FLAMES 1, BLACKHAWKS 4 – POST-GAME EMBERS: OKAY, WHAT NOW?

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I’m covering for Ari this morning as she was eaten alive by baby puppies.

Lost somewhere between Washington, D.C. and Chicago is whatever allowed the Flames to beat the Capitals the other night. This game wasn’t really close to begin with, as Chicago in typical fashion controlled it from almost every possible vantage point. 

Though the team did manage to show flickers of life, it was unlikely from the get-go that the Flames really had a chance in this one.

David Jones, nice to see you can score

David Jones for pretty much his entire tenure as a Calgary Flame has been maligned by inconsistencies. In his third season with Calgary, he’s been an okay complimentary player used in literally every situation you can think of. He’s been a top-line winger, a middle-six winger, and glued to the fourth line.

This start to the season, despite his below-average possession numbers (45.36% CF at even strength), he’s found the net. Something the Flames have struggled to do, which is a positive, especially for trade value. Fortunately again last night, Jones did score which gave some hope, until it was extinguished.

It’s only November, but it’s important to remember he’s a UFA at the end of the season and someone a team might pursue because of long-term injuries or at the trade deadline. If he can keep it up (he’s also shooting 16.2% in all situations), he’s someone the Flames could move for literally anything. The only downside is his cap hit at $4 million, though the Flames could retain salary if need be.

Who said the “possession problem” was fixed?

Yeah, they played the reigning Stanley Cup champions last night. Yeah the Blackhawks are still pretty good despite their current record. Even with all that in mind, given their starts and performance on this road trip it’s hard to believe this team has fixed the shot attempt issue.

Things have improved as the team is at 49.5% in scoring chances for (16th), 22nd in FF% with 48.2%, and 16th in high danger scoring chances for with 50.2%. These numbers paint a tale to some degree that they’re better somewhat, but not completely.

flameshawkses

Last night, like the start in Tampa (33.33% CF at even strength in the first period) was just a disaster from all fronts. Positives existed like Sam Bennett somehow being 75% CF despite having zero offensive zone starts in the first period. Yet a number of continuous things add to symphony of headaches:

  • Turnovers
  • An unrelentingly confusing strategy of breaking out of their own end
  • Neutral zone struggles
  • (Stretch) passes to nowhere
  • No real semblance of a defensive zone system
Even if Ramo has a good game (and he wasn’t terrible last night), the team in front of him also needs to carry on with not doing what they did last night. Consistency is a huge flaw in their game this season, especially with slow starts. It’s a recipe for failure in the modern NHL, even with the anomaly from last season.

Let’s talk Michael Frolik

Circling back on an early thought, things are improving, slowly, and because of one guy in particular: Michael Frolik. He’s been easily the Flames’ most consistent forward at driving play. Last night was no exception with five shot attempts at even strength and two scoring chances. 

This season Frolik has been one of the top forwards in terms of shot attempt generation at even strength, scoring chance generation, and point production. He’s also found extensive usage on the penalty kill as well in the absence of Lance Bouma. As far as individual numbers goes, none of this surprised me when I looked at it earlier:

  • Frolik’s 47 individual scoring chances are first in the forward group and the entire team
  • His high-danger scoring chances are tied for second with Johnny Gaudreau at 14
  • 59 iFF events and 84 iCF events are good for first in both categories for individual shot attempts

In terms of percentages on basic underlying stats, he’s pulling his weight and then some. All numbers are even strength. Forward rank is of forwards who’ve played a minimum of 50 minutes at even strength:

CF% FF% SCF% HSCF% PDO ZSO%Rel
% 51.48% 51.16% 56.20% 52.13% 97.6 -3.13
Rank 3rd 3rd 1st 5th 5th 9th most difficult

In terms of relative performance to his peers, Frolik is a positive contributor in every way and makes the team better when on the ice. Looking at his rated metrics per 60 minutes played, again you start to see a portrait of a guy worth every dollar:

CF60 CA60 FF60 FA60 SCF60 SCA60 HSCF60 HSCA60
Currently 63.97 60.29 45.79 43.72 31.29 24.39 11.27 10.35
Rank 2nd 11th 2nd 11th 1st 8th 5th 10th

His rank on metrics against per 60 paint a very clear tail of heavy usage on a low-event team. We know the team as a whole is slowly improving, we also know as mentioned previously in the possession discussion which does match up with a lot shown above. 

So we know Frolik is driving play and to some degree suppressing the opposition.

Last season with Winnipeg, Frolik was among the best at in terms of CA60, FA60, and middle of the pack on SCA60 metrics. So there should be some optimism that as the season continues, those numbers can improve. Given his play this season it’s no surprise how many Jets fans miss him and wish he was still in Winnipeg.

Dougie Hamilton is getting there, chill out

For as much flack as he’s gotten this season, he’s honest to god improving. Something that caught my attention the other night during Edmonton’s game was in regards to Mark Fayne. He’s seen his fair share of vitriol thrown at him during his tenure in Edmonton, more so this season than before. Elliotte Friedman had mentioned this topic in the second intermission on Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada about his struggles and issues adapting.

There are a number of parallels you can make here, first and foremost the issue of adapting to systems and coaching changes. There is some obvious truth in the matter that Dougie is having issues adapting to whatever Hartley calls his defensive system. It’s also been touched on by Hamilton previously in Friedman’s 30 Thoughts, too.

It was explicitly discussed during the intermission that Fayne was struggling with the structure itself in which he plays in is an incredible variation to New Jersey. Because results haven’t exactly lived up to his contract and salary, folks are turning on him even when his company isn’t exactly stellar either.

Dougie’s comments in Friedman’s piece tells a very similar story, something that can hopefully be avoided.

As he learns to adjust here, specifically with his impact in regards to defense itself, he’s found his way into driving play. The woes of shot attempt generation exist but last night Hamilton led the way with seven shot attempts at even strength, the most of all Flames players. With all the disdain surrounding him, while others seemingly don’t see their ice time diminished for the returns brought on ice it’s still important to remember he’s 22.

Not to be surprised or anything, Hamilton got zero special teams time minus the two seconds he was on at the end of a power play. The protectionism that Hartley is seemingly attempting is honestly not helping things. The utilization of Kris Russell over Hamilton, something touched on previously, is increasingly dumbfounding. Especially so when given the lack of power play offense. 

Again, circling back on previous discussion on this issue: it’s Mikael Backlund-esque. It makes zero sense from a financial standpoint to play a $5.75 million dollar defenseman fewer than 20 minutes a night. From a usage and skill perspective, again it also makes zero sense that Russell is utilized over him.

At some point, hopefully more individuals begin to question Hartley’s methodology and incredulous behavior of learning to adapt. Just because you won a trophy last season doesn’t absolve you of growth like the players you coach. 

Derek Grant, hey you’re alright

Initially when the Flames signed him this summer I really didn’t care. I mean all signs pointed to him spending most, if not the entire season with Stockton. With injuries, inconsistencies, and just about everything else going wrong it wasn’t out of sorts to try something new. Hell, I didn’t even know if he was a real person, forgot he existed, and now he’s sort of found a spot on the fourth line.

Last night he wasn’t too bad among puck battles along the boards, helping force turnovers and get play moving the other direction. In a lot of ways you may see similarities of Josh Jooris in his game, but with less offensive upside. He’s honestly more useful than Bollig, and if Jooris could stay in the lineup, they along with Colborne or Ferland could be an okay fourth line.

Hopefully the Flames don’t lose him to waivers but he’s waiver-eligible again on Tuesday, assuming he dresses.

  • Parallex

    Yeah, I think it’s become fairly clear that the team has three area’s that dratically need a change… Coaching, 2nd pairing D (AKA Russell), and Goaltending. Probably in that order.

    It’s clear (at least to me) that Treliving showed that he can smartly add but he either can’t or won’t smartly subtract.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    Chicago was great. They controlled the puck for long stretches of the game and maintained possession in the Flames zone throughout the first 2 periods. When the Hawks had to defend (for about 35% of game time in Periods 1 & 2) the Flames were barely threatening. Keeping the Flames to the perimeter with good sticks and bodies in lanes all night long. The Flames were suffocated (particularly the first line) and the Hawks afforded them with very little time and space. The Flames were beat to pucks all night, and turned picks over endlessly with really bad passing. Watching my team being dominated (even if the score was close) is NO fun.

    Has Hartley lost the room? For a team that has its back against the wall, their OK-play isn’t good enough. No desperation in their game this season.

  • wot96

    Forget Jones. He may be a useful TDL deal or he may be useful to keep if he is prepared to keep his contract demands reasonable. The league is going to a two tier system where you have stars making big dollars and wanna be stars on ELC’s and roster fillers making $2m and less. Nearly every team is close to maxed out and players looking for $4m+ need to bring something special. So Jones even if he gets 20 goals shouldn’t be making more than a couple million next year no matter where he lands.

    On that note, we are going to be able to afford to re-sign Hudler, if we want to. Do we want to? The way he is playing, he will be next summer’s Curtis Glencross.

  • Parallex

    Russell is the bigger issue then Wideman. Don’t get me wrong Wideman is one of those things that ought to be subtracted but Russell needs to GTFO more then Wideman. At least with Wideman you can hide him on the bottom pairing at evs and manage his icetime by utilizing him on the PP.

    Russell is basically just Chris Butler at this point.

    ______________________________________________

    The biggest change we need is a different coach. Mike outlined a lot of things that aren’t going well (to say the least)…

    •Turnovers •An unrelentingly confusing strategy of breaking out of their own end •Neutral zone struggles •(Stretch) passes to nowhere •No real semblance of a defensive zone system

    … and here’s the thing about those, they’re deliberate (by process). The players are clearly doing what they’re told to do by the staff. It’s that what they’re told to do isn’t working.

    • piscera.infada

      The biggest change we need is a different coach. Mike outlined a lot of things that aren’t going well (to say the least)…

      •Turnovers •An unrelentingly confusing strategy of breaking out of their own end •Neutral zone struggles •(Stretch) passes to nowhere •No real semblance of a defensive zone system

      … and here’s the thing about those, they’re deliberate (by process). The players are clearly doing what they’re told to do by the staff. It’s that what they’re told to do isn’t working.

      Couldn’t agree more. To me, what really stood out from the article was this statement by Mike:

      At some point, hopefully more individuals begin to question Hartley’s methodology and incredulous behavior of learning to adapt. Just because you won a trophy last season doesn’t absolve you of growth like the players you coach.

      I’ll admit, I was a borderline Hartley apologist last season. His usage decisions are baffling, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt–until Hamilton came along this season.

      I had issues with what you elude to above for the majority of last season though. Now that the league has adjusted to what feeble systems Hartley imposed last season, he has shown neither the ability, nor the foresight necessary to adjust in response. This has only exacerbated his usage decisions.

      The Hartley question is a curious one though. When do you let him go? Would ownership be willing to swallow the optics of releasing a coach who achieved “success” last season?

      All I know is that when they do decide to address coaching, I hope they do their due diligence, and avoid just picking a “name brand” guy. They need to go after someone who understands where the game is going. This organization really needs to progress to match the young core.

      • cberg

        You know, I really don’t get the BH hatred. Half the points you reference have nothing to do with the coach (e.g. turnovers, stretch passes to nowhere(?), “no real semblance of a defensive zone system”…), and are basically a bunch of nonsense. C’mon, I mean, REALLY?

        If you want to criticize BH, and its clear you do, how about focusing on actual coaching things and not making things up or focusing on things which are clearly players’ issues?

        I’m not saying BH is the best, far from it, but he has had great success over the years and I’m not seeing how he is the major problem so far this year?

        How about the stupid giveaways, is that BH? How about the atrocious goaltending in certain games, is that BH? And on it goes. This team needs many things but really I’m pretty sure a new coach isn’t going to make a drastic difference if some of the other issues aren’t cleared up.

        Hey, you only have to look North to the Oilers to see replacing a “horrific, terrible” coach with a “great, successful” coach, adding in the “best generational player” since Gretzky and numerous line-up changes isn’t going to mean big improvements as some of the major line-up/player issues still remain the same.

    • Turnovers seem to be the result of having nobody open to pass to. That starts with the breakout. Many teams come up the ice as a unit, or dump and chase when the forwards are at full speed. We see a slow methodical skate by the defenseman, with the forwards looping or standing at the other blueline. Not many options. Dump and chase (loss of possession), long pass to the boards (tipped or missed mostly), or skated into the zone and dropped off.

      I have seen a lot of shifts where Johnny’s line gets stuck in their zone trying to get the puck back, and by the time they get it out, it’s time to change lines.

      The defense is relying on a “system” of waiting till the other team is tired of shooting or cycling the puck, and then transition to the neutral zone. Rinse and repeat.

      • piscera.infada

        I would argue the biggest issue with the “breakout”, is their neutral zone play. A lot of teams that use speed to break out do so in a fairly compact 3 or 4 man “unit”. They make small, quick passes in order to gain entry, and spread the defense horizontally. Once they gain entry, they work the puck low (while keeping possession).

        The biggest issue with the Flames is they attempt to work through the neutral zone took quickly–they stretch the ice vertically. You’ll notice that they always seem to have one or two forwards between the red line and offensive blue line on every breakout. As a result, you get a “stratified breakout”, where instead of having a solid “unit” with good puck protection moving up the ice with speed, you have one or two player units trying to gain the zone with either a dump, or a long (cross-ice, or stretch) pass.

        This type of neutral zone play has two inherent draw backs. First, the forwards (usually the wingers) have to make 50/50 decisions in their own zone between either leaving the zone (to be open for the pass), or covering low. Second, the defenseman or centre trying to make an outlet pass, have to make an obscenely difficult outlet pass. This is why you see so many icings and botched outlet passes. They’ve simply made everything more difficult than it needs to be.

        And don’t get me started on their defensive zone “coverage”.

        • hulkingloooooob

          Good synopsis of what I was getting at. A stretch pass can be a good thing (like the one Keith had last night), assuming the player is in full stride and the pass isn’t botched. And assuming you don’t do it 10 times per period.

          How many long passes along the boards are ever made? I would say not many, since the forward would need to take it on the backhand part of their stick if moving forward. They also tend to be rockets to get past the other forwards.

          I wonder who is responsible for the systems being used. The PP and PK are just plain bad. The PP is slow and lacks movement. Nobody getting into quiet areas. Too many shots from the point that miss the net or are easily caught. Maybe try to deflect a few of those. The PK is pretty passive. Results from both are lacklustre.

          • piscera.infada

            I wonder who is responsible for the systems being used. The PP and PK are just plain bad. The PP is slow and lacks movement. Nobody getting into quiet areas. Too many shots from the point that miss the net or are easily caught. Maybe try to deflect a few of those. The PK is pretty passive. Results from both are lacklustre.

            I completely agree. There are three players who have consistently moving on the powerplay: Gaudreau, Brodie, and Bennett (Hamilton has also shown a propensity to do this, but doesn’t get enough powerplay time). The key to opening lanes on the powerplay is movement–not just puck movement, but actual physical movement. Wideman and Gio tend to kind of stand there, and the puck rarely gets to Monahan in the slot, because teams are playing a very tight box and just allow the Flames to pass around the perimeter.

            Frankly, what needs to happen is a Gaudreau-Monahan-Bennett, Brodie-Hamilton first unit. Allow them to create and skate in space. They seriously need to open everything up in the powerplay, and just forget about giving up shorthanded chances–a tentative powerplay is a very ineffective powerplay.

            Again, they’re horrible at entering the zone because 1) they do it with no speed, and 2) they don’t do it with enough puck support. That again, is a function of horrible neutral zone play.

        • cberg

          Not a bad description of their breakout from what I’ve seen, but a rather slanted take on its value. A different slant would say that by moving up ice rapidly it breaks up a defensive “wall” at the blue line and forces the opposing D to turn and backtrack into the corners to battle for the puck, opening up the middle for the Flames to get a pass to their “second wave” of attackers, often including a D. Seeing as how the Flames lead the NHL in getting a pass into the high-danger slot and subsequent Corsi attempt (from Washington game intermission), I’d say the strategy is actually working very well.

          As for the wingers coverage in our own zone, I’m not sure that’s the primary issue with not getting the puck out or turnovers. Look at the Hamilton turnover last night. He had two guys in close support to pass to but just threw it up the boards without looking, which was actually the problem.

          Finally the long pass is difficult, sure, but I’d like to see if the Flames have significantly more, if any more icings than the average team out there…

          • First off, these tactics are Harley’s design. If they fail to work again this year, then he isn’t reacting to its failure.

            The stretch pass works when it’s a surprise, like the one Keith sprung on Calgary. Hard, elevated, in the center and on the tape. It works. What is being used this year is hard, on the boards, to a stationary winger. And using it every 2nd breakout, if not every one.

            Hamilton pass to nobody could have been averted by a Flame being in position on the boards to accept of tip the pass. The guy that intercepts the pass and tHossa are left without a Flame within 20 feet.

          • cberg

            Although there’s no doubt BH has designed certain elements of his system, to say the stretch pass the Flames are using is nonsense. It’s a pretty standard play and we see it from almost every team.

            As for Hamilton’s pass there was two players nearby, one right next to him (towards the dot) and another at the top of the circle. Perhaps a little better communication amongst them would have really helped, and as stated by several players recently this is something they are really working on.

          • DestroDertell

            The flames are using transitional passes WAY more than pretty any other teams can possibly use them. I’ve been counting them this year. They average ~40 attempts per 60 ES minutes.

            Opposing teams are aware of it, they clog up the middle and cover the available targets. Defensemen still attempt to passes nearly every time.

  • DestroDertell

    To be fair, aside from screening Ramo on that second goal, Russell played well last night. Which makes it all the more confusing the one time he look like an NHLer, he was suddenly jailed after the 2nd period.

    Backlund was too benched in the third (played even less minutes than BOLLIG) after being one of the few player who could push the puck in the right direction in the first 40 minutes. But that’s just tradition under Hartley’s reign.

    • ChinookArchYYC

      There were a couple of shifts were Russell was good and carried, then controlled the puck over the blueline. In light of the fact that he was given the highground the entire game (an amazing 11% ZS at (5on5) he was a positive player.

      • mattyc

        I agree – I didn’t think Russell was the problem last night. He has some good qualities too. Makes a good outlet pass, strong skater… I’d like to see how he does in a lesser role and/or different system. I don’t think he’s A. MacDonald bad.

        (I also liked Chris Butler!)

        • Have we forgotten his tripping over himself like a newborn deer that Deryk “Nicklas Lidstrom” Engelland had to clean up?

          Seriously, that might have been the apex of Engelland’s tenure besides his two-goal last season.

          I mean Russell wasn’t his regular ol’ Christ Butler-esque self last night, which was nice. If we have to make the effort of acknowledging a player wasn’t a disaster; isn’t that more telling than legitimate praise?

          • mattyc

            That *was* pretty fun.

            I think we should be making more of a distinction between being a ‘tire fire’ and not being a legit top 4 D. I think we’d find Russell is a perfectly serviceable 5th D if he wasn’t playing 22 minutes a night, many of them against Toews Ovechkin and Malkin.

            I’m not so sure Russell would look so bad if our D was (for example)

            Gio-Brodie
            Hamilton – Franson
            Russell – Schlemko/Diaz/Engelland

          • hulkingloooooob

            okay, so some people live by these advanced stats, others disregard them completely, then there’s the rest of us, who are interested and basically stuck somewhere in the middle. i’m willing to entertain the idea that there really is something to all these numbers (or at least some of them) but please people (writers, i’m talking to you!) throw us a freakin’ bone here. The entire section on Frolik is almost completely unreadable unless you know all your advanced stats acronyms. by my count you used 15 in that section of the article alone. if we are ever to have a clue what this all means you are gonna have to help us out just a little here. WTF! (you know what that one means, right?)

    • DestroDertell

      Hartley just hates Backlund. It’s baffling, he’s been one of the best players on the team the last half dozen games, but first sign of a mistake or bad play and Hartley can’t wait to sit him.

      Hudler needs to be sat and isn’t. Bollig should never be dressed, but gets more time than Backlund because that’s going to help the team win somehow? Russell – enough said by others. Hartley continues to coach himself out of a job.

      The team may only be six or however many points out of the playoffs, but when you remove the OT wins and look at how they’re playing, a high draft pick is started to look more and more like the only silver lining to the season.

  • mattyc

    I think the goaltending is a place where you just have to weather the storm. This is the same tandem that gave the Flames average goaltending last year. Sure it would be nice if we had Price or an elite goalie, but good luck doing that.

    Also: Backlund’s PDO (from WOI) – 91.7(!)

  • Kevin R

    Russell wasn’t that bad last night, just needs to play on the bottom pairing. Hamilton needs to play on the 2nd pairing & I personally don’t know where to play Wideman. I really thought Russell was our #4 guy going into this year. Not anymore. We don’t have a#4 guy. We can put an unknown like Kulak or Nakladal, I don’t see that being our magical solution but they won’t do any worse than what Wideman & Russell have given us this year.

    At this point, we need to win over68% of our games to match the 97 points we had last year. I don’t care what division we play in, it’s still means we have to win 68% of our remaining freaking games to make it. Put a fork in it, we are a next year team now. Sounds harsh? Yeah but I see no structured urgency to their game that tells me they can win anywhere close to 68% of games. We would be lucky to be a .500 team. & here is a scary fact, if we go .500, that would put us around 75points, pretty close to when we landed 4th overall & got Sam Bennett. It’s time to forget about last year & make player decisions from a rebuild perspective.

    • Cfan in Vic

      Agreed.

      Jones aside, any vets they might be trying to “showcase” are actually decreasing in value with heightened opportunities.

      I’d love to see kids from Stockton take turns filling a single spot on defense. Ortio getting some starts, so we can see what he has for us this year. Ramo is playing decently now, but he can’t do it by himself.

      I think the team should start digging deep in their pockets to get a better idea of what we have for next year, because the ship is sinking fast.

  • Burnward

    If this season doesn’t get turned around Hartley better be replaced in the off season. The team from two years ago was more enjoyable to watch losing lots of one goal games but always had a chance to win. We were better in year one of the rebuild than we are now in year 3. This might not be completely fair but Feaster(Drafted Gaudreau, Monahan) was on the right track until BT put his finger prints on this.

    • flamesburn89

      I don’t really agree with that. Treliving has made a few mistakes in his tenure as GM, but the debacle that this season has become certainly isn’t on him. The Flames aren’t capitalizing like the did last season, their goaltending has been league worse (although Ramo has bounced back a bit), and the coaching decisions remain rather suspect.

      • Parallex

        Yeah, I’m inclined to not lay a large portion of the blame on the actions of Treliving… it’s getting to the point where I’ll start laying some on his inaction if he continues to sit on his hands but he had a fine offseason… his trades were good, his draft was good, his FA signings were good.

        Really at this point he’s losing marks on not moving Russell & one of his spare goalies when they still had preceived value and for not moving on from Hartley when it became clear that his tactics are neither working nor changing.

  • Parallex

    Would be interesting to see a post that actually teases apart Hartley’s “systems”. I ask because I live on the east coast and rarely get a chance to watch the games. We need to know exactly what it is that Hartley’s asking the defense to do that isn’t working, e.g. reliance on blocking shots, but there has to be more to it than that.

    • It’s on the to-do list. I mean that’s no excuse for me not having something done for y’all, but with my current situation at work I’ve fallen behind on some stuff I’ve wanted to breakdown for everyone.

      Hopefully I can get to it shortly.