In so many ways, the start to this season has been bizarre for the Calgary Flames. With 20 games in the books, the first quarter of their season is done, and thankfully so. It’s been a brutal start to the season, but at least we can say the second ten game segment has been better than the first. As we look back at the last ten games, three rather odd things jump off the page to me.
Every ten games is a good time to examine and identify trends, and this year especially, point out the strange and abnormal. Here’s how the segments have looked so far:
Games 1-10: 2-7-1
Games 11-20: 5-5-0
The record is certainly better, but still not great. This season, though, even baby steps are big. The last ten games has been strange for a lot of reasons, but here are the three biggest ones.
Honestly, can anyone remember a more bizarre year in net than this one? This year’s goaltending story took perhaps it’s most strange turn during the second portion of this year. The first game of this segment saw Joni Ortio get the start in net, although I bet he wishes he didn’t get the nod that night. Ortio was terrible in a 6-2 loss to Montreal at the Scotiabank Saddledome and, well, hasn’t even sniffed a start since.
Not seeing Ortio start since that night on October 30th isn’t overly surprising. Seeing Karri Ramo every game since, however, is stunning. Maybe it’s just me, but the fact that Ramo has started nine straight games is insane knowing he was playing with Stockton just days before. We thought this three headed goaltender thing had been put to bed when Ramo cleared waivers and was sent to the American League. And then Jonas Hiller got hurt.
I don’t even know if giving Ramo this run of starts was the right way to go. The way this thing has gone, it’s hard to tell what is the proper course of action. I do know, however, that Ramo has given the Flames their best run of goaltending all season in these last nine games. That’s saying something, because Ramo has been just okay in this stretch. But knowing how bad things were to start the season, words like “okay” and “fine” have been starved for.
Ramo’s numbers in these nine straight starts are rather pedestrian. He’s gone 5-4-0 in that span with a 0.904 save percentage, but again, that’s so much better than what we were seeing before. And, in fairness, Ramo’s 0.921 even strength save percentage is much better than what we had seen before.
I’m not saying Ramo was so bad he deserved to be in the AHL, but I understood the move as most of us did. I fully expected to see him again, but seeing him a week later was rather strange. Seeing him start 90% of the games since returning from the minors is crazy, I don’t care what anyone says.
As we move into the third segment of the season, the biggest question is how will they solve this three goaltender thing…again. Hiller is close to returning, Ortio is still here, and Ramo has been the guy getting all the starts. I think they’re going to waive Ortio, I think they should waive Ortio…but who knows this year.
2. David Jones
Yeah, exactly as everyone drew up, David Jones is leading the team with seven goals through 20 games. Now, not one person expects this to continue, but it’s still strange. Jones has the highest shooting percentage on that team at the very normal 17.5%, so I don’t think anyone is anticipating him to finish with the 29 goals he’s on pace for. But seeing Jones score like this isn’t the only surprise from him so far.
Jones is actually playing some pretty decent hockey in a tough role. Alongside almost exclusively Matt Stajan this year, Jones has been buried with some of the most defensive starts on the team. And that tandem has done a pretty admirable job with the responsibility they’ve been given.
Jones has the third lowest offensive zone start number on the team at 37.1%, and that’s despite moonlighting with some time in the top six for a few games. Only Stajan (30.2%) and Brandon Bollig (34.4%) have lower ratios right now.
I haven’t minded Jones in this role, to be perfectly honest. He and Stajan have teamed with Joe Colborne in recent games and have been consistently one of Calgary’s top lines since being put together. While I think Stajan is the driving force, I still think Jones does a decent job.
His 44.7% possession rate is still one of the lowest on the team, but that’s to be expected knowing the role he’s playing right now. It’s also higher than guys like Sean Monahan (44.1%) and Joe Colborne (44.0%) and right in line with Stajan’s (44.8%). No one is suggesting Jones is the second coming of Jere Lehtinen, but he hasn’t gotten his head absolutely pounded in while playing a tough defensive role.
The real question now is what the Flames do with Jones going forward. He’s a pending UFA and could potentially fetch the team a mid-range draft pick if they wanted to explore a trade. That said, knowing that it’s realistic you could get him at a bargain going forward, I don’t think re-signing him is the stupidest idea either. More on that topic later this month.
3. Deryk Engelland
TJ Brodie is this team’s best defenceman this season by a few football fields. But, in comparison to the role being played, Deryk Engelland might be next up on the performance scale. Please, please, please don’t yell at me yet. I’m not saying Engelland is a better player than Mark Giordano or Dougie Hamilton or anything of the sort. But knowing the responsibilities he’s being asked to handle, Engelland has definitely performed among Calgary’s best blueliners.
This is blasphemous to some, as Engelland was such a lightning rod for most of last season. His contract will never, ever be a good one. It’s too much money for a number six defenceman in every circumstance. But, forgetting the extra $1.9 million the team is committing to that spot on the depth chart, Engelland has been just fine.
Engelland has played all but one game this season and has averaged 13 minutes per night, which is right in the ballpark where you want him. But those underlying numbers really aren’t horrible. Despite having the second lowest zone start ratio among d-men at 44.7%, Engelland’s 49.9% Corsi rating puts him second on Calgary’s back end. That’s really not bad at all.
Again, you have to take into context the role he’s playing. Engelland rarely sees top six talent on the other side and doesn’t play a large amount of minutes. To use one of Mike Fail’s favourite terms, Engelland has been reliable on the third pairing. His defensive mistakes are less glaring and far less plentiful this year. Compared to this time last year, Engelland has been much, much better.
I told you the second ten game segment of this year has been strange!