Flames 3, Capitals 2 (OT) post-game embers: Still learning, still growing

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Photo Credit: Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports

The Flames looked to be playing an extremely good road game on the second of their back-to-back. They kept pace with, and then surpassed the home team Capitals, building up a two-goal lead. With a goalie playing well in net, they looked set to win a game again.

Except they nearly didn’t, because they rolled over and attempted to die before eking out the overtime victory. Through 18 games this season, the Flames have two regulation victories.

Roll four lines?

Considering how both teams were on the second of a back-to-back, players’ ice times are of particular fascination. The Capitals had guys ranging from 18:39 (Alex Ovechkin) to 11:45 (Tom Wilson) up front, while on defence, they had Matt Niskanen (25:06) and Taylor Chorney (13:44) bookending things.

The Flames, on the other hand, went with a different approach. Sean Monahan (18:58) led the way up front, but Brandon Bollig (7:58) was well behind the rest of the pack. On defence, you had T.J. Brodie (29:23) being an absolute horse, while Deryk Engelland (8:19) showed up for roll call, at least.

The Flames’ bench was shortened in the third, with the Flames’ bottom defence pairing and fourth line essentially non-existent. Bollig had one shift – a fight – and his night was over after barely doing a thing. Engelland, who has actually been rather decent this season, had just two shifts in the third.

Micheal Ferland, who was creating chances throughout the night, also only had two shifts in the third. Derek Grant had three, and Dougie Hamilton had five. 

The third period is also where, probably not coincidentally, the Capitals completely dominated the Flames. After Monahan scored early in the final regulation frame, the Flames, over the course of 18:28 minutes, registered four shot attempts; all the while, the Caps came back from down 2-0 to tie the game. Via HockeyStats.ca:

chart

Suddenly the team that had, at minimum, been going toe-to-toe with the Caps essentially tried to surrender? That can’t be acceptable, second of a back-to-back or not.

Micheal Ferland vs. Brandon Bollig isn’t even a contest

Bollig’s number one trait is his physicality. Ferland is becoming known for that as well – he’s big and tough and throws a lot of hits – but Ferland is younger, has a history of being able to score, and offers more potential. For those reasons, I’ve been of the opinion that Bollig doesn’t have a place in this lineup, and Ferland in particular has made him redundant.

Bollig fought Tom Wilson and had two shots on net. Ferland caused a delay of game penalty, buzzed around the net, and nearly put a few in with his two high danger scoring chances, and five shots on net overall.

In short, Bollig really didn’t offer anything Ferland didn’t, and Ferland did a whole lot more than Bollig really could. Ferland didn’t help on the Caps’ first goal at all, but that’s where the whole “potential” thing comes in. As it stands, though, he’s younger and already better. He’s still learning, but they’re growing pains worth sitting through, especially considering Ferland can’t be referred to as a straight up goon: he can actually play.

Kris Russell vs. Dougie Hamilton is… something

Kris Russell, who has never played in any team’s top four before coming to Calgary and has bled shot attempts against him (which you can mostly see in the form of blocked shots) the entire time, played 26:39. Dougie Hamilton, who has been a top pairing defenceman in the past and was billed as a good option to shore up the top four in Calgary, played 14:00.

Uh… okay.

Everyone has their theories involving Russell’s excessive usage. He’s being showcased for a trade, he’s gained the respect and admiration of his coach who in turn will never reduce his minutes, he’s genuinely that good and has earned all of the minutes he’s played. Whatever. But it really does not make any sense to be leaning on him so heavily, and playing him in all situations.

Russell played 12:38 with Hamilton, who is, in theory, his defence partner; he played 9:55 with Dennis Wideman in the partnership that will never, ever die, even though there’s a lot of evidence pointing towards the fact that it should.

I was genuinely shocked to see Hamilton out there in overtime, considering his lack of ice time in the third period, and the fact he isn’t allowed out on special teams for some reason. And hey, what do you know – it paid off.

Hopefully that’s the start of the turnaround in his usage, because the lack of it is completely baffling for someone who has already actually turned his game around since first coming over from Boston. It’s not even like the Flames have been experiencing undisputed success with Brodie, Giordano, Russell, and Wideman playing the most minutes anyway, so what’s the hold up in giving someone who has genuinely improved another chance? And sticking with him even when things don’t immediately go the right way?

It’s almost Mikael Backlund-esque. Backlund doesn’t provide immediate offensive dividends when playing in the top six? Fourth line centre. Backlund is given a chance with real linemates and they start putting up points together? Oh okay, guess he’s a top six forward after all.

Hamilton doesn’t pay off with immediate dividends when in the top pairing? Bottom pairing defenceman. Hamilton shows improvement when off the top pairing, starting to look more and more like the player he was advertised to be? Better not put him in a position to succeed; after all, it didn’t work out before, so it probably never will.

You can already see how this is eventually going to play out. One game, Hamilton is going to be given real top four minutes. And he’s going to do well enough with them to play the next game as a top four guy. And the next game. And the next. And suddenly, bam: Hamilton is actually a top four defenceman. And Hartley will probably get credited with fixing him, even though you could just as easily make the argument it was Hartley who was holding him back most of the time.

Backlund has already been through the above paragraph. Multiple times. And it’s never been the coach fixing him; it’s always been him being talented enough on his own and just not being given the chance, resulting in oh so many wasted games.

One last note on this. Alex Ovechkin had a number of dangerous scoring chances throughout the game. Two in particular stood out to me:

  • When trying to cut through the slot, Hamilton calmly took the puck from him and created a Flames scoring chance instead.
  • When coming up the boards, Russell tried to cut him off, and only succeeded in falling down.

It’s not like I’m judging my entire impressions of two defencemen based on two isolated incidents, but it’s kind of funny when you think that the guy who fell played the second most minutes, and the guy who turned a dangerous situation into a scoring chance of his own was benched in the period his team gave up its two-goal lead.

Talking the top six

The Bennett – Backlund – Frolik line is straight up gold. They’re on fire. Bennett has ridiculous vision and the skill to successfully convert scoring chances. Backlund has enough offensive skill to be a good supporting player, all the while with the defensive skill to not only help ensure things don’t go wrong, but to initiate breakouts to begin with. And Frolik is exactly as advertised: a steady all-around player who can play in all situations.

There’s a lot to love about that trio, and they really do seem to have meshed together perfectly. They’ve combined for 10 points over four games since being reunited.

That’s just one line, though. And while they played a fair amount – Backlund and Bennett in particular – there’s still another group that got the top offensive minutes.

Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, that is. Because while they played just under 19 minutes each, the third linemate, Jiri Hudler, played just 14:27 – the least out of all non-fourth line forwards. It’s the second time this season he’s failed to reach the 15 minute mark, both times against the Capitals.

Hudler’s play hasn’t exactly been up to par as of late. He’s still putting up points, including last night, but he seems to have lost a step, and isn’t contributing on the same level as the rest of the top six forwards.

So was this a message? He wasn’t benched in the third; on the contrary, he played more in the third than he did in the first or second frames. It’ll be interesting to see how he’s used going forward, because he really does not look like the Hudler of yesteryear.

And, of course, Sean Monahan

Monahan has not exactly had the greatest start to the season. With his two goals last night, though, he is now the Flames’ goal-scoring leader with six. His 13 points on the season places him in a tie for second on the team, too.

Hopefully, this is a sign of him turning the corner. While it was the combined efforts of Hamilton and especially Brodie that created the overtime winner, Monahan’s then-insurance goal to start the third was created pretty much singlehandedly. In his past four games, he has five points, as well as 15 shots on net. 

There’s still kind of a feeling of inevitability that Bennett will overtake him sooner rather than later, but that could also be a case of shiny rookie syndrome. As it stands, Monahan is starting to look better. And for a 21-year-old in his third season, that’s pretty much what you need from him. He’s still learning and growing, after all; he isn’t yet the player he can be.

  • EhPierre

    Nice article Ari. I find it weird that when Ramo plays well, the team can’t seem to score a lot of goals but when Ramo plays poorly the team ends up scoring like 4 goals only to lose 6-4.

  • cberg

    Ari, thanks for the info to define some of the oddities of the game, like the zero Corsi attempts in 15 minutes of the third. Wow! I knew Washington was pressing but it didn’t seem THAT dominating watching the game. Hmmmm, scorekeepers?

    In any case strange some of the player usage especially in the third. I had thought the fourth line actually was playing pretty well earlier on. I’m guessing Washington probably shortened their bench too so that was a factor…

    In any case, a win.

  • MonsterPod

    I am so ambivalent about this squad, I don’t know what to think.

    There are flashes of menace, of Hartley’s system creating waves of speed.

    And there are portions of periods where they look like a hapless AHL team.

    The top of the article is the most damning: 2 reg wins in 18, from a team that went to the second round last year.

    We all worried about regression, but this has been staggering.

    GFG

  • Byron Bader

    Couple observations in overtime …

    I don’t know who Washington had out there but they put Williams at center on 3 v 3 in the ozone. With that much space you can’t put a guy who takes 10 draws a year out there against a guy who takes hundreds in Monahan. That was a weird move. Especially because Kuznetsov, Backstrom, Burakovsky, Johansson, Beagle and others are all natural centers, I believe. I don’t think Williams ever has been even in junior. As soon as I saw that … even when the flames were on the defensive I thought “oh I like this”. And I think Kuznetsov was the one who misses cutting off the TJ pass. Why was he not on the draw. Really weird.

    Monahan wins it Dougie flies behind the net and TJ takes off like a jet airliner and theyre off. Immediately. Wouldn’t mind seeing Brodie and Hamilton together for a bit. Even if they try it on the pp or if it’s already a blow out in either direction. Those guys can both fly and would create havoc on other teams. I just know it.

    • MonsterPod

      Brodie/Hamilton is the future. Dougie is just 22 and his success in Boston was not a fluke. He’s not the only Flame having a wonky season.

      I’m excited about all our young guys. Listening to the Pitt game the other night, it was the young guns doing all the damage. I still feel Tree is building this properly and the Hamilton trade was a great one.

      Excited for our core 2-3 years from now. Maybe Gilles in net, maybe Andersson, Kylington, Hickey join the back end. We have a couple of star centers already (Can this really be Calgary?) and we’ll fill in the wings a bit more.

      The future is still bright even if this season has sucked so far.

  • First Name Unidentified

    Gio looks like a chicken with its head cut off. Ovie made him look amateurish last night on a couple of shifts and ovie wasn’t even playing his best

    I’m worried Hartley may ruin this team with his non sensical deployments

  • Rock

    Ari your article is full of negatives, if you recall Hamilyon was in the top 4 at the beginning of the season look what happen back then. Your love affair with Hamilton is evident and bias. Yes he touched the puck in overtime congratulations. It was merely a back hand pass from behind his own net, Russell and Wiedman had pretty good games last night and your still all over them bashing them. Coach Hartley has won more championships and is a better coach then the man in Anahiem yet for some reason people say fire him and hire Bodreau.

    • cberg

      Rock, you’re pretty much right on, though I thought Ari’s article has a mix of positive in with the negative. She also backed up a lot of her points, whether we agree with it or not. She does like Hamilton, I do too, and doesn’t like Wideman or Russell much. Granted, so far this season it’s pretty easy to support they’ve had problems. I think they’ve been middle of the road, not as good as we need them or they are capable of.