. Backlund is a player good at doing that; maybe he (and Frolik, for that matter) should have been on the ice during the man advantage.

A glance at defencemen usage

Brodie and Giordano were reunited! Let’s see how they were used, along with the rest of the defenders.

We got the pairings I, at least, was expecting to start the year before Brodie went down with injury: Brodano reunited, Kris Russell given an upgrade in partner on the second pairing with Dougie Hamilton, and Dennis Wideman left to round things out with Deryk Engelland.

Hamilton and Russell spent the bulk of their minutes together, but Wideman still had more ice time than Hamilton overall. This makes sense when you bring special teams into the equation, with Wideman being someone you want on the powerplay, but he was frequently seen on the penalty kill (kind of odd, since Wideman is technically a defenceman, but you don’t usually consider the “defence” part when it comes to his game), too.

Hamilton had more powerplay time than Russell, but not by much; Russell really shouldn’t be on the powerplay at all, though. Brodie didn’t get to spend as much time on the man advantage as Giordano and Wideman did, but he led the way in penalty kill time.

Player ES TOI ES CF% ES ZSO%
Brodie 23:12 42.86% 47.37%
Giordano 21:12 44.44% 50.00%
Russell 18:59 50.00% 50.00%
Hamilton 15:41 59.09% 50.00%
Wideman 13:42 26.92% 33.33%
Engelland 12:00 20.69% 33.33%

All the partners have pretty similar possession ratings with one another, although the disparity between Hamilton and Russell, and Wideman and Engelland, is certainly clear. Nobody really benefited from being split up; the difference just comes from Russell and Wideman being reunited for a couple of minutes throughout the night (they had a 0.00% ES CF over 2:22 together).

Wideman and Engelland kind of got their heads caved in with poor zone starts, though. That’s a problem. Russell did a passable job, whereas Hamilton continues to prove he could always stand to play more minutes. His early season troubles appear to be increasingly behind him.

Brodie and Giordano got the really big minutes, and ultimately fared well enough. There’s room for improvement, but it’s just one game (that the Flames exhibited poor control over through 60 minutes). The important part is that they’re still capable of handling the big minutes – and, of course, it’s against the opposition’s big guns.

  • Southern_Point

    You forgot to complain about Bennett being shunted to the wing and then demoted to the fourth line for no reason.

    Four game point streak as a center? 56% Corsi For on the season as a center? This man needs to play on the wing to learn how to play center (because that makes sense to some people somehow).

    • cberg

      I would agree that the loading top line experiment last night was not a success, and that Bennett is and certainly will most likely be a much better Centre than winger. Saying that doesn’t mean that experimentation is a problem. The coach is trying things to benefit the whole team, not just one player.

      When he split them up and reunited the Hudreauhan line to start the 3rd period I believe it sparked Bennett tremendously and the whole team which seemed to pick it up. I believe Bennett was double-shifted, not demoted to the 4th line like you claim. The move was a good one.

      As for the future one of the only clear-cut things we probably all can agree on is Gaudreau has been the Flames best player and whoever he plays with gets going. The same can be said but not quite to the same level re Frolik. The issue for the Flames going forward is what configuration improves the team the most of all and has the most players firing on all cylinders? Personally I like the Hudreahan line or a modification switching in Frolik for Hudler, with the second line Bennet centering Hudler/Frolik and Colborne/Ferland/Raymond/Jooris. That leaves a solid 3rd line centered by either Stajan or Backlund with Jones and ?? The key to me is where do you put Backlund? He’s great in a third line role, rolling 4 lines, but I also believe he could be great on the 2nd with Bennett at Centre. I also would not be adverse to Gaudreau on the 2nd line with Bennett (kind of like Chicago’s usage of Kane) leaving Hudler and Frolik I guess with Monahan which I’m not sure about. Again, what is best for the team overall? Once BH figures this out things can settle down and hopefully build consistency moving forward.

  • The GREAT Walter White

    Slight correction Ari: Backlund is NOT good at the hockey……

    He turns the puck over every time he touches it…. Regardless of what Possession stats you put up.

    Trade him if he goes on a “Hot streak”……

    WW

    • Southern_Point

      Good players genrally have high giveaway stats because it means they have the puck on their stick. But incase you wondering he is second on the team in takeaways and third on the team in giveaway/takeaway differential

    • Derzie

      I’ve been really watching the last few games. Backlund more often than not leaves the ice after a flubbed chance or turnover. He seldom gets dinged with the resulting comeback shot(s) against. Pretty crafty way to look like a possession player. And using shots to measure possession is incomplete. Possession is having the puck on your stick. What you do with it is something else: shot, pass, turnover, takeaway. And the quality of that shot or pass is something else again. I’m tired of the “possession” poster boy Backlund having a decent game (lucky bounce and an off the gut goal) and getting over the top accolades. Trade him. He is not a core player. Too inconsistent.

      • cberg

        I’ve been really watching the last few games. Backlund more often than not leaves the ice after a flubbed chance or turnover. He seldom gets dinged with the resulting comeback shot(s) against.

        A useless pass or shot into the feet of the opposition is Backlund’s common move and that is not a turnover.

        #confirmationbias

        • Derzie

          aka watching the game AND analyzing the stats. They are not mutually exclusive. Blind faith in corsi OR eye-test is just that: blind. Analysis requires that the consumer challenge the tool if it doesn’t match perception. Folding your arms and saying “corsi tells all” is blind faith.

      • cberg

        I’m not sure if this is common with all players but I can’t disagree based on my viewings. I would also agree with other statements that Backs floats a muffin shot towards the goalie before heading off. This has virtually zero chance of scoring but often results in a O-zone face off so it’s not a totally negative play.

        Having said this, Backlund can also be a very effective offensive centre, Bouma being example #1 from last season. However this aspect is very inconsistent which along with his draft pedigree, great but inconsistent spurts and people seeming to fawn over him is what I think causes most of the disputes.

        Personally I like him on our team, but aside from a strong #3 centre he’s a bit of an enigma. It would be nice if he found a place better than that, but if not perhaps we should just accept him at #3C and move on to other players.

        • RickT

          Honestly, if Backlund can be your 3C, you have a very strong crop of centers. He is an elite 3C – will crush most other 3rd lines in the league in terms of possession.

          I agree entirely with your comment, however. It’s weird how he seems like he could be so much better, because she shows these flashes of brilliance and offensive flair. His bread and butter though is what most 3rd lines are for.

        • cberg

          I am not against Backlund either. He had a good game last night. The Colorado game he was invisible. But it is obvious he is a 3rd line centre. He is also paid 3.5 mill. If Cap space is an issue, I think the better question is can Arnold or Agostino give us the same corsi game & maybe potential for offensive upside at 1/3 of the cost of Backlund? If the answer is yes, moving him is a way to improve the team.

          • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

            Sugar. This is the point I am trying to make. This team neither needs Backlund as a 3rd line Center, nor can afford his cap hit as a 3rd line center in 2 years when his deal is up and we are starting to challenge (hopefully). Hug.
            If we were ready to challenge for a Cup right now, then maybe, yes, but I think we can get something nice to develop if we trade a useful 3C, but not core player such as Backlund, allowing us to develop Arnold or Janko who has more upside to fill the role in the future. PC high 5.

            I am sure that Backs is a really nice guy and I wish nothing but the best for the guy… Is that better Kent and or Mod?

          • MontanaMan

            My views are 100% witih Johnny. Backlund might be the most polarizing player on the Flames – people either want to keep him for the next 10 years or trade him yesterday. I don’t dislike Backlund but I don’t think his skillset is a 2C and for a 3C he breaks the budget. I like Arnold and potentially Granlund taking the 3C spot while saving the money for future signings in Gaudreau, Monahan and Bennett.

        • trox

          I think you point out something very good about his game. When there is nothing happening in the o zone or he needs a change, backlund routinely puts a shot on net that the goalie has to freeze. This is not flashy but it is smart. We can then put our top line out for an o zone face off. If this isn’t smart possession hockey, I don’t know what is. He does this several times a game, and over the long run that should positively contribute to goal scoring.

          • OKG

            It’s stupid possession hockey, because the top line + Russell/Wideman will just lose the faceoff and the puck anyways and then have to defend a 4 on 2 the other way 😛

      • DestroDertell

        “I’ve been really watching the last few games. Backlund more often than not leaves the ice after a flubbed chance or turnover. He seldom gets dinged with the resulting comeback shot(s) against.”

        Can you provide proof (GIF or video) of this happening on multiple occasions or you’re just making things up?

        • DestroDertell

          He expects to see it, and so every time it does happen (like once every two games) it “proves” his preconceived notion. He just ignores everything Backlund does that doesn’t support his narrative.

          In other words:

          #confirmationbias

    • Tomas Oppolzer

      Are you going to provide any evidence for this at all? You keep posting these ridiculous statements no matter the figurative mountains of evidence everyone else post contrary to it. As Steve Dangle might say, is this the hill you want to die on?

  • EhPierre

    Might be totally random but I love how genuine Johnny Hockey is. He knows he’s the catalyst for this team. The team knows that. And I’m pretty sure the rest of the league knows that as well (or should by now anyways).

    Every single time the team scores a goal, or the team wins he’s always the first one with a smile on his face, hugging whoever scored the goal. Take last night, with Backs scoring, he just went straight to the guy and tried to give Backs a miniature Johnny Hockey Bear Hug. It’s nice to see we have a kid with P.Kane ability yet is so humble.

  • OKG

    Bennett and Gaudreau should never be split up again. Their games compliment each other as well as any forward pair I’ve seen. Need a third winger on the line who can play some down low cycle game with Sammy? Maybe try Grant, he looked good in that respect plus he can win some faceoffs for Sam.

  • DestroDertell

    “[Backlund] turns the puck over every time he touches it”

    Backlund only has 7 turnovers so far this year in spite of having 33 carry-in (third most in the team) in the first ten games…

  • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

    Yes, Backlund is good at the Hockey.
    Against weak teams.

    I am so tired of you nice people who I may disagree with, but am an adult so I avoid name-calling calling shot attempts “possession”. Most of Backlund’s possession numbers lead directly to actually giving away possession and leaving his teammates to deal with it as he goes for a line change. This of course makes him look better than his teammates “Corsi style”.

    Corsi is the equivalent of an NFL game where one team rushes the ball 35 times and one team passes the ball 35 times and then pointing out that the team who has been rushing the ball has dominated time of possession. (If I need to explain that to you, then you don’t understand sports at all and should just head out to the Museum or go for a long walk instead of wasting your time on here get it? because people can’t like sports and also art)

    Open your eyes.

    Backlund is generally weak on the puck and can have a few games a year where he can collect a couple of points and then disappear for long stretches.

    I am telling you now Ari, that Hudler HAS to play on the top 6 and that he WILL be traded as soon as someone offers up ANY value to BT.

    FN Mod – made a few edits, I am sure you can find them (but took out some childish namecalling)

    • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

      FN Mod – made a few edits, I am sure you can find them (but took out some childish namecalling)

      “Nerd” is childish namecalling? Get real.

      FN Mod – posting on this blog has one simple rule – don’t be a dick. If you are using any term that is not respectful to the other commenters / bloggers, you are being a dick. You use the word nerd to not be a particularly positive adjective, we all know that. Don’t be a dick.

      • TX Flame

        @FN Mod: Where I’m from (Calgary born and raised, BTW) “dick” is a much worse name to call someone than “nerd”. Heck, I have self-identified as a “nerd”!

    • Corsi is the equivalent of an NFL game where one team rushes the ball 35 times and one team passes the ball 35 times and then pointing out that the team who has been rushing the ball has dominated time of possession.

      No it isn’t. Not even kind of. Corsi not a measure of possession time (though they correlate), but a measure of offensive possession outcomes. That’s why it is consistently correlated with positive longterm results like higher goal differentials and wins. There is a mountain of evidence and research into this.

      I counted Flames scoring chances for years. Backlund was persistently positive in terms of differentials or ratios form an early age. He is again this year.

      Backlund has his faults – he’s not a compelling offensive player and he’s not going to blow anyone away with a powerful stride or blistering shot. That’s why eyeball people almost never like him.

      He drives results through more subtle means.

      • cberg

        Kent,

        I’m not disagreeing with your contention, I just believe we need to go further than just looking at single players. Currently we have what I would call three great “core” forward players including Monahan, Gaudreau plus Bennett and I am adding Frolik as a fourth for this discussion. Also great players are Hudler and Backlund, but in different roles and each with different weaknesses. Hudler could be added but he is primarily an offensive wizard/mentor but may not get re-signed (can’t afford him though I’d like to) and Backlund plays a strong possession game and and defensively but is very inconsistent offensively.

        My question to you is what is the BEST configuration of these guys for the team as a whole? Personally I’m settling on Bennett as a Centre and the fact that Gaudreau is a wizard and improves everybody (kind of like Brodie for the D). Beyond that I think Frolik is interchangeable but improves his line mates, and Monahan is a top-level player but not dynamic/fast enough to create lots of chances, so possibly/maybe/potentially could be better at wing?

        What do the numbers say/point to as a longer-term solution? Down the road in a year or two we could have some more options i.e. Poirier and Jankowski and Mangiapanne as three of several options, but for right now we have to work with what we have. Any insights?

    • Tomas Oppolzer

      Not all against you making your point here but I do watch sports & the NFL example isn’t realistic. A team with a strong running game & rushes the ball 35 times & the stats show they are dominating the clock, means they are making long drives that ultimately result in points. It also means the opponents defence is tired & on the field that same length of time. It also means the opponents offence is not on the field & they will not score if they are on the sideline. If you dominate the clock offensively, chances are the game is close & winnable or you are winning the game. Hockey isn’t much different, you can’t score if you don’t have the puck. Turnovers & penalties have a impact on the outcome of an NFL game & chances are the team that dominates possession in an NFL game &t hey wind losing also were way ahead in penalties assessed & turnovers.

      NFL is a slower structured game, NHL is a fast & random game. So many things affect performance of players game to game & year by year for that matter. Monahan is a big part of the future of our Flames. He’s kinda going through the sophomore jinx this year. He is struggling with the random aspect of the game as the puck is not bouncing for him. He’s trying too hard. But Hartley needs him, Flames need him to snap out of it & you don’t accomplish that by sitting him. I had no problem Hartley starting Monahan, Brodie & Gio for the overtime.

    • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

      Agree…most fans rate a player expectations and performance based on his salary…no thought given to the fact that this kid is only 22, has changed organizations and is adapting to a new defensive system….

      • Rock

        Not sure what you think coming along is maybe it is his soft play no hits or crappy back checks i know it is not his shot blocking. Any eye test can see that defense is not his calling card is more like a third winger that don’t back check.

        He is 22 but in less then 4 years of being drafted a team needing defenseman trade him away not even for a roster player. Wonder why from my eye test u can see why. Because we give him a big contract don’t mean we should give him automatic ice time and respect he needs to earn it.

        His Possesion is some of the best I am starting to wonder how they track that cause I really don’t see him as a strong defenseman. I am willing to trade good Possesion numbers for more wins any day.

        • Tomas Oppolzer

          Wow, this comment was difficult to read. I’m sure your a nice person, and I have no problem with you. But damn, you just said a whole bunch of BS backed up by nothing but opinion…

          Actually, that’s not true. The fact you did bring up though, his possession numbers, fly right in the face of your “not good at defense” point. The fact that his possession numbers are so good means he’s actively supressing chances against while producing chances for.

          One more thing, Boston didn’t want to get rid of him like you imply, they couldn’t get a contract done.

          Edit: Also, if a mod sees this and thinks it’s a personal attack, it’s not. I’m going after the idea, not the person.

          FN Mod – no issue here, your intention was clear – you were not a dick.

  • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

    With the Hudler situation it’s all about business…the Flames cannot afford to re-sign him and as well he does not fit the “get bigger/heavier philosophy…it’s important for the Flames to play him on the top line regardless…they must keep his value high for a trade at the deadline or sooner…..

  • Backlund looks like a bottom 6 center at best, decent penalty killer, not physical at all, think he is best suited in shutdown role not for much offence.

    I like that Hudler can score on his chances when he gets them but I don’t like much else. He is soft and loses every puck battle.

    Bennett is playing like our #1 center right now. Should put Monahan on his wing if you want to put them together.

    SHOOT THE PUCK GAUDREAU.

  • RKD

    People make up stuff just because they don’t like Backlund or that he isn’t hard to play against. Wake up, Backlund isn’t going to be a physically dominant player nor is he going to give you elite offence. He will be responsive defensively, play a two way game, kill penalties, go up against other teams top forward so our own top guys can flex their scoring muscle. Backlund is only polarizing because he is a former 1st round pick, if he was chosen in any other round we wouldn’t be talking about trading him. This guy made Bouma better last season and not the other way around.

  • Byron Bader

    Beating the Penguins would be huge. The Flames beat the Penguins once in 2006, Crosby’s 1st year, and have not beat them since. 0-9. A shootout 6-7 years ago in a game in which I believe Crosby got severely injured in the 1st or 2nd period is the only time they’ve come close. St. Louis, Anaheim and Pittsburgh have had our number for a number of years. It would be nice to start to turn a page on those teams.

  • Toofun

    Backlund is neither the problem nor the solution for the Flames.

    Personally, I would rather have him on my team than not have him. He is not someone that you build a team around but having Backlund on the ice helps Calgary far more often than it hurts us. He’s not soft, he’s not lazy, he doesn’t take stupid or undisciplined penalties, he forechecks, he backchecks and once in a while a puck will bounce into the other team’s net off of him.

    I don’t understand why Hartley seems to have so little love for Backlund or why he’s always being demoted and having to prop up the 4th line. Maybe it’s because Backlund has a lot of potential and this is Bob’s way of trying to get the best out of him. Maybe it’s time to use carrot for a while instead of the stick. It seemed to work out pretty well last night. Right now there are plenty of other players on the team who could use a demotion or night off if Hartley chooses.

  • cberg

    Mony’s play this year is not very encouraging….over 18 minutes played last night and not much of a factor as well as a FOW% of 38%.

    Maybe he needs a rest…has mononucleosis or is it monnynucleosis? Not to be facetious but he is a shadow of his former self….

  • Muuule

    “Always earned, never given” needs to be buried and forgotten. It’s completely subjective. You could argue hard working players with poor skill (Russell) have “earned it”. You could also argue players with a long track record of success that are currently playing poorly have “earned it” (Hudler). You could argue highly skilled rookies with limited NHL experience haven’t “earned it” (Bennett). Who cares! – you should try to play the players that give you the best chance to win; how you do that is the challenging and fun part.

    • Burnward

      Love this Hextally for individual players. Highly recommended.

      Compare Backs from last season to this and it matches quite well to what we’ve seen from him on the ice, IMO.

      Still strong defensively but isn’t getting to the dirty areas enough.

  • The Last Big Bear

    I haven’t been by much this season because I have insane work commitments.

    I just wanted to say two things:

    1) THANK YOU MODS FOR MODERATING THE COMMENTS. This needs to happen. Things slid pretty far this off-season.

    2) Michael Backlund is good at hockey. I have always been his 2nd biggest proponent (right after Ari)… (I am also a big proponent of Ari). But Backlund has been PRETTY BAD this season so far, with only a period here and there where he’s done well. I am hoping he shakes it off, because the Flames badly need what he is capable of providing.