I don’t know what it was – whether it was an earlier game than normal, the general lacking atmosphere in Florida, or the fact it was a game between two bad teams – but last night’s game was kind of a dud overall. The Flames lost a game they could have won, and that was that.
Can’t let them get this close
The Panthers outshot and out-corsied the Flames, all the while getting better goaltending. But the Flames have something they need to focus on when it comes to defending, and that’s not giving guys opportunities from right within the crease.
HockeyStats.ca now has shot charts for each game. Here’s the breakdown of where each team’s scoring chances (defined as within the “home plate” area extending out from the net and to the faceoff dots, in the shape of baseball’s home plate). It’s not perfect, but it’s a pretty good illustration of what happened:
Both teams had their fair share of chances, but the Panthers had far more dangerous ones. David Jones’ second goal doesn’t even count from within the home plate area (though he was just outside of it).
All four of the Panthers’ goals came from in there, though. Through a combination of bad goaltending and bad defence, the Panthers were frequently able to get up in Karri Ramo’s face and/or crease, and that’s something that can’t happen.
An NHL goaltender is better than this
The loss wasn’t entirely on Ramo, but he certainly didn’t help matters. He had no control whatsoever on the first two goals, which should have been stopped without question. They were chances that came in close, but they were also chances that Ramo originally had, and then lost.
He appeared visibly frustrated after the second such goal went in. The good news, though? He tightened up his game after, and actually prevented what would have been a couple of golden chances for Florida, including a very smart poke check to prevent what likely would have turned into a goal, and holding his leg very strong to prevent the Panthers from literally forcing the puck past him.
The third goal can be blamed on a poor, slow-to-react defence – none of the Flames were really in position to prevent the cross-ice pass, and ended up flailing wildly once the puck reached Aaron Ekblad’s stick for his one timer – except Ramo himself was slow to react as well, caught watching rather than anticipating the shot that went through a wide open net.
And the fourth goal was the direct result of T.J. Brodie’s turnover, and Jaromir Jagr subsequently outsmarting every single Flame on the ice, Ramo included.
Ramo did, ultimately, tighten things up as the game went on. But those first two goals were purely on him, and they can’t happen. Not at this level.
Where was T.J. Brodie at the end of the game?
Was Brodie’s turnover bad? Yes, absolutely. It turns out the Flames’ best player isn’t infallible after all, and is prone to his own mistakes (he was on the ice for the third goal against, too). So… I guess he’s human after all.
The problem here is that game-ending turnover or not, Brodie is still the Flames’ best player, or at the very least, the best defenceman. So, with the Flames down by one, why was his final shift over before Ramo was even pulled? He wasn’t benched after his turnover; he had four shifts following it. He still led the Flames with 24:28 of ice time. And yet, it was Kris Russell, Dennis Wideman, and Mark Giordano out there.
Russell and Wideman bleed shot attempts against, so having them out with an empty net while desperately trying to tie the game maybe might not have been the best response, even with Giordano there to support them. Wideman being unable to keep the puck in the offensive zone was pretty much the end of things.
The highest stakes possible, and your best player is on the bench. That doesn’t make any sense.
(Side note: Russell and Wideman were reunited for 4:39 in the game. Even though Dougie Hamilton is Russell’s main partner, it doesn’t look like he’s actually in the top four just yet, at least in terms of ice time.)
Third line, best line?
David Jones is now the Flames’ leading goal-scorer. Raise your hand if you saw that one coming; now put your hand down, liar.
He scored goals four and five of his season last night to keep the Flames in it. The first was the result of Joe Colborne doing something very Joe Colborne: starting off a play impressively by carrying the puck into the zone, looking like he was creating a scoring chance, only to then ultimately flub it, but David Jones was there to pick it up and rifle it, so things still went well.
(Colborne had a few other impressive moments throughout the game. They were ones that were mostly the cause of him being big and skating around the outside with the puck, looking like he might be about to create something, only to… not. It happens a lot.)
Jones’ second goal was the result of a stretch pass from Matt Stajan, whom the Panthers were kind enough to create a nice, big, open lane for.
The third line had some of the best possession stats on the night, and that was with really, really poor zone starts. Also: two goals. They had a quiet game against the Penguins, but were effective against the Panthers when not many else were.
Johnny Gaudreau remains amazing
No matter how brutal this season may or may not get, the Flames do provide something to look forward to each and every game, and his name is Johnny Gaudreau.
He’s had a few plays this season where he enters the offensive zone, and just kind of spins around the opposition to get the puck in deeper and set up a scoring chance. That happened again last night. It’s like a lot of players in the league just have no idea how to defend against him, and it’s awesome.
If only he’d scored when Vincent Trocheck was busy celebrating what he thought was his second goal, but Erik Gudbranson had the stellar play to prevent him from even getting a shot off (though the chance was still created).
Gaudreau was the only forward to play more than 20 minutes, with 21:44, and he led the way with four shots on net. He’s legitimately the Flames’ best forward (though as Sam Bennett, who also played rather well and was also unfortunate to not get on the board, continues to grow, he should challenge him for that title).
There’s still a lot to like on the horizon, it’s just we have to get through this year first.