Coyotes 4, Flames 1 post-game embers: Penalties penalties penalties

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.

  • The GREAT Walter White

    On the bright side: this may put us in a position where we need to trade Wideman….

    The other teams will think we are forced into a trade and they are fleecing us….

    Wideman will have no choice but to waive his no-trade clause because there is no way he stays with the Flames.

    It’s all good.


  • ssamze

    Ari, first let me say that I really appreciate your writings. Especially writing a lot as you do is not an easy feat.

    That being said I believe your writings seem to say the same thing over and over. Criticisms on particular players (e.g. Russel and Colborn) and the coach; praising same players like Backlund. Not saying that your criticism and praise are valid (I agree with many of your points) but it gets a little bit tiresome and onesided.

    I think most of here understand what your position is and your rationale. So I don’t think you need to have it in most of your writings.

    Also I would suggest to take a bit of a neutral voice. One thing many were irritated by Lambert was his very one sided argument which made him sound very arrogant. I know you’re a blogger and not a journalist but it would help ease many readers to your posts. I like Ryan’s posts because though he may have similar opinion as yours (and most of the writers here) he at least tries to understand where others coming from and examines them in his articles.

    Sorry for such long comment but I hope you don’t take this as anything negative. If you did I apologize but as a fan of yours I just hoped to see you be better (not that you aren’t)

    P. s. Kudos for supporting the cancer patients!

    • DestroDertell

      I don’t disagree with you on the “repetitive” part. To be fair, there hasn’t been many roster transitions/trades or lineup changes since the season started, other than goal-tending shenanigans, with predictable results when it comes to W-L, player performance, etc. Meaning, there hasn’t been a whole lot of new material to talk about.

    • Ari Yanover

      Thanks for the comment. I’m definitely still finding my way through this whole writing thing, so I’ll happily take concrit when it comes up.

      I’ve noticed some of the things you bring up, so at least it validates my own observations and points me towards something to try to fix, haha. Sometimes I get overexcited, shoot off at the mouth; that and writing about the same subject with nothing changing for so long (hurry up, trade deadline) creates repetition and restlessness, I think. It’s on me to find a way to deal with that.

      So yeah – thank you once again! This is a good comment.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    Chris Russell is not the only player FN is split on. Colburne and Backlund are devisive players as well. Personally, I like the debate because it challenges my perceptions and beliefs about theses players’ performances, their value and my own biases.
    I’m also getting tired of the same goofs getting personal, and taking things too many far. Why can’t you make your points without mocking, ridiculing or being offensive? Time to grow up.

    The Flames writers have illustrated a lot patience where their work is attacked, particularly Ari. I’d be less understanding.

    • Franko J

      As author’s of anything, choosing to write and present material in an open public forum directly opens one’s work up to criticism (and praise). We are taught this on Day 1 in Journalism school.

      Ari and all writers that knowingly CHOOSE to pursue their craft openly understand this, It comes with the territory.

      As long as the criticism is constructive, of which it often is…zero issues and no one’s opinions and freedom of speech should ever be minimized and/or reprimanded on this platform due to differences in opinion. It happens with regularity on this particular website to the point of resembling bullying tactics by what appear to be moderators more concerned with stifling debate (if it goes against the author’s opinions) rather than allowing debate and differing opinions…almost dictatorship style in nature

      I’ve noticed the traffic here has significantly decreased from where it was a few years ago, the reasons as to why appear very obvious for those of us willing to be objective without bias. I would suggest the internal staff re-evaluate an re-assess their current strategy with respect to consumer response to the product to ensure their readership does not dissipate further.

      Just my two cents.

      From a professionally trained Journalist

      FN MODERATOR: I agree with you. The intention was never to bully or stifle debate, rather to steer it way from trolls that dominated the site for a while. Moderation was introduced because the comment section was full of fighting, inter-site trolling, sexist, and racist comments. It got so bad that some readers were staying away, and there were many complaints from a lot of frequent visitors. Clearly a fine balance is needed.

      If you’re will to provide Kent contact details, I’d like to get some input, in an effort to improve. Thanks

      • DeadRedRedemption

        Totally agree with you.

        When I see mod comments like this:

        “FN MODERATOR: All the FN writers take their writing seriously and work hard to give all FN fans great content to read. I can appreciate that you may not like everything written, but no one is forcing you to read it. If you don’t like it, don’t read it. Cool your act or don’t come back.”

        …it makes me think of the kid who takes his ball and runs home just because things aren’t the way they like it.

        Not that that will make me stop reading the site (not a lot of equivalent alternatives, I like the writing here) but that kinda statement doesn’t sit right with me, especially from a mod.

        So I kinda note it in the back of my mind and if I see too much if that behavior maybe I will stop coming here.

  • cberg

    Ari, first off, better-balanced article and good summation. I also especially like ssamze’s comments.

    As for the penalties, it certainly seems there is blow-back happening the last few games. This is very disappointing to see as a fan of the game. Even if you believe Wideman is 100% at fault (I’m not, concussion issues…) taking things out on a team is way beyond bush league. I’m not saying the penalties were not penalties, just that there is inconsistency between teams. Also duly noted your comment on Stajan’s puck to the head. Why no whistle? Wasn’t there an identical incident in San Jose when Jones took that puck to the knee? Again, very bush league for the refs and gives the NHL a black eye.

    As far as the team and where do we go from here? I copy the remaining from my post on the previous thread…

    I think one of the Flames biggest issues this year is failure to bring along their prospects and too much dependance on vets. This is impacting both our team here as well as the one in Stockton. We need some vets, yes, but we need new, better prospects too. Will the new guys be as good? Maybe not, certainly to start, but I’m not falling into the trap worrying about it too much. Guys, we’re 25th overall. Its not like we can get that much worse.

    On D I would like to see ALL OF Russell, Wideman and Smid traded ASAP. I feel today they can be replaced by Nakladal, Kulak and Wotherspoon on a trial basis. If they cut the mustard, great. If not we can try others or additions over the summer.

    At G I would re-sign Ramo for 1 yr (preferably), 2 years max. I would trade Hiller for whatever, immediately, or waive him and call up Poulin. Then I would play each of Ortio and Poulin 50% of the remaining games to see who gets the 1-2 year contract next season to back up Ramo, if either. Depending on that I may look to pick up another goalie over the summer, though probably not a big, #1 guy as I’m still looking to youth in two years (Gillies).

    At Forwards I would look to trade ALL OF Raymond, Bollig, Jones and Stajan. I would try to re-sign Hudler but trade him if he won’t sign for at or under $4mm, 3 years max (unlikely he signs). I’d bring up Agostino, Arnold, Hathaway, Poirier and Grant (to get familiar with big club, as a reward while injured). These guys get a significant number of games to prove their potential and fit in. If they just don’t bring it, at least we know which direction we’re heading next summer.

    Beyond that, consider hockey trades for several others to make us bigger, faster, tougher. That’s it, folks. Next year land…

    • ChinookArchYYC

      You’re hired! Except for the Hudler signing. As much as I like the guy, his value on the market is greater than in our room or line up for the next2 -5 years.

      Of course, most of the players you’d trade would be worth doodle unless they were a part of a package. It would be great to see these changes made, and some may happen this season. But don’t be surprised if some of the names you put in as replacement/trial players end up being shipped out with some of the dead weight. And I’m ok with tha, too. As long as Treliving makes the team better in the long run. And remember, that’s what we’re in this for, right?

  • MontanaMan

    Oh yeah the excuses; too tired, too late, too emotionally drained. They know what they’re up against whenever they play this team. Why can’t we get a proper game plan or a strategy or or just plain go and get it. Sacrifice a little something to earn your two days off.
    The only excuse worthy of mention in my opinion is that we were let down again by a lousy goalie. If he’s not totally under the gun he seems to lose his focus. And that is just plain laziness.

  • MontanaMan

    I think the game plan against the flames is to take away the point man, clog up the neutral zone to take away stretch passes, and rough up Gaudreau as much as you can. If our defense don’t score we don’t stand much of a chance. The flames probably need to change their philosophy up a bit, Which probably means a new coach.

    Backlund was a turnover machine, Hiller couldn’t stop a beach ball, and the refs need to stop deciding the outcome of games.

    • DeadRedRedemption

      I counted 9 powerplays in the SJ game and another 7 in the Arizona game last night, sprinkle in another 5 on 3, for a collective total of four 5 on 3’s between those 2 games.

  • Franko J

    “It’s not this game’s fault all the preceding ones before it turned it into a must-win.”

    Even before last night’s game the Flames have been in desperation mode to make another playoff push, however, they simply don’t have enough to get them into another post season appearance. Throughout the season there have been too many inconsistencies in their play as a whole to make me believe otherwise.

    Penalties aside, when a team ranks almost last in the league both on PP and PK, there will be very few nights in this league where the results garner a victory.
    5 on 5 play is less than stellar as well.

    All I can say at this point, is I do hope the Flames bring up a player or two for late season auditions. Yet with Hartley behind the bench I don’t have the confidence that will happen.

    • MontanaMan

      I, for one, am getting tired of the ongoing tirade against Russell, likely from sheep who can’t form their own opinion. Russell is not a top pairing defenceman; nor is he a PP specialist. He is a #4 or potentially a solid 5/6 d-man who never takes a shift off and is generally dependable. His work ethic is undeniable and he appears to be a good team player. If the Flames can garner a decent draft pick or player for Russell, I say go for it. If not, I am in favour of signing him to a reasonable contract. In the meantime, form your own opinions and actually watch the games instead of piling on to certain opinions. I’m confident that if/when the Flames move Russell, you will be right there to jump on the next guy in line.

      • ChinookArchYYC

        I think most folks agree with you. He is a good 4/5 dman. The thing is the word on the street is he doesnt want to sign a reasonable deal and be paid like a 4/5… he wants to be paid like #3. Whether this is true or not I have no idea but this is what we keep hearing. I think that is where a lot of the negative reaction is coming from. If the talk was to resign him at 3.5-3.75 I think a lot of the fans would be singing a different tune but reports from the media definitely dont indicate anything like that.

        Knowing what we know or what we think we know about the type of deal Russell is in line for a trade would seem to be the best course of action.

        On another note… man was Hiller bad last night… just Brutal.

        • MontanaMan

          I would agree with your assessment and agree that the Flames shouldn’t be targeting his next contract in the range of a #3 d-man. Regardless of what we think of Russell, he has served the Flames well, traded for a 5th round draft pick, but he has a lot of miles and blocked shots on a small framed defender so the next 5 years will be on downhill side. Russell should thank the Flames for resurrecting his career, shake hands out the door and sign a 5 year $25 million deal with the OIlers.

        • Nick24

          Kris Russel could be a good 5/6 defenseman. There is nothing to suggest that he can, or should, be given top-4 minutes. He just isn’t good enough.

          Signing him at 3.5-3.75 would also be a pretty bad idea. On a contending team, Russel should not be on the power play, and should be used in a bottom pairing role. The kind of minutes he would be playing would not correlate to the money he would be paid.
          The very most he should be paid is 2 million. He’s not good, and there’s nothing to justify him getting the minutes he is.

      • RickT

        Except he’s played as a 3D, and looking for 2 of 3D money.

        And he’s less effective than our 5D. By the eyes (takes himself out of the play 3/4 times) and the numbers.

  • Franko J

    When PK has clearly been an issue for the Flames, it’s mind-boggling why Hartley keeps scratching his top (statwise) penalty killer. Of all the Flames regular penalty killers, Granlund has lowest Goals against/60, lowest scoring chances against/60 and lowest high-danger scoring chances against/60 rates. During his 33:26 Shorthanded TOI this season, Granlund has 1 goal and 1 assist for, and 3 goals against (for a total plus/minus of -1). There are 346 players in NHL who have atleast 30 minutes of shorthanded TOI this season. Among those players, Granlund has 64th lowest scoring chances against/60 rate, 39th lowest high-danger scoring chances against/60 rate and 99th lowest goals against/60 rate. Statwise Granlund has been clearly better than your average NHL penalty killer. Time to give the guy some credit where credit is due.

    • piscera.infada

      The problem with Granlund is that he’s clearly been worse than you average player at 5v5. He hasn’t looked like an NHL player more often than he has. While I can understand the PK argument, I’m not sure you can make that move, short of sticking him on the third or fourth-line wing, which Hartley seems dead-set against doing.

  • piscera.infada

    Look, I’m not 100% tinfoil hat with regard to the recent string of penalties, the Flames have played some very sloppy hockey of late. I’m also not a person who generally blames referees for the outcome of hockey games. That said, the game last night definitely got my mind running in that direction.

    The Stajan faceoff infraction and the Jooris goalie interference were the big sticking points for me. The Stajan call was correct by the letter of the law, but the problem is, that can be called on the vast majority of faceoffs in every game. It’s how centres are taught to play the game. I have no issue with the call itself, but if you’re going to call it, you have to stay consistent throughout. That means Hanzal needs to be called at least once–his interference on Backlund on the second goal was about as blatant as it comes.

    All that said, you can’t blame inconsistent reffing for the loss. The Flames simply didn’t play well last night. I’ve been an ardent Hamilton supporter in the face of what I deem unfair criticism, but last night he was bad–uncharacteristically bad (for anyone trying to make that point). Hiller was also quite bad. He absolutely needs to have those first two goals, as well as the one that ended up not being a goal. He was unsettled, buy if I’m Hartley, I pull him after those. However, the whole team seemed a bit out of sorts, aside from Bennett (who brings an honest effort every night), and Jooris (who needs to be in the lineup more often than he is).

  • slapshot444

    Re penalties;
    Of note was Eric Furlatt was in both Thursday and Friday’s game.Long time fans will remember him for some wonky disallowed goals calling goalie interference around the 2007/8 era. Those calls got him a short trip to the AHL for re training.
    However I thought to myself how long until the conspiracy theory starts being talked about. I’m going to wait one more game and after we play the Ducks at home, if it continues, I’m putting on the hat.

  • Nick24

    I don’t understand the critcism of Ari’s writing as repetitive. In writing game reports, you can only go with what you see and ultimately it builds a whole narrative about the season. Yes there is bias, but so it would be if any of the regular commenters here were writing these reports.

    Having read this and other hockey blogs, I note that women generally come in for more critcism of their writing than men do. Not saying that anyone here is guilty of criticizing Ari because she is a woman. But before anyone offers critism, ask yourself two questions:

    1- Am I criticizing just b/c of this person’s gender?

    2- Would I be as quick to offer crticism if the writer was male?

    I doubt Ari gets paid much for this gig. We get to hide behind screen names, but Ari doesn’t have that option. I’m thankful I can go somewhere for insightful coverage of this team. Kudos Ari, keep up the good work.

    • MontanaMan

      Gotta love politically correct Canada!!! What if someone criticizes Pike? Would they have criticized a woman for the same comment? Let it go – half the readers probably don’t even know that Ari is a woman. Writers are critiqued on their work not on their gender.

  • Derzie

    I’ve reached the point where I’m looking at anyone who is not part of the future, needs to plan their exit. Gio, Brodie, Dougie, Johnny, Mony, Sam, Frolik, Ferland are the future. Everyone else on the current roster, it’s been swell. I’m not going to argue about Russell or Local Joe or Backlund. They are not part of the future so they are only trade chips.

  • Franko J

    Little late but…. 99.5% of the people criticizing the writing here would not last a single week in this game. It is not easy, it’s a daily grind, with lots of digging and staring at a computer screen – alone on an island – and (if the money I am making doing it professionally is any indication) the pay results in Third World earnings. I am fortunate that I get to write about any teams and any sports of my choosing. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to have to write about this trainwreck of a team on a daily basis. All while trying to please the know it all hockey “geniuses” that rant, rant and rant some more. Nose to the grindstone Ari – You have heart and passion for the writing game and it shows. One minor critique if I may, you used the word “game” a lot in this article. Try mixing it up, with words like match, contest, battle, duel, fight, tussle – there are lots of alternatives to using any one word too many times in an article.