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.
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.)