Some games, a team just doesn’t seem fated to win. The Flames – already on their heels, as they have been from their season’s poor start onwards – were in one of those situations last night. Playing a late game, then travelling to a different city for the second of a back-to-back?
And when said prior late game saw you kill a ton of penalties – and then for your next game to have even more infractions called? That’s hard to deal with.
So the Flames only had five shots on net throughout the entire third period, when they were down 3-0. It’s not the mark of a great team, obviously, but there’s an extent of forgiveness to be found, because they were, in all likelihood, pretty tired by that point.
It’s not this game’s fault all the preceding ones before it turned it into a must-win.
For all the conspiracy theorists out there
Over the course of the past two games, the Flames took 19 penalties. Three this past game were offsetting, but this also resulted in three very lengthy 5-on-3s over the course of the past two games, so you be the judge of how you really feel about that.
Even despite the past two games, the Flames have been shorthanded 140 times this season. The only teams to be shorthanded less? Minnesota (133), Carolina (135), and Buffalo (139). Recall that last season, the Flames were shorthanded just 186 times, the least in the NHL. And in 2013-14, they were shorthanded 235 times, the third best record in the league.
In short, the Flames are not a team that tends to take penalties. We’re in the midst of their third straight full season under Bob Hartley with the Flames playing mostly clean games, so their ability to stay out of the box may have some real merit under his tutelage.
So 19 penalties in two games is bizarre, to say the least.
Here’s where the conspiracy theory stuff comes in. In the other four games the Flames have played since Dennis Wideman was suspended for basically attacking a linesman, the Flames have taken 13 calls. But these most recent two games have been the only ones played thus far following Wideman’s appeal, something all of us – including the officials association – had to know was coming.
Nineteen calls over two games is 9.5 penalties per game, a bit extreme. Thirty-two calls over six games is 5.3 penalties per game, still rather a lot (though over half of those are swayed by the last two games, so). But do consider the Flames, throughout the entire season, have taken roughly 2.6 penalties per game.
And there were a handful of questionable elements to be found in this game in particular. Josh Jooris getting called because he’s a younger guy – really? Matt Stajan taking a puck to the face and staying down for some time, only for no whistle to be blown, was at least a little odd. Stajan taking penalties off the faceoff when Martin Hanzal later does the same thing and gets off scot free was definitely odd (and even to the point where the commentators were discussing it was about time he got called for something when he tripped Stajan in the third).
(Speaking of Stajan, between the puck to his face, his battles with Hanzal, and then getting boarded by Michael Stone, he sure took a lot of abuse over the mere 7:25 he played.)
I’m not saying the refs are out to get the Flames. They’ve played rather sloppy these past two games, and sloppy play tends to lead to calls against. Just a few numbers and eyebrow-raising incidents to maybe take a look at and do what you will with them. Either it’s coincidental or it’s tinfoil hat time, you be the judge.
Live long enough to become the villain
Alas, poor Jonas Hiller.
Against the Sharks, he came into the game cold, facing a two-minute 5-on-3 at the end of regulation in a tied game. He made some phenomenal saves. He entered overtime and made more incredible saves. He pulled out the shootout win. He was named the third star of the game for just a little bit of work, and commended for his heroics in securing two points.
He would have made the start against the Coyotes no matter what, but how quickly our heroes get tossed on the scrap heap.
Hiller did not have a great game. Sure, he only gave up one even strength goal, but it was a pretty weak one. The third goal against was bizarre and lazy. (He maybe could have had the second, but give credit to Oliver Ekman-Larsson; the fourth one was a 5-on-3 kill so whatever, honestly.)
Maybe he could pose as trade deadline bait for his apparent crossbar powers, though? Tobias Rieder’s not-goal was pretty funny, and pretty much exactly what happened the night before in overtime.
Now, here’s the question: does Hiller get the chance for redemption in the upcoming Monday matinee against the Ducks (his former team, no less), or does Joni Ortio get to take the NHL for a spin again? If the Flames are still in “stick with vets, not out of the playoff race yet” mode then I’d bet the start goes to Hiller, based on the same principles that have kept Jakub Nakladal from playing, but who knows what decisions get made over the weekend?
Let’s talk about Kris Russell
I read the comments. I know there’s been some displeasure in some Russell-related thoughts of mine; and really, from looking all around – from the diverse comments on just this blog to Twitter to mainstream media to nerdy hockey talk in real life – Russell is a very polarizing topic.
I will precede this by saying I firmly believe the Flames should trade him, no matter what, if only because this is a team that clearly needs to sell at the deadline and if Russell has enough value to other general managers in the league, it’d be silly to not cash in on that. Not when the Flames are still rebuilding, not when they’ve got an expensive backend featuring three grossly overpaid bottom pairing players, and not when they can’t even get a look at Nakladal – and that’s without going into the future potential of Brett Kulak, or Oliver Kylington, or Rasmus Andersson, or Brandon Hickey, take your pick.
But as for Russell in this past game: nothing really changed. He played top three defence minutes (for as long as this is the Flames’ arsenal of players, it feels more appropriate to call it a top three defence group than top four), and he had a negative relative corsi at even strength (-4.62 – better than Deryk Engelland and Ladislav Smid, but worse than Dougie Hamilton, Mark Giordano, and T.J. Brodie, who were all positive players).
He also continued to drop down in order to block shots. In the first period, he was the one back on a 2-on-1 between Jordan Martinook and Kyle Chipchura, and he went down immediately to block the pass. Martinook still got it through, albeit with a little more effort than would have otherwise been required; Sam Bennett’s backchecking resulted in Chipchura not really getting a chance out of it. He also went down to block a shot late in the second period. The shot ultimately went wide, so it was harmless; still, on his block, Russell completely slid out of the play, and it’s difficult to determine what his plan would have been had the play been more threatening.
On the other hand, there was another block he had earlier in the second period in which he still partially stayed on his knees, and was able to get the puck back immediately – and set his teammates up for a 3-on-1.
And in the first period, there was a moment he stayed with Anthony Duclair rather than flopping down in front of him. He challenged him, driving him away from prime scoring position and knocking the puck harmlessly to the corner.
That was a successful defensive play, which is why it sucks so much to see him bellyflop as often as he does. He didn’t get burned on it last night, but he’s gotten burned on it multiple times before, and either way, a quality scoring chance usually ends up occurring.
I believe he could be a very solid third pairing defender. He is not used in that way. And when someone like Bob McKenzie thinks there’s a very real possibility he could command a massive salary, that’s the other reason to trade him.
This and that
- Micheal Ferland with more occasional skill plays this game (although one did result in a turnover going all the down to his own end of the ice). I think what I’m really looking forward to, when all is said and done on the season but there are still games left to be played, is seeing what he does with the opportunity. It’ll likely be auditioning time, and if Ferland is able to put it together then – well, closing out 2015-16 on a high note should bode well for 2016-17.
- Josh Jooris goes so hard (and nearly singlehandedly created a prime scoring chance by fighting through the Coyotes defenders in the slot) that I seriously can’t fathom why he’s been scratched this season as often as he has.
- T.J. Brodie is now sitting at 31 points through 45 games. Two seasons ago – his first on the top pairing with Mark Giordano – it took him 81 games to hit 31 points. His career high, from last season, was 41 points through 81 games. If he were able to play 81 games this season, he’d be on pace for 56 points. He’s fourth in team scoring, and just four points back of Giordano for third – and that’s with nine fewer games played, and that’s not even including the mere half-game he got in against Carolina. He still doesn’t exactly shoot a lot, but he finds ways to create offence.
- I want to draw back on an earlier point: Bennett’s backcheck on Chipchura. Remember a couple of games ago, against the Blue Jackets, when Bennett didn’t do enough to get back on Columbus’ first goal? He kind of just glided back, and wasn’t helpful in that instance in the slightest. Total opposite when he went back to stop Chipchura. Maybe they were two unrelated one-off moments, or maybe the Columbus folly served as a helpful teaching tool.