Photo credit: Candice Ward/USA TODAY Sports
The All-Star Break, evidently, did the Flames wonders. Having lost 5-2 to the Carolina Hurricanes a few games before, this time, it was Calgary who mostly dominated the play: particularly at even strength, although with two power play goals and a perfect penalty kill, their special teams were exemplary as well.
It isn’t that often we’ve been able to say that this season, is it?
Seriously, good special teams!
The Flames went 2-for-4 on the power play with goals from Dougie Hamilton and Mark Giordano. Recently, they’ve become the Flames’ top defence unit with the man advantage, and this game perfectly showed why they deserve to be just that. They were leaders in power play time, both playing over four minutes apiece, along with Jiri Hudler, Johnny Gaudreau, and Sean Monahan.
So… they really didn’t miss Dennis Wideman in the slightest, is what I’m saying. Hamilton now has as many power play points – eight – as Wideman does, albeit in about 50 fewer minutes of play. At least now, it’s unlikely there’s any danger of taking Hamilton and Giordano off of the top unit, but even if everyone was healthy, they would still have to be the guys.
As for the penalty kill, the Flames successfully killed all five penalties they took, and even got a couple of scoring chances while shorthanded. This was mostly due to Michael Frolik, who was one of the Flames’ top penalty killing forwards, alongside Mikael Backlund and Josh Jooris. (Speaking of: good thing he was in the lineup to handle that. Frolik and Jooris both led the way with five shots on net each.)
They were aggressive in their kills. Had Matt Stajan not taken three of the penalties himself, he likely would have had more shorthanded time; in his absence, Lance Bouma got bigger penalty kill minutes, but Stajan is still likely the better guy for the job – pucks go against Bouma just a bit more.
Frolik and Backlund were seriously meant to play together, though – and they proved it, both at even strength, and on the kill.
Chemistry throughout the lines
Nobody really looked out of place all game.
There has been a lot to question about Hudler’s performance this season, but playing alongside Monahan and Gaudreau on the top line, he looked much more like his old self. He had two assists, but even left a couple of points on the board due to the occasional fanned shot, either by him or one of his linemates. He wasn’t the guy driving the line, but it was closer to times of old when the trio set the league on fire to close out last season, and it was nice to see.
And it’d be remiss not to mention Monahan’s four-point night: now the best night of his career to date. He’s now on pace for a 55-point season, which is a step down from last year, but it’s not like there are many 21-year-olds in the NHL who get 50+ points a season, so that’s hardly anything to complain about (although it should play a factor in being wary of his next contract).
Although on a cool note: he’s now just 13 points back of Nathan MacKinnon for top scorer from the 2013 draft class, so that’s neat. No other players from that year have yet cracked 100 career points.
Meanwhile, Sam Bennett, along with Backlund and Frolik, formed an incredible complimentary line that played roughly as much as the top line. Well – Backlund and Frolik did, hitting 17 minutes along with the entire top line, albeit due to big penalty kill minutes; Bennett, who did not play on the penalty kill and only got in 1:34 on the power play played just 12:41 overall.
Micheal Ferland was reunited with his playoff linemates in Stajan and David Jones, though they played in primarily defensive circumstances; Jooris proved why he deserves to be a lineup regular, and Bouma looked better having had a few days of rest after a season full of injuries.
Joe Colborne played just 7:44, the only Flame to not hit the 10 minute mark, but even he looked okay in a limited role. The days of trying him out as a top six forward seriously need to be over; with limited minutes, he doesn’t seem to get nearly as overwhelmed or make as many boneheaded decisions. He can have his uses as a player – but a core guy, he’ll never be.
The defence, after Brodie
So we don’t yet know just how bad T.J. Brodie’s injury is, and if the Flames will have to live without him long-term. But we can still look at the plan for the Flames when he went down, and it involved Giordano and Kris Russell getting the biggest minutes – over 24 apiece – with Hamilton heading up with 21:50, and Deryk Engelland picking up the slack just as he did last year, reaching 20:37.
Ladislav Smid was the odd man out, so should Brodie’s injury not be that bad and he’s able to go next game, Smid is the most likely candidate to sit for Jakub Nakladal’s (hopefully soon) NHL debut.
Before Brodie was officially ruled out of the game, the Flames had been playing extremely well and finally had the goals to show for it, so it’s not like they were in immediate need of his services. This is hardly the time to go ahead and mistake Engelland for a top four defenceman once again, though; just because someone is placed in a role – like Engelland was last season after Giordano went down – doesn’t mean they’re actually meant for said role. A big part of the reason Engelland has looked so much better this season is because he’s playing the role he’s meant to play.
With Giordano and Russell being the leaders on defence, a partnership between them may be the end result; this is fine, presuming it boosts Russell’s trade value. In the long-term, though – if there is a long-term regarding Brodie’s health – then Giordano and Hamilton deserve another go. This isn’t the same Hamilton from the start of the season.
Still gotta sell, no matter what
Even if Brodie springs back to perfect health, doesn’t miss another shift, and the T.J. that makes up his name actually does stand for The Jesus, this team ain’t making the playoffs. And when your team is in that position, you sell off your best assets.
Teams have interest in Hudler, Hudler played well; sell Hudler, hopefully for a good package. (It’s seriously so great to see him starting to return to form.)
Teams have interest in Russell, just sell Russell. Sell him. Do not retain him, under any circumstances.
Because the Hurricanes only scored one goal all night – and watching Russell’s performance on it was heartbreaking, because it’s how he keeps. Getting. Beat.
So close to blocking this shot.. pic.twitter.com/Zh8sh7d7P9
— Local Joe (@CLIB542) February 4, 2016
No one said they would just skate around you while you lay there pic.twitter.com/LXOdUjYeIu
— Local Joe (@CLIB542) February 4, 2016
Russell drops down to block the shot in the slot. Elias Lindholm just calmly skates around him. We saw Jamie Benn do the exact same thing to Russell just a few games ago, and here we go again.
He’s being used as a top four defenceman, so he’s probably going to want top four defenceman money; even if the rumours surrounding the Bruins wanting Wideman are true and the Flames are able to unload his contract, they shouldn’t use that money on Russell – it likely wouldn’t go well, and defensive attempts like the one above are a very big reason why. Blocking shots is great; when blocking shots is your first move, though, you’re probably going to get burned.