If Sam Bennett is going to play on the wing, putting him on a line with Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik just seems obvious. It may not be the best combination of talents possible – the idea of Bennett centring Johnny Gaudreau is extremely intriguing, for example – but it’s a very, very capable trio.
They’ve evidenced it time and time again; last night was just the latest showing. Bennett broke into the NHL on Backlund’s wing, Frolik is a perfect match for Backlund. Where could anybody go wrong?
God I love that second line
Bennett has eight goals in his last five games. He now has 13 goals on the season, and with 37 games left, it seems pretty likely he’ll reach at least 20 on the year. That would make him the third Flames rookie in a row to score 20 goals in his rookie season: the first being Sean Monahan in 2013-14 (with 22), and the second being Gaudreau last season (24).
(Gaudreau scored his 20th of the season last night too, actually, so Monahan and Gaudreau are now good for back-to-back 20+ goal seasons the first two years of their careers. And Monahan looks on target to repeat that again in his third year in the NHL, so this is a nice little trend developing with the Flames’ young forward group.)
Is it any coincidence the shot leaders on the Flames were all on the second line (with two exceptions)? Bennett had three shots on net, scored twice. Frolik had three shots on net, scored once. Backlund had four shots on net, didn’t score, but had two assists. The line combined for five points, so you know you’ve got a good line when…
They just mesh. Bennett looks to be the best player on the line, much more offensively talented than his counterparts. And when the dust settles on this rebuilt team, he’ll likely be on the first line, and Backlund and Frolik in the middle six (ideally the third line, if the Flames can acquire enough depth). But the dust is far from settling, so as things go now, this is a very, very, very good way to introduce a player to a full NHL season.
Two defensively responsible forwards good at driving the play north with a young, offensively potent rookie. It’s such a good match. The trio led the way with six individual corsi events for apiece; they were at the top of the Flames in possession. They all played some of the biggest minutes on the Flames, behind just Gaudreau and Monahan on the forward corps, and they proved consistently just why they deserved those minutes.
Remember at the start of the season when Backlund had to flirt with fourth line time once again? Remember Bennett’s extended stint on the third line? Thank goodness we’re back to this.
Another player who had a strong positive impact was Dougie Hamilton. He had four shots on net, one of which directly led to the Flames opening the scoring, as he created that rebound Frolik was able to capitalize on.
He was another player at the top of the possession game as well. While Deryk Engelland and Dennis Wideman both beat him in regards to corsi, consider: they did it with a lot less time spent on ice, against weaker competition, all the while with 100% offensive zone starts. That isn’t a knock on them. Some players just have to be sheltered to succeed, and that’s fine. But it still paints Hamilton’s numbers in good light: Wideman faced Rene Bourque and Jack Johnson; Hamilton faced Seth Jones and Brandon Saad.
He was also very firmly in the top four group, with 19:40 played. Not as obviously as Kris Russell (25:21 ice time), T.J. Brodie (25:17), or Mark Giordano (23:56), but much more so than Wideman (14:55) and Engelland (11:22), both of whom got the benefit of penalty kill time.
While he only had the one assist, I’d argue Hamilton was the most offensive of the Flames’ defencemen, and that’s including Giordano’s two assists. Both had five individual corsi events for, putting them right at the top for blueliners; Hamilton’s assist had a far more direct effect on the goal though, and he had a few other chances as well in tight around the net that simply didn’t go in.
Point being, he had a very good game. Practical tactical brilliance.
Credit where credit is due. If I’m going to keep talking about all the big getters in corsis and actual shots, then Bollig has to be included in that group, because he was right up there with them.
Three shots on net, right up there with Bennett and Frolik. Six individual corsi events for, just like the entire second line. At least one rather nice move to set up a scoring chance.
Bollig is an upgrade on the standard goon; every now and then, he shows legitimate playing ability. That isn’t to say he should be in the lineup night in and night out, but there are worse options (and we’ve seen them on this team in the past). And when Micheal Ferland went down, the Flames didn’t have a further shortened bench by default.
Oh, and he hasn’t taken a stupid penalty in six games, so that’s very good on his part. Bollig has cost his team by doing that before. As long as when he draws into the lineup he doesn’t give the other team a chance, then that’s pretty much as much as you can ask from him; everything else is just a nice bonus.
Top line right winger?
Ferland is continuously showing there may be more to him beneath the surface. He had an unimpressive rookie year, but an impressive playoff series; he had an unimpressive start to this season, but was starting to look more at home on the top line with Gaudreau and Monahan.
And injuries keep getting in the way. Hopefully this one isn’t bad, but if Ferland can’t go, then the question needs to be asked: who goes on the top line?
Both David Jones and Jiri Hudler saw extended looks this game, and neither really stood out, so that question remains wide open.
Both have been tried, though. In theory, Hudler is the best option; Hudler also played just 10:56 last night, with only four shifts in the third period, and doesn’t seem to be 100% (and maybe hasn’t been at all this season). Jones has been tried before, and was decent enough as a stop gap, but nothing special.
Who else is a right winger? I’d like to see Josh Jooris draw back in and get a chance up there if Ferland can’t go. He’s earned it as much as anyone else has, but he hasn’t really had the opportunity yet. We know what we have in the veterans; it’s the sophomore’s turn.