Flames 6, Sharks 5 (SO): How we all holding up?

USATSI_9109197
Photo credit: Neville E. Guard/USA TODAY Sports

That was not a good hockey game – and yet, games like that are part of the appeal of hockey to begin with. 

Ignore the poor goaltending and reffing, with special teams and blown leads abounding every which way: that was fun. That was just plain fun to watch. Other than the parts where players got hurt, the Flames put on an incredibly entertaining show that could easily hook just about anybody in to the sport, with one of the most dramatic finishes we’ve seen in a while – even if it did go to a shootout.

Then stop ignoring the poor goaltending and reffing and special teams and blown leads, because when your heart gets back under control and your brain turns back on, you recognize that was a really bad game – and the Flames did not deserve nearly as nice of a fate as they got.

Teeth kicked in

Even when the Flames were up 4-1, they didn’t look like they deserved to be. After Mikael Backlund’s goal to give them the three-goal lead, they flatlined, and failed to have another single corsi event for for the remaining 6:34 of the period – and only had two during the first half of the second.

Out-corsied 83-40 overall, that’s not even remotely close to acceptable. At even strength, the numbers are 52-29 – still not acceptable. When your opponent gets more than double the shot attempts you do, you’re lucky to be in the game. And indeed, the Flames were lucky to go up 4-1 to begin with (although that’s the benefit of quick thinking, quick scoring, and really bad opposing goaltending), but it wasn’t surprising to see the Sharks tie things up and eventually take the lead.

When the Sharks scored their third goal of the night to make it a 4-3 game, there was a comment that the Sharks were back in it. The Sharks were never out of it, though. And whatever your thoughts on the reffing – and the list of penalties reads a lot like an over-dramatic rap sheet – the Flames were getting their teeth kicked in regardless.

Calgary may be five points out of a playoff spot, but they’re also six points out of 30th place. And considering the game that got them their most recent two points was one they played so poorly in, eyes should still be on selling.

Playoffs are fun. Playoffs when you actually deserve to be there are more so.

The redemption trio

This was the Flames’ first game back since Monareaumaghazi, and as such, Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, and Lance Bouma made their triumphant returns to the lineup.

Gaudreau played 20:05, second of all Flames forwards in ice time. That included 4:44 spent on the power play, as well as two secondary assists scored (one on the power play). He now has 51 points over 52 games, so an 82-point season remains in reach, even if he isn’t hitting the full 82 games played mark. (Please take note that this is back-to-back 50-plus-point seasons for Johnny “too small to play in the NHL” Gaudreau in his first two seasons.)

Monahan played 19:06, third out of all Flames forwards for ice time, including 5:12 on the power play and 22 seconds on the penalty kill. He scored one goal, the beneficiary of an extremely pretty passing play between his linemates, Gaudreau and Jiri Hudler, but he also led all Flames forwards with four shots on net.

Bouma was the least impressive of the group, but that should go without saying; he’s simply not the caliber of talent Gaudreau and Monahan are. He played 10:59, third least out of all non-injured Flames forwards, ahead of just Matt Stajan and Joe Colborne. He was on the ice for just one corsi event for at even strength, as well as a second one while killing penalties, of which he spent 3:18 doing. 

To Bouma’s credit, he was only on the ice for one power play goal against, and did spend some time killing 5-on-3 calls, but he just isn’t anywhere near as important or in line for a redemption arc as his teammates. He’s a decent complimentary player, and that’s about it.

Mikael. Backlund.

While we’re talking penalty killers: Backlund played 6:12 on the kill, by far the most of all Flames forwards. Only T.J. Brodie and Kris Russell spent more time killing calls than he did, and they’re defencemen.

In the most noteworthy kill of all, though – the full two minute 5-on-3 in the final three minutes of regulation – Hartley’s optimal unit was that trio of players. Russell likely would have been replaced by Mark Giordano had the Flames’ captain not been in the box at the time, but that said, all three did a phenomenal job, along with Jonas Hiller – who was outstanding on a whole other level, coming in cold and playing as well as he did through both a gruelling kill and insane overtime finish.

But back to Backlund. He had two exceptional moments on that final kill. The first came early on, where he fought to poke the puck away and got it out of the zone, which is incredibly valuable during a 5-on-3 kill, even if it only lasted a moment.

Following that up (and a second amazing Hiller save later in the kill), Backlund blocked a shot right in the slot. There’s no grief to be found here – or even for Russell’s own block in the slot earlier in the kill, which was imperative to stopping a shot and even almost set up a 2-on-1 with Brodie and Bouma – but that’s because he played it perfectly. He dropped to his knees but remained active, and cleared the puck with his stick. It was both ballsy and brainy, and aside from Hiller, Backlund crushed it on that kill.

And that’s without going into the goal he scored. Backlund played 21:54, more than anybody not named Brodie, Giordano, or Russell, and he earned every single second of it. With Monahan out the previous game, he was the Flames’ first line centre; this game, he proved himself mindblowingly important to his team.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Backlund is the ultimate heart and soul player. Backlund is where intangibles really come into play when measuring a player’s performance (and he still has plenty of tangibles to go with them). You’ll never get fair value if you try to trade him, so just let him do what he does best: play exceptionally well defensively, occasionally chip in on the offence, be hockey soulmates with Michael Frolik, and apparently, help introduce kids to the NHL like he has for Sam Bennett throughout last year’s playoffs and this season when they share a line. (Of Bennett’s 28 points on the season, Backlund has had a hand in 12 of them: easily the most of any teammate.)

DAE Jakub Nakladal?

The defence ice times were top-heavy, and extremely skewed by special teams. Brodie played 31:35, including 8:49 on the penalty kill, which is total insanity. Giordano played 28:15; Russell, 26:12. Dougie Hamilton was a bit further down at 21:26, the most frequent Flame on the power play with 6:03 played, but the only defenceman to not even get so much as a second of penalty kill time.

And then, there were Deryk Engelland and Ladislav Smid, the tried and true defensive pairing that didn’t look great against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and didn’t really inspire any further confidence when facing a real NHL team.

Smid was the only healthy skater to not even reach 10 minutes, playing just 9:46. He didn’t have an exceptionally good game. Tommy Wingels was his man on the Sharks’ first goal, and yet, Smid was completely ineffective in defending against him. Wingels actually went into Smid to get the shot off; Smid was of literally no use. 

It was pretty much the same story on the Sharks’ only other even strength goal of the night. Smid was defending in front of the crease. Joonas Donskoi was right behind him. Donskoi received Logan Couture’s pass and was able to tap the puck in without any problems or disruptions from Smid.

It’ll be the second of a back-to-back on the road. Smid had a bad game. Engelland and Smid are not a particularly effective pairing. One can crow about going with veteran defencemen in order to solidify a playoff push all one wants, but when at least one of them makes a repeated show of being, well, bad, there’s no excuse to not try out the new guy.

What’s the worst that could happen? Jakub Nakladal performs as badly as Smid? At least then we’d be going with the failure we didn’t know rather than the one we do.

This and that

  • Considering the sheer number of goals in this game, it’s a shame Micheal Ferland only picked up one assist. He had one shift that resulted in like, three golden chances for him, and he had skilled moves on display throughout the game all over again. When this kid breaks out for real it’s going to be a lot of fun.
  • Hamilton led the team with five shots on net, so at least we know he’s doing more with power play time than Dennis Wideman ever did. He’s actually hitting the net, for one thing.
  • Bennett is currently on pace for 44 points this season. It’s not Calder-worthy, but it’s not a bad rookie campaign, either. And we even got to see his first overtime shift, finally!
  • Joe Thornton slashed Giordano right in the junk and he probably won’t have to pay the NHL $5,000 to make up for it. Nazem Kadri should take notes. Also, Gio stayed up and was ready to go on the top power play unit right after, so props to him.
  • Joe Colborne is the epitome of shootout specialist. Best used in a fourth line role, but you better believe he’s the first guy up should it be necessary. (Remember his shorthanded breakaway goal against the Ducks in round 2 of the playoffs last year? You just knew it was going in because that’s what he does.) He’s 3-for-3 in the shootout this year. Gaudreau and Monahan are both 1-for-4. Hmm. (This means nothing, it’s just fun.)

  • The GREAT Walter White

    Didn’t see the game, out of town, how many 5-3 power plays did the Sharks have?!

    Backlund playing well? Trade him now; his value will never be higher…

    WW

    • Cfan in Vic

      There were “only two” 5-3 power plays. One of those included 3 flames in the box, during the Hartley bench minor. The most shocking part for me was that there were 2 instances where the flames got double penalties on a single play. I can’t ever remember them having to fight through multiple, full 2 minute 5-on-3’s. It was astonishing.

      As for the Backlund garbage, you’ve always been blind to his value, so I guess I don’t expect you to change. He’s been absolutely great the last few games.

      • SoCalFlamesFan

        Maybe after the whole Wideman mess officials are “noticing” everything the flames do now. (Not saying they biased against teams or players though.)

        • The Fall

          I am. The slash on Backlund was hilarious. 1 hand on his stick which he slapped down in front of the shooter. Shooter breaks his own stick and ref calls it. Watched the replay several times.
          And Thornton not getting a spearing call for the attempted disemboweling of Giordano.
          Have to say though, Bennett was of the ice for two stoopid moves- 1 elbow and 1 deliberate high stick. As a rookie he seems to think he can get away with stuff that only the Marchands of the world still try.

  • ssamze

    Thank you Hartley for making this an existing game. I know your penalty was all planned out when you decided winning one sided would be boring for us fans. At least it made me stay up util 1:30 here in the east.

  • brodiegio4life

    As much as colborne frustrates me during the game, the kid can flat out bury it in the shootout. Such soft hands for a lanky guy. Colborne is a small skilled guy in a 6’5 body.

  • cberg

    “Calgary may be five points out of a playoff spot, but they’re also six points out of 30th place.”

    Considering they were tied for 30th place and 10 pts out of a playoff spot just a week ago, they’ve had an amazing week. Another week like that and they’ll be right there, which I’m sure is what the coaches and team leaders are saying.

    What’s also amazing is the total ineptness of the bottom-feeders, especially that “oh-so-talented” group up North, the Oilers. The league should enact a retroactive once in 5 year lottery eligibility rule.

    • Cfan in Vic

      Edmonton has more than earned the criticism. No question.
      The irony is, the Flames are only 4 points ahead of that pathetic franchise. I know they have three games in hand, so a reasonable assumption for a .500 team would be getting three out of those possible six points. That would make the Flames seven points ahead. But, the Flames have mostly healthy. The Oilers have been leading the league in man games lost to injury. Also, the injuries have been to key players, not the Ferlands and Boumas.
      So, the Flames are doing the absolute best they can, winning games they shouldn’t, with a healthy roster, and they are still just treading water. The Oilers have been playing wounded.
      But, grounded, realistic Flames fans will never notice.

      • Cfan in Vic

        I agree with a the general sentiment, but keep in mind that quite a few people predicted that the two Alberta teams would both be bubble playoff teams.

        On top of that, to start the season Gio was still hugely affected by his recovery (for at least the first couple months). During that time, we had no Brodie. That created a complete team spiral, and now they’re back to .500.

        So yeah, the Oil have led the league in injuries, but it’s not like we’ve been untouched. Also, I’m pretty sure that the majority of readership here is pretty well grounded and realistic at this point. Nobody thinks the Flames are the wonder-children of last year.

        • Bob Cobb

          Gio being affected and Brodie being out is no comparison to McDavid being out for 37 games. You don’t think the Oilers would be 10 to 15 pts better had McDavid been playing all year, especially on the road, where opposition coaches could focus on one line through line matching while he was out.

          • RedMan

            Thats so funny, thanks for the good laugh! Oilers have struggled because they have missed an 18 yr old rookie, nevermind the other 4 first overall’s plus multie top 10 picks…. haha

      • RedMan

        hey thanks for bringing all your excuse making to FN for the hilariously pathetic Oilers. everyone knew there had to be SOME excuse for them to be this bad for this many years.

        Flames are a rebuilding team…

        Question to you – are the Oilers a rebuilding team?

      • cberg

        Don’t really agree with much of your assessment, e.g. Bouma & Ferland are “key’ guys for the Flames…. yes, I know, points….. ): but, that’s not the point being made.

        The point is the annual distribution of draft talent (draft placement) has been inappropriately distorted due to the complete and willing incompetence of a single team (the Oilers) over many, many years, and, yes, some luck. I think it goes against the spirit and intent of the draft to spread top-end talent around the league, and that more rules need to be in place to ensure it cannot happen in the future. Even if its totally luck (not the case here) the same comment stands.

        A single team should not be able to obtain the #1 pick year after year under any circumstances, and removing a lottery winner for 5 years (no top3 picks) would be more equitable.

    • Bob Cobb

      The Oilers are 4 pts behind you, they play the next 5 games at home, where they are a different team, against beatable teams so don’t count get too cocky yet.

      Yakupov, McDavid, Eberle, Klefbom, Pouliot; all important players that have missed extensive time this year, but yes the Flames being up 4 points with a mainly healthy roster is quite impressive.

      • cberg

        Your comments are irrelevant, nobody is arguing the Oilers would not likely be better than they are without injuries.

        What I would be saying is its just one excuse after another. Can you please get your s&*t together and start moving up the standings? It would be appreciated. Getting tired of the excuses and you sitting in the toilet and sucking up a disproportionate amount of the higher-rated talent.

    • brodiegio4life

      Their skill sets are different. Garrison has a cannon from the point.

      But whatever. I would be fine with Russell playing anywhere but Calgary next season.

      • The Fall

        That’s true, but Russell does have some offensive upside. Playing in Tampa would mean fewer pucks for him to block, maybe he could focus more on offense?

  • brodiegio4life

    Power play seems to be looking a lot better since that referee got railroaded in the back.

    Of course we seem to be on the penalty kill a lot more as well…

  • BlueMoonNigel

    Not saying the Flames weren’t guilty of 9 penalties, but there were some very blatant Shark infractions which were overlooked. Anytime Moon has to shout at his idiot box,”Hey, Ref, get in there and do your job,” you know it’s a poorly officiated game. Refereeing is the easy job in sports. Call everything or call nothing, but just make sure you call the game the same for both clubs.

  • BurningSensation

    There are few things I find more confusing about Hartley than how he handles ice-time for Hamilton, but one of them is how he simply gives it all to Russell.

  • brodiegio4life

    When Hartley says that he goes with the “guys he trusts” I just can’t see past the reasoning that he trusts Smid and Engelland to be on for 2-3 goals against per game, and is OK with that, because he won’t accept the unknown.

    He seems to make decisions on pure gut feeling while almost intentionally ignoring logic and statistics. It’s infuriating. And while they get badly outplayed they get the W, mainly because of a shaky Sharks backup goalie. And the decision making scheme gets reinforced.

  • Rock

    Russell played a big role in winning that game and still no love from Ari and her sheep. Shot blocking got us 2 points in this game for sure a long with Hiller’s awesome goaltending.
    As far as Hamilton playing the pentaly kill he is bad at defence with the power play let alone being short handed give it a rest he belongs on the power play no doubt but when it comes to defence the bench is where he belongs.

    • T&A4Flames

      I find this amusing. You bash Hamilton’s defensive game but cry that Russell is not getting credit for his. Russell is not good at D in terms of possession. Sure, he can get in front of a puck with the best of them (a skill on it’s own) but that’s because he doesnt ever get the puck by winning puck battles etc.

    • The Fall

      “Russell played a big role in winning that game and still no love from Ari and her sheep.”

      From the article above:

      “There’s no grief to be found here – or even for Russell’s own block in the slot earlier in the kill, which was imperative to stopping a shot and even almost set up a 2-on-1 with Brodie and Bouma – but that’s because he played it perfectly”

      It looks like she did give credit where credit was due. Nobody says shot blocking has zero value; it shouldn’t be a default defensive maneuver though.

      One good game/well-timed goal does not make a great player. Russell should be evaluated against his entire body of work, just like everyone else.

  • Cfan in Vic

    Anyone else notice that when Hiller is truly feeling it during a game, he does a super creepy, lizard-style tongue flick?

    Pretty sure FN made a .gif of that in the last couple years. I’m happy to see it, because it usually means that he’s on top of his game and loving life, but what a creepy habit that is. He was all about the tongue flick last night.

    Edit: Right, found it
    http://gfycat.com/MeatyBadBobcat

  • The Fall

    This was the Ref’s retaliation game against the Flames: 9 minors against one of the most disciplined teams in the league?!

    Best case scenario is Wideman’s suspension hold so they ‘feel’ like justice is served… Also, PP is now 29th and they’re 4-1 without him…

  • Phillip

    I have learned much here today!

    • Trade Backlund

    • Russell is no good at defence and he NEVER wins a battle for the puck.

    • Blocking shots is virtually useless (even if it is heading for an open side of the net?).

    • People here who are unfamiliar with professional coaching entirely, have deduced Hartley doesn’t use stats in his coaching and in fact they could do a better job apparently.

    • Bennett caught 1 person with an elbow and now he thinks he is a Marchand.

    • Refs are after the Flames because of the Wideman incident.

    • Hiller plays good when he flicks his tongue like a lizard.

    • FN man-love for Hamilton seems to have created the Russell hatred, like Russell is stealing Hamilton’s minutes because Hartley has man-love for Russell.

    • Punctuation isn’t a part of FN.

    • Oh, and Oilers suck.

    Okay now, all of you, take it easy. Back up slowly and set the gun down. I know you should be coach of the Flames… we all do! You’re awesome. Hamilton is good. He is very good. We all like Hamilton. And we all like you too. Now slide your arms into this white coat with the long arms. Slowly now. Everything is going to be fine.