Photo credit: Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports
The Flames are, by the thinnest of definitions, still in the playoff race. They’re currently eight points out of the Pacific’s final playoff spot with a game in hand, although the Ducks, fourth in the division, have a game in hand on the Flames and are a mere two points out.
So mathematically, they still have a chance. But anybody who’s being honest with themselves – and anybody whose job doesn’t rely on stepping on the ice or behind a bench – knows it’s over, and it’s time to look to the future.
It’s probably a good thing.
The slowest of starts
The Flames’ first shot attempt came 4:52 into the game, when Kris Russell shot the puck wide. A couple of blocked shots later, and the Flames’ actual first shot on net came 8:35 into the game, courtesy of Lance Bouma.
By the time the Flames got a shot on net, the Predators already had 11 attempts of their own, as well as an actual goal.
The Flames managed four shots in the first period. They had 11 through two. And then, when down by two – Shea Weber’s goal coming late in the second period – they piled 16 shots on Carter Hutton, and had 29 total attempts for a dominating, albeit mostly fruitless, third period.
Last season, the Flames would have won the game. Last season, they were able to buy into the mythos surrounding their third periods. “Never quit” was the motto, the belief that they could do anything they put their minds to – when they actually bothered to do so – the prevalent theme.
Last season was an aberration.
It was great for the kids to get some playoff experience. You don’t know what you’re missing until you’ve experienced it, right? Missing the playoffs isn’t just an early end to their season for them now; now, it’s about no longer going into battle, no longer getting caught up in the adrenaline rush, no longer seeing an entire city turn out for you in a feverish, unwavering support with an intensity near impossible to match.
And now, it’s good for them to miss the playoffs, so they can have that extra drive to work on their mistakes and ensure it won’t happen again.
Because a playoff-bound team does not muster up a mere four shots against a team travelling on the second of a back-to-back. A playoff-bound team knows they can’t erase their mistakes with a shiny shooting percentage and over-polished third period (which was, to be fair, a very good frame for them, with tons of legitimate, extremely close chances from a number of players). And they’ll be better for it in the long run – and that’s to say nothing of the draft pick that comes with it.
Noncommittal line shuffling
For some reason, the Flames went with totally new outlooks to start the game, and then ditched them after just one period.
I don’t get that. If you want to shake things up, that’s understandable; this is a team at the bottom of the league standings that needs to start stringing wins together pronto, and it’s the coach’s job to determine just how to do that. Shaking up a lineup can do the trick.
… But not if the shakeup only lasts for one period. How are you supposed to know what you have after just 20 minutes of play? If you’re committed to changing the lines, then actually stay committed.
I don’t think there was a correlation between line combinations and performances. The entire team was bad until they fell behind by two and eventually scored a goal of their own. They could have started with their normal line combinations and things probably wouldn’t have played out differently.
I was rather looking forward to seeing Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennett playing together, actually. They’re arguably the two most intriguing, explosive forwards on this team, but because they both play left wing, they never get to actually play together. They did to start this game, though, and through a desolate first period, they – along with Mikael Backlund – formed a line that had a lot of jump to it, that seemed to dance through the opposition at times, even if they couldn’t make anything come of it.
It was beautiful to watch, actually.
And then it ended. What we got after its end were Gaudreau and Bennett being incredible to watch on their own, and boosting their own linemates up with them; but again, nothing came of it, Mark Giordano’s lone goal at the end of a pressuring shift by the reunited Gaudreau, Monahan, and Hudler line aside.
(Speaking of Jiri Hudler: he doesn’t look quite as brutal as he once did, and led the team with four shots on net last night. Now’s as good a time as any to turn the corner; maybe just keep him with Gaudreau and Monahan until he’s no longer a Flame.)
Gaudreau and Bennett deserve more than a period of tryout, though. If you’re going to change the lines, change the lines. Commit to them. Because at this point, really, what’s left to lose?
It’s impossible to spin Dennis Wideman’s crosscheck linesman Don Henderson any way but negative. (It… it was a crosscheck on an official.) Either Wideman had malicious intent, he himself was hurt and unaware, or he was reckless and stupid.
If he had malicious intent, then it was bizarre, misplaced, and the book needs to be thrown at him. But Wideman himself already said he did not intend to do what he did, and none of us are mind readers or have behind the scenes access, so that point of contention really isn’t up to us. The same can be said for if he was just being an idiot; actions have consequences, and run of the mill ignorance is never an excuse.
He was hit before the crosscheck, though, slumped over and attempting to get back to his bench. He righted himself the closer he got, until suddenly there was a dude in front of him, and he snaps so quickly to action – putting his hands and, along with them, his stick, up in bracing motion – that he may not have been thinking as he did so. But again, not mind readers. His body language indicates someone taken by surprise, so it’s completely plausible he’s telling the truth in his statement. What we see was not necessarily what he experienced as his reality at the time.
That’s pretty much impossible to prove, but if Wideman’s actions were the result of the collision he sustained seconds before, then it’s not a bad look on him – but it’s a bad look on everybody else. Get him back on your bench. Take him down the tunnel. Check him out, which should have been done as a bare minimum action, because suddenly crosschecking an official is not normal behaviour. This was not a stray punch in a scrum, a heat of the moment action, or the work of a noted dirty player. This drew the attention of the hockey world because it was so bizarre, and to not pull aside the player, even for a moment, and determine if everything was okay is negligent at best.
Even if nothing is actually wrong with him, you make sure. Nobody’s gotten hurt by taking precautions. Instead, he skated his next shift two minutes later.