Post-Game: Close Only Counts in Horseshoes

November has been a roller coaster ride for Flames fans. After an abysmal opening month, the last four weeks have been a wild up-and-down ride featuring some of the team’s best and worst performances this season. 

After dominating the Chicago Blackhawks on home ice, the Flames took to the road and were promptly outclassed by the Ducks in California, a fitting example of the November pattern. And while playing well at least occasionally can be considered an improvement, taking a step forward and then step back is a bad way to get yourself back into the playoff picture.

Tonight the Flames tried to get back on track – hopefully permanently – against the Coyotes in Arizona. Did they succeed?

The Rundown

It was an even period according to the score, but the balance of play favoured the Flames. The two teams were both tentative to start the game, but Calgary grew stronger as the period went on, finishing with a 12-8 edge in shots and a 14-7 shot attempt differential at even strength. 

The Coyotes only had a handful of chances, most of them on a PP granted due to Micheal Ferland wiping Oliver Ekman-Larsson in the offensive zone. That dubious charging call gave Arizona their best looks at the Flames net, but otherwise they were mostly on their heels. 

The Flames had two powerplays of their own, neither of which managed to cash in. The most notable thing about the extra man for the visitors was a new look first PP unit, featuring the top line + Joe Colborne and Dennis Wideman on the point. The four man forward man unit didn’t look much more effective than any of the other of the Flames 29th ranked PP options so far this year though. 

Nevertheless, Calgary outplayed and outchanced Arizona through 20 minutes. It was a good start after coming off an embarrassing loss. 

That momentum didn’t quite carry over into the second period, unfortunately. On the very first shift a TJ Brodie point shot was blocked, resulting in a Coyotes rush up the ice. Arizona didn’t cash in right away, but the ensuing scramble resulted in a puck glancing in off Martin Hanzal’s skate, giving the Coyotes a 1-0 lead. 

The Coyotes pressed for another shift or two, but things settled into a an even balance until about the middle portion of the frame. After a dominant shift from the Monahan line, Calgary went back on the PP when TJ Brodie drew a tripping penalty. The Flames PP featured a Gaudreau-Monahan-Bennett trio this time around, but nevertheless failed to score despite some decent chances. 

Calgary’s even strength dominance was finally rewarded with about five minutess left in the period. The Coyotes fourth penalty of the game lead to Mark Giordano hammering home a stray puck in the crease during the Flames PP, knotting the score at 1-1. 

And that’s how the period would end. Calgary was still well out in front in terms of shots (21-12) and corsi (32-20). 

Arizona pressed in the first few shifts of the third, resulting in a defensive zone hooking call against Kris Russell. The Flames PK gave up more than a few good chances to the Coyotes, but a goal mouth scramble near the end of the man advantage actually lead to a cross checking penalty to Ekman-Larrsson, putting the Flames on the man advantage instead. Calgary’s PP did what it has done for most of the 2015-16 season and struggled to get set-up or generate shots, but nevertheless culminated with the Coyotes taking another penalty, this time a high sticking call on Sam Bennett. 

Calgary’s second chance at 5on4 in the period went much better in terms of getting pressure and shots, but the Flames didn’t manage to take the lead. Arizona responded by taking the play to Calgary’s Stajan unit immediately after the expiration of the penalty, pinning the Flames trio in their own end and forcing an icing. Bob Hartley called a time out to give his players a rest in response. Afterwards the game settled back into a more an even back-and-forth between the two clubs. 

With about three minutes left in the period, Ekman-Larrson hit Giordano from behind in the Flames zone,  prompting TJ Brodie to crosscheck the Coyotes defender in retaliation. Both guys got two minutes, but neither team managed to cash in at 4on4. Regulation time finished at 1-1 with the Flames leading the shot clock  24-17.

The OT featured a handful of chances for the Flames, but for the first time this season extra time wasn’t going to have a happy ending for the Flames. With less than a minute left in the OT period, the combination of Giordano, Brodie and Monahan got caught out during a long shift. Brad Richardson found Ekman-Larsson alone in the slot and the NHL’s defensive goal leader from last season made no mistake.

Why the Flames Lost

Because they just couldn’t finish. Calgary outplayed the Coyotes at even strength and had six PP’s to boot, but could only put one puck behind Mike Smith. It’s hard to win with only one marker on the board.

Red Warrior

This is a tough one since no one player stood head and shoulders above the rest of the Flames tonight. Let’s go with Dougie Hamilton, who looked much more comfortable tonight. The former Bruin was making plays at both ends of the ice and finally resembled the player the Flames org were no doubt hoping they were acquiring when they traded for him in the summer.

Sum it Up

It was a much better effort after being run over by the Ducks, but moral victories aren’t worth much to the team at this point. With the OTL, Calgary remains second last in the Western Conference (and the league), just one point ahead of the Oilers. The playoffs are rapidly slipping out of reach.

Up Next

Things don’t get any easier. The road trip continues tomorrow night in San Jose versus the Sharks.

  • RKD

    Need to get points in a hurry, shame they lost but their special teams outside the Gio goal have to be a whole lot better. This could be a turning point game for Hamilton he was jumping in a lot of the Flames rushes and looked the most comfortable he has since joining the Flaming C.

  • MontanaMan

    I’ve tried hard not to bash Hartley or write off the the team, but since it’s already a few games past the the 20 game mark and since this game was so universally billed as a watershed moment, I have to say that it’s decision time on how to proceed for the rest of the season.

    This is not a playoff team. It’s time to identify not just the core players, but the core support players as well. All of the rest need to go. More succinctly, the veteran placeholders need to go. Identify which players on the farm are able to make the step up and create the required space for them.

    Which brings me to Granlund. I missed most of the game, but my understanding is that he was on the 4th line. I do not understand the reasoning. I’d rather see Granlund stay on the farm and play a ton than to be put into that position. How is he supposed to prove himself? Wasn’t that the entire point of bringing him up? Bob really needs to be reminded that this is a rebuild.

    Granlund has a ton of skill and has proven himself a capable two way player who can score a point per game at the minor league level. In the minus column, he’s not tiny, but he’s also not big and he’s poor on face offs. Additionally, there’s a logjam at center. So, optimistically hoping that Treliving doesn’t view the top six as skill and the bottom six as grinders (because it’s 2015 and all), why not convert Granlund to wing (a fairly smooth adjustment for a lot centres) and slot him on the third line? Decent ice time, decent linemates and depth in skill. Granlund may not be a second line NHL center, but he has more than enough ability to be a dominant player in that role given some time and the willingness to adapt to the position.

    Or does he get five games buried on the fourth line where after not scoring and not dominating the face off dot against other team’s versions of Derek Grant, he’s just cast aside? Guys with Granlund’s skill in your bottom six is part of you become a successful team, IMO.

    I know it can’t happen overnight, but: Grant, Granlund, Arnold, Kulak and Wotherspoon in. Raymond, Bollig, Smid, Russell, Hudler, Wideman out.

    The season is lost. Develop the future. Get another top pick.

    • ChinookArchYYC

      I’m not a fan of changing coaches when things go south. Watching a parade of coaches marching in and out of the organization over the years (8 coaches between 1990 and 2003) provides little value. Flames fans have been laughing at the Oilers for years, but Calgary is no model for long coach tenure either.

      Like most fans, I was willing to give Bob Hartley the benefit of doubt. His first year was a shortened season, and it was difficult to get a read on him. He also ended up in a rebuild, and in fairness he didn’t signup for a rebuild coaching job. I’m done with Hartley, and the sooner he’s gone the better.

      While there are a number of reasons that I want him out, then biggest is that he’s not the right guy for a young rebuilding team. Hartely does not develop young players, unless he’s a top player. For every Bennett, Gaudreau and Monahan there is a Wotherspoon, Ortio, Beartschi, Diaz and Schlemko that he’s more than willing to see wither away on the bench (not developing). His preference for slow, unskilled size (see McGrattan, Bollig, Westgards and Smid) over developing a more promising prospects on the farm. The youth movement will not progress with this coach.

      • MontanaMan

        Disagree. He is developing the young players as evidenced by who he has out in all situations includng PP, PK and overtime. How many coaches are using 19 year old kids in the last minute of play, in overtime or in the shootout? Not many but Hartley does. The comparison to Bollig, etc is ridiculous as the skillset of the youngsters and those of the knuckle draggers are completely different – it’s not either/or when comparing the two. A coach needs a balance of veterans and youngsters and although I don’t agree with everything he has done, Hartley handles his young players well. If they aren’t close to competing at the NHL level, the place for development is on the farm.

        • Burnward

          Diagree. The young players you say he is developing are out there because they are, by and large, his best players. That is not development, it is simply a recognition that he has to put his best players out.

          His use of Ortio, Granlund and even Baertschi in previous years suggests a complete lack of confidence and possibly even a punitive approach to young players that doesn’t or didn’t work for them. Not every player is the same. You can’t just slap them in the head, tell them to man up and bench them if they don’t respond. That is a waste of talent and appallingly poor leadership and management.

          As for confidence, the team got off to a slow start and they appear to be a bit fragile. And why not? Between them the goalies have trouble stopping a beach ball even without any pace; special teams are God awful; they can’t establish an O-zone presence; and they are defensively porous – which I am convinced is system, not personnel, mostly.

          • MontanaMan

            Splitting hairs but very few 19 year olds don’t require development at the NHL level. To say that Bennett, Monahan and JG don’t require development in their first three years is naive.

          • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

            I didn’t say they don’t need development. I said they were his best players and you go with your best players.

            After the start the team has; the free fall its in; if Hartley is using the young guys in the last minute as a teachable moment he needs to find a new job because that gets old fast.

          • MontanaMan

            He is using the young guys in the last minute as a teachable moment as confirmed by Hartley and supported by Treliving so if you disagree with that approach, you disagree with the entire Flames organization philosophy.

        • ChinookArchYYC

          Top players take spots because they obviously are better than their older collegues. I’m not concerned with them. What exactly is the point of having Grandlund, Wotherspoon, Baertschi, and Ortio sit in the press box for more than a couple of games. Why not sit Bollig in favour of half a dozen farm kids that could provide meaningful minutes? Why the preference of Smid over Schlemko and Diaz? Why Ramo for 11 straight, while Ortio sits and dies on the vine?

          Look he’s not all bad, but from a development standpoint he’s the wrong guy and that wrap comes from both Colorado and Atlanta.

    • supra steve

      In a BT interview I heard yesterday, it was indicated that a player like Granlund needs to come in and “take” a spot in the lineup. Has he ever done that, proven that he has outgrown the AHL and just made it totally clear that this league is where he belongs? Not to me he hasn’t.

      As for clearing out some of the old, to make room for the new…that needs to happen, and I believe it will, to some extent. BT is reputed to be among the most active GMs in the league in staying in touch with other organizations. If someone out there is looking for players like the Flames have to peddle, he will know about it and be in on the conversations. But there’s really not a lot of activity out there right now, a lot of talk I’m sure, but no movement. May have to wait for trade deadline.

      Watched parts of the game last night. On one PP I noticed 2 prime scoring chances on really nice Wideman passes to the open man in front of the net. Let’s hope other GMs are watching those plays.

      • MontanaMan

        Agree. The other interesting comment I noted in the interview was the indication that Ortio “refused” to report to the farm for a conditioning stint when he was the number three guy in Calgary and not dressing for games. Decisions like that don’t bode well with BT and by the way he played last night, Ortio should have taken the opportunity earlier.

      • ChinookArchYYC

        That’s fair to a degree, but not every prospect is Bennett or Gaudreau. Some players need to develop at the NHL level unless you go completely to the Detroit model and say to players like Granlund or Baertschi last season that they can expect to play in the minors until they’re 25, 26 years old.

        The other point is that the same standard does not apply to vets. Bob gives them a dozen free passes to find their games. Always Earned really only applies to rookies. Ortio was obviously not given the same chance to work through his game as Ramo and Hiller were. So how do you ever know what you have in the guy?

        And how does Granlund take a spot in the situation he was put in? He’s proven himself at the lower level, so now it’s time to develop him at the NHL level. If after several games it’s not working, then move him back down. It’s all part of a rebuild, but a game or two on the fourth line is pointless.

        • supra steve

          Interesting comment on the “Detroit model”, for years we yearned for something like it, now that what we have more closely resembles it…we see some of the negatives (vets play over kids that may actually be more deserving).

          I think that ALL of us will agree that Ortio should have got a few more starts to try to evaluate him at this level. But it’s a tough situation, 3 tenders, and yes, BT is responsible for that. We all make mistakes, hopefully he has learned from it.

    • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

      It’s not writing off the team if we just understand that they ARE rebuilding and just had an absurd amount of luck against the Pacific Division last year, earning 45 of a possible 58 points to make the playoffs.
      We can see that for the first time since the 80’s we have started to collect YOUNG skilled players, and that the team is improving.
      I feel good about MY Flames, win or lose because I can see that making the playoffs last year was a fluke, but that if Gillies or MacDonald pan out to go along with Fat Ras and Kylington and we can get another couple of top 6 forwards over the next draft or two, that we are set up to Contend for the Cup.
      I am happy NOW, and I know that I am gonna be ecstatic in the future.

  • everton fc

    Our roster simply isn’t good enough. Last year was one of those season everything goes your way. It’s a rebuild.

    Having said all that, is their a leadership void developing? Is it the coaching staff?? Are “the brass” the problem??? Needless to add, this season appears lost…

  • MontanaMan

    Some good things about last night: Hamilton, Engelland, Gio. The rest of the team was fairly invisible. Yes, Smith played well but I didn’t think he had a lot of really tough saves and the Flames have a history of making goalies look good. BT needs to make some moves, make the team younger and continue planning for 2 to 3 years away.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    We have the second worst power play in the league yet we have one of the most dynamic Kane-line players in the league in Gaudreau, skating shooting top d-men studs like Brodie Gio, (yes Wideman) and we can’t enter the zone or set up in the zone? What gives? We have guys who can get in front like Jones, Frolik, Ferland and Colborne but no finish. What gives?

  • MontanaMan

    Using your examples, Ortio may not be the goaltender they thought he was. The discussion would include the goaltending coach who would provide his opinion on whether or not he is ready for extended play in the NHL. Judging by how he’s been utilized it appears that the consensus amongst the coaches and management is that he isn’t. It didn’t help having three goaltenders but at this stage, Ortio is not ready for NHL duties. Smid over Schlemko and Diaz? I wouldn’t give you a Tim Horton’s card for all three and might agree that Schlemko deserved a better shot but Diaz was brutal. Sometimes it comes down to one way NHL contracts. Ditto Bollig who has a very limited skillset but I can assure you that JG, Monahan et al are very happy to have Bollig and Engelland on the bench to keep the opposition honest and hopefully prevent cheap shots against very small forwards. The same holds true for McDavid and Gadzik in Edmonton – you don’t think the Oilers have better forwards that Gadzik that could provide meaningful minutes? Of course they do, but they need to protect their number 1 investment and if that means Gadzik gets 4 minutes of playing time, they accept it. At the end of the day, we can disagree on who the Flames should play but it’s not black and white and there are many factors to consider.