Lightning 3, Flames 1 post-game embers: Square peg, round hole

After fighting back from a disastrous first period, the Flames gave themselves a shot to win the game. At least, that was the case before a bad penalty, and questionable biases and habits came in to cement the loss.

At some point, things will have to change. For now, the team is 5-11-1.

Karri Ramo’s redemption

The Lightning dominated the first period. Their CF was 65.79%, and they outshot the Flames 11-8, a number that seriously flatters the Flames. It seemed as though Calgary would never escape their zone, doomed to flail around helplessly and pray the puck wouldn’t go in the net.

The puck did not go in the net.

Despite being thoroughly outplayed, Karri Ramo kept his team in the game. It was most dramatic during the first period, but he was on point throughout the night. 

In direct contrast to the other game in Florida, none of the Lightning’s goals can really be blamed on Ramo. He was the victim of defensive breakdowns all night, from Ladislav Smid and Dennis Wideman deciding to cover the same guy, leaving Brian Boyle free to take his shot to leaving Steven frickin’ Stamkos wide open on the powerplay to Wideman’s turnover extinguishing all hope once and for all, there was nothing the goaltender could really do.

Still, it was something for him to build off of considering his disastrous game in Florida.

And that’s why you don’t go after a new goalie that’s going to cost in a season already lost. Ramo had a terrible game. Then he had a great one. It happens. And even a goalie playing well couldn’t save this team.

Speaking of Dennis Wideman

Wideman is still a top four defenceman.

The Flames are currently rolling with defence pairings of Giordano with Brodie, Russell with Hamilton, and Smid/Engelland with Wideman, but make no mistake about it: Wideman may technically be on the bottom pairing, but he is firmly entrenched in the top four.

Four defencemen played over 20 minutes, and you can probably guess which ones they were: the same guys you could usually count on to lead the way last season. Nevermind that the Flames have upgraded their personnel at the position; it’s still Giordano, Brodie, Russell, and Wideman.

There is a caveat to that, though: of Wideman’s 22:52 played, 6:20 of it came on the powerplay. The Flames had 7:42 of total powerplay time, and Wideman was on it 82% of the time. To be fair, the Flames’ lone goal came on the powerplay, and Wideman did get the secondary assist on it, but you’d think the powerplay would be doing slightly better if you felt one guy was so good on it he should be out there 82% of the time.

This doesn’t address his problems at even strength, either. Such as receiving 70% offensive zone starts – the fourth highest on the Flames – and posting a 40.00% CF – the third lowest on the Flames. Or his being reunited with Russell for the end of the game, pretty much the worst defensive pairing possible with this team, just in time for him to give the puck away for the backbreaking goal.

Why no Dougie Hamilton?

Dougie Hamilton was the only Flames defenceman to get zero special teams time.

Wideman had a ludicrous amount of powerplay time. Brodie followed it up with 4:14, while Giordano and Russell got just under two minutes each.

On the penalty kill, Russell, Giordano, and Wideman had just over a minute, Brodie 28 seconds, and even Ladislav Smid played 45 seconds on the kill. Smid. Who hasn’t played since Oct. 26. Who hasn’t played regularly since early December 2014. Who had a 20% CF, by far the lowest on the team. Smid was trusted to kill penalties more than Hamilton was.

What does Hamilton have to do at this point to work himself back into the coach’s good graces? It’s hard to imagine anybody performing worse than Russell and Wideman at the moment; certainly not Hamilton, who should be getting powerplay time ahead of Russell and penalty kill time ahead of Wideman at absolute minimum. 

(Seriously, Russell is 28 years old and has a career high of 34 points; Hamilton is 22 years old and has a career high of 42. What are we doing here?)

He shows more defensive acumen than to simply flop down to the ice every time an opposing player comes near, even if he doesn’t block seven shots on the night (which isn’t actually something to admire, as it’s an indication the play is going against you more than anything else). But old personal biases apparently never die.

Mikael Backlund and Sam Bennett have serious chemistry

Together, at even strength, they had a CF of 57.89%; in all situations, 61.90%. They played great together on the powerplay, scoring the Flames’ lone goal. Mikael Backlund was the guy who got the puck in the zone to begin with, and Sam Bennett was in perfect place to redirect his pass in the net. It was beautiful.

Also:

As much as some may want Bennett playing down the middle, there’s nothing wrong with Bennett on Backlund’s wing. They were stellar together in the playoffs, and they, along with Michael Frolik, have been clicking once again in the regular season. It’s a good line, and it’s no coincidence the two have been putting up points as of late now that they’re playing alongside one another.

I really hope Derek Grant gets his first NHL goal

Derek Grant is the ideal call up. He only played 7:15 last night, and he’s averaging below 10 minutes a night when in the lineup. He’s decent enough to actually play reasonable minutes throughout a game, but old enough you know he’s probably not a legitimate prospect, more likely to spend his career in the AHL than the NHL, so he’s not taking meaningful minutes away from anybody else.

But right now, he’s outplayed some of the NHLers. Brandon Bollig and Mason Raymond are taking seats in part thanks to him; Bennett is on the wing in part because Grant can handle fourth line centre duties. He’s been serviceable, and seems to be good for a scoring chance every game or so. 

So right now, Grant is the guy I’m rooting for. There’s no telling how much longer he sticks in the NHL, which is what would make his first NHL goal all the more special. We all knew Bennett was going to score, but Grant? There’s no telling if he ever will. 

This season is going down the toilet, and fast. Its only potential for salvation is due to how terrible the Pacific Division is, but even then, the Flames are still at the bottom of the barrel. If you’re going to stick with them, you need something to cheer for. Grant getting his first NHL goal is my something.

  • mattyc

    I still maintain that with the types of personalities Burke and Treliving possess, there’s no way they fire the coach of the year during the season, but I will be hugely surprised if he’s back next season. The whole Russell over Hamilton thing is just embarrassing now. Yeah, Hamilton started slow, but playing a guy who is good at nothing but shot blocking simply because you admire the truculence of shot blocking over him makes zero sense.

    Love the Backlund line and strange, but I haven’t heard the usual idiots on the Fan praise him once. They sure love to pick on him when times are tough, but when he’s rolling they just won’t talk about him at all.

    Speaking of which, where did all the anti-regression, anti-advanced stats folks go and hide?

    I really wish someone could tell me what’s wrong with Monahan. The kid has too much character to be a floater. I wonder if he’s hiding an injury. Gio doesn’t look 100% yet either.

    Oh well, adversity is good and the team could use one more high end draft pick. Especially a big, fast scoring winger along the lines of a Kuznetsov or Tarasenko.

    • everton fc

      I gotta say I was a big Hartley advocate & still am but he is making this tough. I agree, he won’t be let go this year if things remain off the rails. In fact, he will probably get a chance at redemption next year. But if we see the same start & record this time next year, well….. see ya Bob.

      Monahan is just going through his sophomore jinx this year.He’ll be fine. Bad timing for him, may cost him a little on the new contract.

      We have too much invested to be messing with how Hamilton is being utilized. He’s paid like a top 3 blue liner. time to play him that way. Time to also put expectations in the trunk this year & get this team back to playing Flames hockey. The wins will come.

      I am also a big BT advocate but he has made a few mistakes in his young career. That’s Ok, just be smart in how it’s fixed. Personally, I would have sold Wideman during the summer on the coat tails of his best year as a Flame. If I acquire Hamilton, have Brodie nicely squirrelled away & planned on re-upping Gio which he did, Wideman needed to go. You can only have so many top 4 Dmen & pay them accordingly. If Russell was the #4 guy, then fine, I think Wideman could have been moved in the summer, without having to eat any cap. What we had was high expectations going into the year, but the balance was out of whack. Very similar to our goaltending situation. I agree, we need another high end forward draft pick. Hope we are sellers come January.

    • piscera.infada

      [This comment is not directed at you. Your comment is more or less exactly how I feel about things at the moment]

      I don’t know what so many people expected out of a “rebuild”. That after one and half years, this team would be crescendo-ing into a legitimate contender?

      Look at what management did last offseason. They overpaid some players with both dollars and term simply as a function of having a few veteran place-holders on the roster (Raymond, Engelland, Bollig [trade]). They hunkered down for the long haul.

      What did they do this offseason? They acquired two players who not only fit the age of this squad going forward, but address issues that needed to be addressed going forward–and (in the case of Hamilton in particular) issues that would likely not be able to be addressed internally for a number of years. Both of those acquisitions were signed to deals that fit into a framework moving forward. They again, played the long-game with both those signings.

      What was the one thing that occurred that changed fans perspectives between those two offseasons? A surprisingly fun season. A season that relied on a great deal of unsustainable percentages. This is the very essence of what the analytics community said last year–not that the new, evolving core is horrible, not that as fans we shouldn’t enjoy them winning. But, that when they hit a spot like they have now, we know why. That when management entered the past offseason, they didn’t think they had something they didn’t–and guess what, they stuck to the “rebuild”.

      In reality, the very nature of “rebuilding” will make consistency very difficult. It’s only as the young core grows that they’ll find this consistency.

      Another season of growing pains will give management a much truer picture of where the faults lie in this group. It will allow them see what a few younger players can bring to the picture. It will, all in all, allow them to approach a growing group with greater clarity. That is a good thing.

      I still hold by the stance I’ve held the last several weeks. This team is a lot closer to Dallas last year than Colorado. We’ve seen a noticeably better possession effort over the last few weeks, and that’s a good sign. I hope improvement continues. And maybe if we’re really lucky, the hockey gods will bestow upon us some Oilers-esque draft luck. I’m not holding my breath for that though, this is still not a bottom-5 team, in my opinion–literally everything that could go wrong has gone wrong.

      Look, I’m not saying don’t question coaching, and players, and management. Everything’s up for closer inspection when you only have two regulation wins through the first month of the season. People just need to realize where this organization is–this is not a dramatic fall from grace. You signed up for a rebuild? This is kind of what you signed up for, unfortunately.

      • The Last Big Bear

        ^What he/she said^

        I like where the Flames are situated long-term, and I think the rebuild is going well.

        This season is about development.

        The only reason I am disappointed was losing badly to Edmonton.

        Rebuilding or not, there is no excuse to ever lose a game to Edmonton.

      • Big Ell

        I agree and am hopeful that we are closer to Dallas. I am hopeful that Gaudreau and Bennett can be like Seguin and Benn.

        I will be more confident on the rebuild as the season goes by. What the team decides to do with Russell and Hudler will go a long way to showing what BT is really thinking/planning. I would add Wideman to the list but am afraid that his contract and play make him close to untradeable. His play on the Johnson goal was horrific.

        At the end of the day getting another high end prospect will be beneficial.

        • piscera.infada

          I don’t think you need Benn and/or Seguin to be the Dallas Stars of last season (if that makes sense). I’m speaking more to the improvement in areas where they were horrible last year. In order to be similar to Dallas, they need to continue that improvement.

          I agree with your second point. Although, I do think that this horrible start to the season will make those “tough decisions” (if you think they are, which I don’t) on players like Russell, Wideman, and Hudler a great deal easier. Remember, contract negotiations aren’t made in a vacuum–the more success the team is generating, the more difficult it would be to trade a player like Russell or Hudler from an optics stand-point.

          I firmly believe that Treliving knows exactly what he needs to do for this organization to be successful long-term–that is, stay the course. Last season made that a little bit more difficult. He stuck to his guns this offseason though, and that’s what impressed me the most–not just the “name value” he was able to acquire.

    • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

      We just can’t be bothered arguing with you about it.

      From what I have seen around the net, Corsi is on its way out anyway.

      “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

    • Derzie

      The knock on Backlund is inconsistency and lack of finish. Playing terrible for a month and then playing well is what he does. Next up, he will get injured. As for the regression folks, the knock on them is their over emphasis on luck being the reason for regression. What is happening is this team stinks right now. Luck has little to do with it. Crediting luck is like saying scratching your chin prevents bear attacks. No bears around so the scratching must work. Stats are useful. The folks who make blanket statements about their unassailable usefulness are the problem.

  • MontanaMan

    Is BT in on the conversation regarding Duchene or Johansson? Either would look good with the Flames but what would it take? Easy to say move some veterans (Hudler, Gio, Wideman) but it’s going to take giving up youngsters and high draft picks. Worth it?

  • Dangit we can’t even blame the Sutters anymore for the current state of the team. It was Jay Feaster who signed Dennis Wideman to this 5 year, $26 Million albatross of a contract through to 2016-2017. And Wideman is owed $6 Million next season so good luck moving him before then.

  • Cfan in Vic

    This was spot-on, Ari. Thanks for all the zone-start and ice time info. It really backs up the eye-test during the game.

    Russel/Wideman were also out there in the first period, too. I was face-palming right off the bat. Absolutely maddening that the same zero-logic decision keeps being made.

    And yes, Backs and Bennett. Wooo hooo. Not much else to be excited about. Except Derek Grant. I’ve been a huge fan of his since the start. I don’t want to see him get elevated minutes or circumstances, because he is taylor made for the role he’s playing. He had a couple good sniffs at the net last night, and I too think he’ll light it up soon.

    One more step forward, and two more back…

  • Cfan in Vic

    Thought we played well enough to win but Bishop showed what a real starting goalie can do. Get some decent goal tending can’t score goals, score goals get no goal tending, F’ing frustrating.

    Finding it hard to support Hartley and his use of Wideman, Russell, and the damn stretch pass. Free Dougie Hamilton, what else do we have left to lose.

  • everton fc

    Seems goaltending is settling down… Perhaps “d”… But we can’t score. We need consistency on all front – especially scoring.

    Hartley keeps losing… I fear for his head, but it’s honestly still the cards he’s been dealt, meaning the players… Not all are his picks… His decisions…

  • everton fc

    3 hits-2 for Ferland, 1 for Gaudreau.
    Hamilton needs one-on-one instruction.
    Half of this team needs to be sat out, one each game.
    [Kind of like firing the weakest car salesman at the end of each month.]

  • everton fc

    The only logical reason I can think of for the current deployment of Wideman and Russell is that management is trying desperately hard to get them both going to try and increase their trade value.

  • flamesburn89

    I think the problem with the Stats is because of the parity in this league. It means luck & exceptional player performances can impact the outcome of a game. Like anything, luck & performance are never constant. Case in point. How do Leafs beat Nashville???

    Hartley won’t get fired this year but if he has the same results & record this time next year,,,,,well….bye bye Bob.

    Hamilton is paid like a top 3 dman, time to play him accordingly. I like BH but not sure why he is not utilizing a young player Flames management have significantly invested in. Doesn’t make sense. Hiss boss is not going to be a happy camper if this continues. You got me???

    Time to put expectation in the trunk & get the team back to playing Flame hockey, wins will come. Hope we are sellers at the TDL, I agree with Wolf, we need another very high end forward to be added the mix.

    BT kinda messed up, should have traded Wideman after his best year in a Flames uniform. It seems they have been high on Russell, they should have gone with him in the #4 spot & see if he could earn it this year, along with a new contract. Obviously , neither is happening . But had we traded Wideman, Hartley wouldn’t have been able to mess around with Hamiltons ice time the way he has been doing inexplicably.

    • Cfan in Vic

      I agree about Bob. I’m not a supporter of firing him this season, as I don’t think that would actually do much for them at this point. I think he better get a bit more logical with his defensive deployments though, or he’s gonna be under some pressure from above.

      Hamilton’s slow start is one thing, but I’m sure BT wants to see what he’s capable of, now that he’s settled in.

  • everton fc

    I wonder if the extra ice time for Russell and Wideman is due to direction from above in an effort to boost #’s and trade value?

    Oddly enough it’s having the reverse affect… but still if the worst team in the conference is benching these players then any ounce of trade value that MAY have been left, is gone. Better to play them.

    This may be a stretch but it’s all I got!

  • Slowmo

    Do you PPL really think it matter who we play and where dougie or wides or russel they all suck right now Ramo is sucking the whole back end has gone to sleep I don’t get it I guess we will play just hard enough to loss out on the first over all pick and play bad enough to miss the playoffs I was ok last yr with rebuild then we were teased with a great season for a lot of excitement but why give us the hopes of a great team with expectations of 2nd round advances only to fall to what perhaps 6th again or 4rth just to loss out on # 1 pick. I know Oilers will finish 3rd over all again do a payout pick 1st over all hear BB whine about the format and see another yr of failer . Ok perhaps not that bad but there is no one person to blame it is a whole that’s the blame and a lot of luck trust me if the management thought Hartley should be playing Dougie more they would say something and it would happen I’m sure they get together as a group a couple of times a month and discuss what going on.