Photo Credit: Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports
The Flames have four regulation wins in 27 games, but 11 wins overall. Their goal differential is still a pretty terrible -27, worst in the league – but it’s not the worst by an obvious margin anymore, with the Hurricanes at -23, and the Flyers at -21. (Although they are the worst with 96 goals given up – and nobody else has yet given up 90.) They’re tied for fewest games played in the division, and if they win out this homestand, they’d essentially be in a playoff spot.
The Calgary Flames are weird this year, but at least they’re fun again.
Baby steps on special teams
Good news: the Flames scored a power play goal!
Bad news: they were one-for-seven on the night!
You can throw in a couple of caveats there, such as two of their power plays coming at the end of periods, one being shortened due to some four-on-four play, and one being at the end of the game when the Sharks were desperately trying to tie the game up.
You don’t really deserve caveats when you have the worst power play in the league, though: 12.3%. Even the lowly Carolina Hurricanes have gotten out of their funk, at least for the time being, and sit at 15.1%.
Mark Giordano, Johnny Gaudreau, and Dennis Wideman all played over eight minutes on the power play. Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett were over seven. After that, there’s a severe drop off, but the first unit looks pretty clear, and at least it heavily features youth.
And the power play did genuinely look better – but it’s still the worst in the league. So, you know, baby steps.
(As for the kill, two successful kills out of three tries – although that third try took just nine seconds for the Sharks to score so, uh, that wasn’t good. And still the worst penalty kill in the league. But, you know, baby steps.)
The boost of a man advantage
When Monahan was on the ice, the Flames had five corsi attempts for at even strength. That’s over 13:12 of ice time. In all situations – over which he played 21:10 – they had 21 corsi attempts for with him on the ice.
That’s a pretty massive disparity, which signals to me two things:
- Even though they only scored once, the power plays they were running weren’t half bad, and,
- Oh god, what happened at even strength?
The big power play getters all saw the same thing:
|Player||CF (All)||CF (ES)||Difference|
The only player at even strength who saw more corsi events for than Giordano was T.J. Brodie, so it’s not like anything’s amiss there. It is concerning just how low everyone else’s numbers were, though – and Monahan’s in particular. At even strength, he had the worst CF of the night at 22.73%; in all situations, he was 50%.
You know who were the best Flames?
What a formidable fourth line you have
Michael Frolik played the least, with just 10:41 registered. Mason Raymond second least at 11:17. And Mikael Backlund rounded out the forward group with 11:50.
Backlund and Frolik were probably the best players of the game – and they barely got any ice time. They each scored a goal, Backlund had an assist and led the way with five shots, Frolik had two shots, both were on the penalty kill and both played well, they were the best corsi for players at even strength after the top defence pairing with 15 events for all three, and… they barely played.
Either that’s a ridiculous amount of depth, or it’s really poor player usage, and I’m leaning towards the latter.
The Flames’ best shifts of the game definitely came with them on the ice, cycling the puck around the Sharks and creating non-stop offensive pressure. Backlund re-established their two-goal lead at the tail end of one such shift; the second actually ended with a Sharks chance, but they both featured a lot of scoring chances (or moments that were close to becoming chances), and were just plain awesome to watch.
That’s the level of domination you’re used to seeing go against the Flames, not them performing it. And it was the guys who played the least who stepped up the most.
Can’t send Markus Granlund down
Markus Granlund is the only waiver-exempt player on the Flames. Markus Granlund also had a really, really, really good game.
He had a goal, and was one of the Flames’ leaders with two high danger scoring chances. He was entrusted with 1:19 of penalty kill time, and he was the sixth best Flame in ES CF with 47.37% (the highest of all negative possession Flames players). He really clicked with Jiri Hudler and Sam Bennett, and they formed the second best line for the Flames.
Granlund played 12:53, his fourth straight game of receiving at least 10 minutes in ice time. He’s being trusted with a regular role, and he’s started to have an offensive impact now, too.
He’s building himself up. It’s hardly the time to disrupt that.
Kris Russell has now missed two games, and the Flames haven’t looked that bad in either one of them.
Russell’s struggles are pretty well documented here, mostly in the fact that he absolutely bleeds shot attempts against. He’s no longer the worst in the NHL like he was to start the season, but his -86 corsi is the worst on the Flames, and by a fair margin at that (David Jones is the next worst at -72).
To put it simply, he’s been misused in a top-four role, much more suited for the bottom pairing. But… Ladislav Smid and Deryk Engelland looked pretty decent out there. So, presuming Dennis Wideman would be bumped back down to the third pairing and one of Smid or Engelland would be sat, which one do you scratch? Smid probably had the better game, but Engelland’s performed decently enough all year long.
Ultimately, though, the Smid-Engelland pairing last season was a horrific mess that could barely function. This season, although in a limited sample size, that hasn’t been the case at all. True, they still play very limited minutes – 11:35 and 12:11 respectively – but they’ve been playing well in roles clearly meant for them. Smid did some fine work defending the crease last night as well.
This season has been, simply, bizarre. The team has underperformed, the bounces have all gone against them, and maybe that’s why it’s easier to be forgiving towards the worst players on the team. Or maybe it’s just been easier because they genuinely haven’t been that bad, at least not relative to everyone else. If you already have low expectations, you’re more likely to be surprised than disappointed, and Smid and Engelland have actually been rather pleasant surprises.