Photo credit: Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports
Afternoon games are so bizarre. This was discussed throughout it: just as your own personal routine changes, if only for a bit, so does a player’s. This was just the Flames’ second afternoon game of the season; their first came on Dec. 19, a 3-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues that saw their season-long seven-game winning streak come to an end.
In that game, the Flames fell behind 3-0, including getting scored on just 1:23 in (and again just under two minutes later). Yesterday’s match-up didn’t really follow the same occurrence, however; rather, it was power play goals being traded off until Anaheim finally took over.
Oh, and the Flames were missing three veterans, all of whom tend to be better than the stereotypical bottom feeding player. So there was that, too.
Was Kris Russell missed?
We could ask the same question of Matt Stajan and David Jones, but there’s a key distinction between them and Kris Russell. It has to do in part with the positions they play, because Russell, as a defenceman, gets way more ice time.
Way, way, way more.
Stajan has averaged 13:06 this year. Jones, 12:45. And Russell… 22:52.
Stajan and Jones’ absences just got a couple of other forwards into the lineup (and did deplete the depth some – the fourth line of Brandon Bollig, Lance Bouma, and Josh Jooris ranged from only 8:30-9:10 in ice time), but all of those forwards have been playing throughout the year anyway.
Russell’s absence not only got Jakub Nakladal into the lineup, but forced Bob Hartley to actually play him, unlike in his NHL debut. It was that or go with five defencemen, which is even less optimal than 11 forwards was. (We’ll have more on Nakladal later today.)
So that brings us to the question posed above. Considering how Russell should absolutely be dealt at the trade deadline for a variety of reasons (and hopefully his lingering injury issues aren’t too great a concern), the Flames are going to need to know how they play without him. Both for the rest of this season, and for the future.
He was missed in the sense that Mark Giordano (27:37) and T.J. Brodie (26:19) saw more ice than they usually do. This was in part due to special teams – Giordano led the way with 4:40 on the power play – but also likely in part thanks to Russell’s absence. (With Dennis Wideman out, Giordano, Brodie, and Russell usually end up clumped together in ice times, typically in the low-mid 20 minute range.)
You can also very easily make the argument that he was missed in the sense that the Flames gave up six goals. Three of them came off the three power plays the Flames had – a 0% penalty kill – and since only Giordano and Brodie have played more on the kill than Russell has all season long, you can say the loss of one of their most prominent penalty killers is why the Flames fared so poorly.
On the other hand, it could be because the Flames’ kill is just plain terrible, with or without Russell. They’re dead last in the NHL with a 73.4% success rate, and considering how this team has its handful of skilled defenders – whether you think Russell is one of them or not, there’s also the likes of Giordano, Brodie, Mikael Backlund, and Michael Frolik – they may not be so much lacking the personnel as the systems. The Flames have given up nine power play goals in their last three games, after all.
Russell’s usual defence parter, Dougie Hamilton, was flying out there, though. Whether the team as a whole ends up missing Russell or not, Hamilton – who is a 53.5% 5v5 CF away from Russell all season long, as opposed to the 45.0% with him over 558:13 – probably won’t.
Go Jiri Hudler trade value go
There has been extremely legitimate concern about Jiri Hudler’s performance all season long. We’ve drawn up Mike Cammalleri comparisons in recent history: the Flames’ most valuable trade chip who had a poor year, and the team ultimately ended up getting nothing for him. The extra salt in the wound with Cammalleri was that he started heating up right after the trade deadline.
With Hudler, he’s started heating up right before it, and not only is it beautiful to see, but it should reap a more beautiful reward, too. Hudler isn’t the point per game player of last year, but he’s pretty clearly still a good player. He’s on pace for 50 points this season, and that’s including the games he’s missed out on due to injury.
Hudler, Sean Monahan, and Johnny Gaudreau all had three points apiece. They were the only players involved on the first and fourth goals; they split up their remaining points with Hamilton for the other two. So if only four guys were going to get anything on the board, at least three of them are big parts of the future – and the fourth will hopefully bring back returns that will grow into the same.
Let’s enjoy this top line ride while it lasts.
Of course, consistency in goaltending is appreciated – as long as it’s good goaltending. Consistently bad goaltending is still consistent goaltending, after all.
Both Jonas Hiller and Joni Ortio made nine even strength saves apiece, so that’s consistent. Hiller saw 10 shots at even strength; Ortio, 11. Where Hiller really got himself sunk was on the power play; Ortio didn’t have to kill a single penalty.
Remember Hiller against the Sharks? What happened to that guy? What happened to the career .916 save percentage player? Freshly turned 34, has he hit his limit; is he in the NHL next season? Or if he’d had the chance to post as many starts in a row as Karri Ramo has – remember, his start was sprinkled with sub-.900 SV% performances – would he have been able to fall into the same groove?
Whatever the case was, it’s irrelevant now. The Flames organization’s goaltending situation has been consistently terrible all season long. Three simultaneous goalies, a disastrous October, no time to Ortio, and four injuries (Hiller, Jon Gillies, even Kevin Poulin, and now Ramo): all of this has contributed to a turmoil in net that still feels kind of foreign, considering how this is a team that had Miikka Kiprusoff play in 70+ games for seven straight seasons.
In all likelihood, the on-ice product of the Flames is still in “do everything we can to make the playoffs” mode. That’s their jobs, after all; management gets to worry about the trade deadline and the long term. So do you continue to go with the struggling vet, who theoretically gives you the best chance to win, or do you give the struggling kid a shot at establishing himself, unsure if he’ll turn out worse, or better, than the older guy? (Do we call this the “Jakub Nakladal conundrum”?)
It’s not like any of the goals against any Flames goalie yesterday were particularly great.