That game had everything you wanted to see. The kids were scoring! Karri Ramo put together back-to-back .900+ save percentage games! (That doesn’t sound impressive at all but for this team, right now, it is!) The Flames beat the Penguins for the first time since 2005!
Let’s do it all again!
Sam Bennett is good at hockey
In his first eight games this season, Sam Bennett had one assist. It brought up concerns as to his readiness. After all, there’s no shame in being a teenager playing in the CHL. Most teenagers do that. And nothing was going in for him, try as hard as he might (and he was trying rather hard).
In his last six games, Bennett has three goals and eight points. He seems to be NHL ready.
This is all very reminiscent of Johnny Gaudreau’s rookie season. Of course, with Gaudreau, there wasn’t quite the level of certainty that he’d be playing in the NHL year-round. He was going to start in the NHL, but maybe he’d go down to the AHL at some point, get recalled later in the year? Who knew. But he was pointless in his first five games, and there was some concern.
Over the course of the rest of the season, Gaudreau proved that concern unfounded. Bennett is doing exactly the same thing now. What more can you say about his goal? That’s the player CSS ranked first overall in 2014.
Bennett posted a 54.55% ES CF with 20.00% zone starts. He actually only played 14:48, though it felt like so much more – probably because he commanded your attention every time he stepped on the ice.
This is just the start of his career. It’s gonna be fun.
Mikael Backlund is good at hockey
Mikael Backlund had a hand in all three first period goals. The most impressive was probably his secondary assist on the Flames’ powerplay goal, corralling the puck from behind the net and deftly sending it out to Sean Monahan to create a scoring chance.
Speaking of: hey! Backlund on the powerplay!
Backlund, who had no powerplay time against the Philadelphia Flyers, played 2:29 with the man advantage against the Penguins. He was behind just Gaudreau, Monahan, and Jiri Hudler for forward ice time. Furthermore, he played 1:52 on the penalty kill, tied with Michael Frolik for the second most time down a man (T.J. Brodie easily led the way with 2:56 played).
Backlund is a player suited for all situations. His 61.90% ES CF led all Flames players (like Bennett, with low zone starts: 22.22%). As long as he’s playing with talented players – and really, we’re just asking for anyone above Brandon Bollig’s skill set – he’s going to be a boon for his team.
Of course, it also certainly helps that the puck has started going his way; he has five points over his past two games. He still isn’t someone you’re going to rely on for offence, but that doesn’t mean he’s totally incapable of it. He does his part to generate it, and in part by doing that, keeps the puck out of his own net.
He is an extremely good complimentary player, and considering the team’s current stage in its development – i.e., future potential first line centre Sam Bennett is still a rookie – his current role is appropriate.
Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan are good at hockey
Johnny Gaudreau is tied with Blake Wheeler for fourth overall in NHL scoring, so, duh. He’s also tied with three other players for the leading assists total in the NHL with 13. Please remember this is just his second NHL season.
Probably most impressive was his part in the Flames’ fourth goal of the night. You know, the play where you pretend the ice is lava so you can’t let the puck hit it or whatever? The chip up to Monahan, Monahan’s hand-eye coordination to bat it in for the insurance tally; it was beautiful.
Gaudreau and Monahan both led the way with 20:37 played total, and ample powerplay time (which they both helped capitalize on). Johnny Gaudreau had a 60.71% ES CF, though; Monahan clocked in at 55.56%. When not playing alongside Gaudreau, Monahan’s ES CF was actually 0.00% – but that’s just a sample size of only a couple of minutes.
Something that helped the pair? Gaudreau’s 87.50% zone starts, and Monahan’s 82.35%. Someone had to benefit from the Backlund line’s low zone starts, and it looks like it was Monahan’s line that gained.
And guess which forwards Sidney Crosby saw the most of? He faced off against Gaudreau and Monahan for about 7:30 even strength minutes. With them, he was hitting 17.65% (Gaudreau) and 23.53% (Monahan) ES CF. Without them, it was 66.67% and 62.50%. This was with high offensive zone starts for the Flames, but hey: they went up against Crosby and they won.
Gaudreau has been having a pretty great season the entire time, one of the very few Flames to do so. Monahan, in comparison, has been struggling. His goal was good, though, his assist also good, and the five shots he had on net were a personal best for his season thus far. Hopefully this is his turning the corner moment.
You know what else is nice?
The four players discussed above? All Calgary Flames draft picks.
Also, Bennett’s dad seems like a swell guy, based on the kid he helped raise and goal celebration. Also also, the entire Gaudreau family seems absolutely incredible, and should be in attendance every single game.
The resurgence of Dougie Hamilton
Dougie Hamilton had a shaky start to his Flames career. He sure looks good now, though. He can still get better – and he could still be put in more situations to perform better – but he’s looking more and more like the player we were promised.
His pinch on the fourth goal was perfect, and thanks to it, he was the only Flames defenceman to register a point last night. He still isn’t in the top four for ice time, but that’s because he isn’t getting any special teams time, while Dennis Wideman is getting, well, a lot.
Hamilton was actually third on the Flames in even strength time with 17:29, and considering just how much he’s upped his game and how he’s no longer floundering in a top position, it’s time he plays a little more. No offence to Kris Russell, but his 1:53 of powerplay time should probably be Hamilton’s. Dennis Wideman played 1:02 on the penalty kill; maybe that should go to Hamilton as well?
Hamilton has worked his way back up the lineup. Like with Bennett, all that premature worry about him can go away now.
Let’s do that again
Do not change the lineup.
Not that after a 5-2 win I would expect there to be new line combinations (unless Micheal Ferland is ready to return, but that’s a whole other story), but it bears repeating: do not change these groups. Even if they fail to score three goals in one period, it’s time to keep things consistent for a while. Let guys play their games together and find their chemistry again.
These line combinations made sense. The top six forwards were the actual best six forwards on the team (although the second line actually had less overall ice time than the third line). Gaudreau, Monahan, and Hudler are back together; Brodie and Giordano are back together. Bennett may not be playing at centre, but it’s not like Backlund is a slouch for him to learn from; besides, those two have proven chemistry, and Frolik is basically another Backlund.
If it’s anyone who comes out of the lineup, it’s probably Mason Raymond. He had the team-low 5:48, and Derek Grant is looking pretty decent out there in a fourth line capacity.
But really, the only reason that should happen is if Ferland is back. That’s it.
Otherwise, don’t change a thing. Hamilton and Russell are adapting to one another. Ramo is in his groove. Even if the team loses its next game, don’t change the current lineup.
It’s time for some consistency. This lineup got the job done in impressive fashion. It deserves the chance to do it again, even if things don’t go as smoothly next time.