Flames 4, Sharks 2 post-game embers: That’s some depth

USATSI_8984741
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
Mark Giordano 31 17 +14
Sam Bennett 21 8 +13
Dennis Wideman 25 11 +14
Johnny Gaudreau 21 7 +14
Sean Monahan 21 5 +16

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?

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.

  • Christian Roatis

    They just beat 3 good teams. All without Bollig. I’m sure he would have cost us 1 of them

    Things are looking up again, going to be good to see Bouma back soon ish

    • cberg

      Not sure why you feel it necessary to take cheap shots at a guy who didn’t even play? Your conjecture about alternative outcomes is just that, conjecture. I could just as easily conjecture Bollig was a force if in contributing physically and offensively and that would be just as useless, all conjecture. Fact is the Flames have just beat three good teams and overall the team is playing better. Bollig hasn’t played in any, end of story. Its also true Bouma hasn’t played in any…

    • OKG

      They already have started to trend that way:

      Engelland W Kulak – 57.7%
      Engelland W/O Kulak – 48.5%

      Engelland W Hamilton – 57.7%
      Engelland W/O Hamilton – 48.5

      Engelland W/O Hamilton or Kulak – 46.1

      Engelland W Wideman – 43.9

      Forgive me if I’m skeptical of Smid-Engelland maintaining their strong possession stats (54.3). They’re probably both competent when paired with a mobile puck mover, and IMO Smid can probably even handle higher competition levels. But sticking to a pairing that’s philosophically flawed is not a good idea.

  • cberg

    I have been surprised how well the Smid – Engelland pair has been doing, they don’t look as bad as I thought they’d be.

    I think I would send Russell on a conditioning stint down to the AHL, or better yet trade him.

    Also, when Bouma comes back the Flames are going to have to look at trading somebody.

    Maybe Colborne or Bollig? Raymond?

    • cberg

      I think Raymond would be the least useful of all the options, with Bollig second. Hopefully BT can work out a trade for 1-2 players and we can continue grooming our AHL guys as they deserve it and injuries arise.

    • ngthagg

      Please name me just one team that would take on the Raymond/Bolig contracts without the Flames being forced to take on other garbage contracts? What is your net gain?

      Waivers may be the only option….

  • al rain

    Yup, Engelland has actually been relatively solid this year in a 5-6 role. Color me impressed.

    Hopefully management sees that Russell simply doesn’t have a spot left on this blueline with the way he has played this season.

    Even with his bad play, I can still see the Flames getting a decent pick in return.

  • Christian Roatis

    I don’t think the issue is that Bollig costs any games. It’s hard to cost a game in 7 minutes of ice time.

    The issue is that The Flames are now rolling 4 lines in a more balanced manner and everyone’s performance has improved because of it. This would not be possible with Bollig in the lineup.

    I don’t like when people pile up on a guy, Bollig is what he is. I just think that realistically, his fighting and physicality just doesn’t make up for that balance to the forward lineup.

    • Christian Roatis

      When a team scores one more goal than you, and they scored on a power play that occurred because of a stupid penalty, that’s costing your team. Could be costing them a point, could be costing them 2, but you’re costing them nonetheless.

      • Johnny Goooooooaldreau

        And when you have a give away and the other team scores, is that also “costing your team a win”?
        In his last game played where he “apparently” cost his team a win, Bollig had a fighting major at the 2:00 mark of the 1st period, and a hooking penalty at 11:58 of the 1st period. The score at the end of the 1st was 2 – 2, and Calgary went ahead 3 – 2 in the 2nd before the Ducks scored 2 goals in the first 4 minutes of the 3rd.
        Can somebody explain to me how Bollig cost his team that game?