Photo credit: James Guillroy/USA TODAY Sports
If you think about it, that game was a perfect microcosm for the entire Flames season.
The Flames didn’t even show up at first. A goaltending miscue and incredibly questionable defence sunk them early on. But just when you thought all was hopeless, they began to rally back. They put themselves in conversation to win the game–
And promptly blew it all a few minutes later in rather emphatic fashion. Also, the special teams were real bad.
It was the entire season compressed into one 60-minute game. Can we go to the trade deadline now?
The Flames are a one line team
As in: they have one line that’s actually doing its job and creating opportunities. Just one single line. And it’s been like that the past couple of games now, and pretty much ever since they were reunited.
Sam Bennett, Mikael Backlund, and Michael Frolik had yet another exceptionally good game. They were the top corsi getters for the Flames at even strength, and the only other players who also had 20+ CF events were the top four defencemen.
No, they didn’t score; those honours went to Jiri Hudler and Joe Colborne, albeit off of opportunities created by Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie, respectively. But if anyone was making the best cases to score, it was that line, and Bennett in particular.
Don’t get me wrong; there were a couple of other standouts in the forward group. Lance Bouma is doing his best since returning from injury to make an impact. The same can be said for Josh Jooris since his return from the pressbox. Hudler would appear to be rather malcontent with how his season has gone thus far.
But only one line appeared to be a consistent threat throughout the entire game, and that’s not good enough. Not in normal circumstances, but certainly not when you fall behind early, either (turns out taking a nap through an entire first period is ill-advised).
Need more top line talent
This draft is going to be very crucial for the Flames, because right at the top of it is exactly the kind of player they need: big, offensively talented forwards.
I’m not entirely sure whether Johnny Gaudreau is a little lost out there right now, or whether he just doesn’t have the linemates to keep up with him. He lost the puck numerous times last night, and that’s on him; at the same time, who is he supposed to make a play to? The kid is a point-per-game player – 46 in 46, top 10 in the entire league – with 16 more points than the next closest guy on his team, who just so happens to be a defenceman (Giordano).
The supposed top line – a title that has probably been usurped by Bennett’s at this point, and definitely was last night if you go by ice time – ranged from invisible to defensively detrimental. The low ice times they received are of little concern, because we finally did see “always earned, never given” in practice. (Also, back-to-back games can result in that, particularly when you’re out of it so early on.)
The Flames are working shorthanded. We’re well past the days of trying out David Jones on the first line, but let’s not forget the current ideal solution is Micheal Ferland: a player with a great load of potential who is far from any other team’s first choice. That’s fine because this is a rebuilding team, and that’s what you do when you’re rebuilding. You take chances on kids who have earned that right.
But the current incarnation of Ferland is not a top line player on a playoff-bound team, and Jones is not much of a substitute. And when that’s your first line, you’re not going anywhere.
Dennis Wideman is both bad and expensive
Watch Wideman. Watch him teeter on the verge of continued top four status by merit of ice time, particularly on the power play. Watch him fumble with the puck; watch him give it away, watch it lead to a penalty shot goal against.
Consider that he has the second highest cap hit on the Flames, and prior to the acquisition and signing of Dougie Hamilton, has had the highest cap hit since Jarome Iginla was traded away.
It’s not a pretty thing to think about, for a number of reasons. Chief among them, though: he’s still signed for another season after this one on a contract that is, in all likelihood, completely immovable. He had a career season the year before and was not moved; who is going to want to pick up this player now?
There are a lot of faults to Kris Russell’s game, but being a victim to his occasional partner’s play is not even close to being one of them.
Dougie Hamilton is expensive, but not bad
While we’re talking about costly contracts: this season, Hamilton leads the Flames in cap hits. That won’t last long, as Giordano’s extension kicks in next season (and that’s to say nothing of Gaudreau), but that won’t change that Hamilton will be one of the most expensive players on the Flames for years to come.
The good news: he’s not a hindrance to his team.
The bad news: he’s kind of being played like he is? What possible excuse could anybody have to playing Wideman more than Hamilton? It was only an additional 40 seconds, but it was an additional 2:14 on the power play for Wideman that helped lead to that. Twenty-five of Hamilton’s 83 points with the Bruins came on the power play. He can clearly score with the man advantage, and he’s young enough to actually still be trending upwards.
Using Wideman over Hamilton is inexplicable and inexcusable in just about every circumstance, and that’s without going into the fact only one of these players should actually have a future on this team.
And while I’m here, a side note: is anybody else beyond tired of the “wow Hamilton has been so much better as of late!” commentary? Hamilton was disastrous in his first 10 games with the Flames. We are approaching the 50-game mark. He has not been disastrous in nearly 40 games now. That’s half a season. Let the narrative die already. Or are we still going to be talking like this five years from now? Is he still going to be fighting for proper top four ice time then, too?
Two shots on net through five power plays
And eight for the Hurricanes on the same number of power plays (plus, you know, an actual goal).
As noted up above: “Also, the special teams were real bad.”
The Flames aren’t going to recover from a league-worst special teams because of their bad start with them. They aren’t going to recover from their league-worst special teams because their special teams are legitimately, deservedly, the worst in the league.
It’s probably going to call for some heads to roll when the season expires.