Flames 5, Penguins 2 post-game embers: Let’s do that again

Wow.

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.

  • Cfan in Vic

    Bollig always gets bashed here! He is paid to smash faces, and is always want this type of player on my team! I loved Mcgratton and would rather have him in the line up! I don’t look forward to a league that has no fighting!

  • Cfan in Vic

    Everything came up Milhouse!

    I don’t think it’s possible for this team to send Bollig down, sooooo can we please keep Derek Grant and boot Raymond down when Ferly comes back?

    I hope these guys go on a roll now. Last night was like “getting the ol’band back together”.

    Edit: Craftmatic, um, I think we should send you down too, with that attitude.

  • McRib

    When we drafted Sam Bennett fourth I knew that a couple of teams selecting ahead of us would be regretting it down the road. If not for nagging shoulder problems displayed in not being able to do a pull-up at the combine he would have gone first overall (funny the media never put two and two together and only made an issue about not doing a pull-up, whereas it was noticeably a shoulder problem for scouts in attendance). It’s funny though I think the teams regretting not taking Bennett will not be who we originally thought, although all four could very well end up regretting it Bennett is that good (kids compete is world class).

    Leon Draisaitl is turning into a much better NHLer than Sam Reinhart. Both were average skaters their draft year, yet everyone criticized Draisaitl more often who had the way better frame of the two and was great at separating players from the puck. Everyone praised Reinharts Hockey IQ, but Draisaitls was just as good. Aaron Ekblad was a physical freak years ahead of where he should be developmentally, but I think that is catching up to him now as Florida is leaning on him this year (only has 3 Points in 14 Games). He created a ton of offense off of a cannon shot in the OHL and last year, but his average passing was never going to turn him into a Number 1 Defender. I think teams are now playing up high to take away that shot (like teams did to Phaneuf 3-4 year into the league). Remember when Barret Jackman won the Calder Trophy… Nothing against Ekblad and Reinhart, but Sam Bennett should have gone first and that will be proven, always take the kid with world class compete and skating if you can. But I don’t think Edmonton was wrong for taking Draisaitl he is exactly what they needed a sturdy forward to play with those other top picks, Bennett should have been long gone by Edmonton anyway.

    • Not to pick on Draisaitl, but the biggest knock on him was his skating. He is a power forward in the making. But I don’t see him being a Getzlaf type center, since he doesn’t seem to have that ability. He shines playing on the wing, where a perfect pass becomes a tap in, or he passes it to one of the team’s top talent. He has a good shot too.

      Anyway, he is a 2nd year pro, so no point in comparing him to Bennett. We need that type of skill that Bennett brings. He’s slippery like Johnny, gritty like Bouma, gets to the prime areas like Monahan, and backchecks like Frolik. For a 1st year pro, he is figuring out the game quickly. The #93 is appropriate.

    • Burnward

      Draisaitl always reminded me of Thornton in his draft year, but his skating is quickly outpacing that comparison. He’s also more willing to shoot, and he has a good one.

      Unrelated: There were FOUR shutouts last night. That doesn’t happen often, does it? Is it just me that finds that odd?

      Yeah. Probably just me.

      • McRib

        Wow he has really improved his skating the last two years he looks way quicker this season. I knew he would, but even I didn’t think he would improve this significantly. If he was this good of a skater leading up to the draft (considering Hockey IQ, Size, Passing, etc) he would have been the clear cut 1st overall pick,

    • supra steve

      My question would be….if his shoulder injury was so obvious to scouts at the combine….why did the Flames wait until training camp to diagnose the need for surgery? If the injury was obvious to them, they would have had him evaluated and under the knife the week after the draft.

      • supra steve

        The injury turned out to be more serious than anyone (Bennett included) realized. But he was out with a shoulder injury for part of that season, and I remember thinking that that was probably the reason he couldn’t do a pullup (that is, I remembered he was coming off a recent injury, and I thought I remembered it being a shoulder issue, but I wasn’t sure).

        If I can make that connection, I’m sure the scouts–ALL the scouts–did as well.

        • supra steve

          Yes, I agree, the injury announcement at training camp did make the whole “pull up” issue make total sense. I also remember Hartley or BT being interviewed at the time and relaying that Bennett kept the injury to himself, assuming it would heal naturally. This, of course, was the wrong thing to do, but he’s just a kid and kids do stupid stuff (as do adults, but that’s a totally different topic).

          So I will point out that the Flames either bungled Sam’s injury royally…or they had no idea that he was damaged. If they knew about the injury, no expense would have been spared in diagnosing the problem. Their doctors found the issue pretty quickly at camp when Sam finally came clean, and I assume they would also have found the problem in July…had they known there was a problem.

          Did some scouts see the problem at the combine? Perhaps, but I have seen no proof or supporting evidence of that. There seems to be absolutely no proof that any of those scouts were employed by the Flames.

    • Captain Ron

      Edmonton could be looking back one day saying wow we could have had both McDavid and Bennett.

      Might even happen by the end of this year. No knock on Draisaitl intended.

  • mattyc

    I agree with everything above, so won’t rehash; but Stajan deserves some love too. Played ~18 minutes, was hard-matched against Crosby, and pretty much neutered him. Not something I think you’d expect – but it certainly helps Monahan’s line if you can have Stajan play Crosby (and Backlund play Malkin).

    One small quibble:

    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.

    I kinda think on single game (or single period) possession stats we should be using raw counts (or a differential) rather than percentages. The percentages in small bits kind of mask what’s going on (who’s high event – who’s low event?)

    • Ari Yanover

      Stajan has shown that kind of shutdown ability before. I remember a game against the Blackhawks I think two years ago where Stajan was matched against Toews. He finished the game with something like a 66% Corsi for.

      Needless to say, the Flames won.

  • supra steve

    The more I look at Bennett’s goal last night, the more I’m struck by the play Frolik made. Backlund ties up the draw and Frolik jumps in, pounces on the puck, and skates it out of the zone. Bennett does the rest.

  • RickT

    I love Bennett. Like, unconditionally.

    The way he plays the game – he’s a pitbull. He wants nothing more than that puck, whenever the other team has it. If they have it, it’s going to be his.

    When other plays hit Johnny dirty, and S.B. is on the ice, he takes the train right to their doorstep, and lets them know he’s not happy. Bennett, you’re 19 and like 180 lbs.

    And the sublime talent, skating, and thinking he shows. He is, even over Johnny, I think our best talent – and will be the best player on the Flames forward ranks for years.

    • Cfan in Vic

      I’m pretty giddy over Bennett too. He and Johnny are going to make for some pretty fun times in the next couple years. The two of them are extremely similar in their puck pursuit and tenacity, but so different in style of play.

      Two VERY complimenting pieces to the puzzle.

  • First Name Unidentified

    Johnny is not just elite he’s also special. Kane kind of special only much more humble. One of the two luckiest events to happen for the flames in recent history. The other is getting Bennett at #4

    The way they controlled the last game i think the boys are back! Johnny will be in top 10 scoring regularly

    • First Name Unidentified

      If Gaudreau was a 1st rounder & not draft eligible until his Hobey Baker winning year, he would have been hyped as a generational player. His vision on the ice is elite, it’s just something to watch. Monahan will be that elite goal scorer as well.

      Watching Bennett do his thing with Backlund & Frolick & Johnny & Monahan clicking last night, it was like being dipped in the holy waters of last year. last night was a blast. The NHL has become a young man’s game & we have some very talented young players. If Ramo can get his game together, I think we can claw our way back in the playoff hunt again.

      • Cfan in Vic

        I agree, based on Johnny’s talent. I think there’s no way that he would have gone very high in the 1st round, however, due to his size. It was on him to prove that a 5’9″/150 player can withstand the NHL game, before any “experts” around him would tout him as generational (other than those really close to him).

        In my eyes, that makes him even more amazing. If he had the size and strength of the average NHL player, with his hands and hockey sense, holy crap, beyond generational.

        • Burnward

          Then again, like a Messi, his quickness and small size allows him to find space and exploit it much better than a large person.

          Special skill set combined with his insane hockey IQ and size makes him pretty darn special.

          • Cfan in Vic

            Fully agree. If Johnny had an average frame, he loses a lot of his general ability to instantaneously change direction. He can stick handle and twist around in tiny spaces, like you mention, and surely he would lose some of that.

            If, however, you have half those traits in a bigger dude, who can think the game as fast as Johnny, he would be quite a force (and would have gone waaaay higher in the draft).

            I’m glad we got the guy we did. He’s amazing.

  • Burnward

    I had a nightmare last night. With the loss of McDavid the Oilers are obviously not good enough and will no doubt finish in the bottom 5. My nightmare was that they won the lottery again and both McDavid and Austin Matthews are with the Oilers…please wake me up…this cannot happen again….

    But it is certainly possible…..