While the Calgary Flames got the fate they deserved, Joni Ortio certainly didn’t.
It looks like his NHL career isn’t dead quite yet – but we won’t really have a clue unless he continues to play. And considering how both Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller were given the chance to work through their struggles, not to mention the idea that the season is basically lost by now, there’s no excuse to not give him at least a couple of starts in a row.
What’s the worst that could happen?
It should be Joni Ortio’s time
In just Ortio’s third start of the season – his second coming all the way back on Oct. 30 – he played extraordinarily well. The Kings are one of the best teams in the NHL; throwing a young, struggling goalie out against them should have been a death sentence.
But it wasn’t, as Ortio was the best Flame, and the sole reason his team had a chance throughout the game. He made quick, sharp saves. He tracked the puck well. He certainly couldn’t be faulted on either shot that got past him.
This isn’t the first time this season Ortio has played well in the NHL. It sounds unlikely, considering how pitiful his record throughout the year has been, but when he started his first game of the season on Oct. 26, he did everything in his power to keep the Flames in it against the vastly superior New York Islanders squadron. It was the second of a back-to-back on the road, T.J. Brodie was still injured, and Ortio let just one power play goal past him after facing 24 shots over the first 40 minutes.
Then things imploded in the third period. Hiller got the next start, got injured; Ortio fared poorly against the Montreal Canadiens, and Ramo wasn’t much better against the Edmonton Oilers immediately after – but he got the win, and Ortio was benched, and that was that.
Excuses at the start of the season made sense: even though the Flames had basically been obliterated throughout October, it was at least in part because they had been missing Brodie. Their season also wasn’t over yet, so there was reason to make the safe play, and go with just veterans in an effort to reclaim a playoff spot.
We haven’t been in that territory for some time now, though. Consider:
- The season is lost by this point. The only meaningful things left to happen are the trade deadline and hopefully securing a good draft pick.
- The Flames have no goalies signed for next season.
- The Flames have no idea whether or not Ortio can even be considered an answer.
The rest of the season should essentially be used to keep evaluating players – and goaltending is chief among the positions that need it. Start Ortio most of the time from here on out, even when he has bad games. Ortio has rarely been given the chance to work his way out of a slump; never once received that shot this season. See how he does, see if he’s worthy of re-upping, because it’s not like there are a ton of options out there.
And there’s nothing left to lose at this point.
Ortio played well. Even if he doesn’t play well next game – against those Islanders once again – he deserves more chances.
Keep playing that bottom defence pairing, too
I really, really, really like watching Tyler Wotherspoon and Jakub Nakladal out there. Both players play with more poise than veterans who have filled their spots previously. They aren’t a liability, they’re capable of making smart defensive plays – see Nakladal removing Drew Doughty from a play right in front of the Flames’ net – and they jump up into the offence and try to create, too.
Kris Russell should be gone at the trade deadline. We don’t know how bad Ladislav Smid’s injury is. But Dennis Wideman certainly shouldn’t push Wotherspoon or Nakladal out of the lineup when he returns. This is three solid games in a row we’ve had from the bottom pairing, who mostly went up against guys like Tanner Pearson and Vincent Lecavalier – not the top dogs, but decent enough players. And they’ve handled themselves better than we’ve seen a Smid – Engelland pairing perform.
In limited minutes, they’re just fine. Nakladal gets some power play time; Wotherspoon, the penalty kill. And we’d have never known if it weren’t for injuries and a boneheaded suspension.
Both require new contracts after this season; like Ortio, the Flames need to see what they’ve got, and whether it’s worth continuing with. Benching them by default in favour of an overpaid player doesn’t accomplish that.
Jiri Hudler leaving us with fond memories
It’s entirely possible Sean Monahan’s goal was the last time we’ll ever see him, Johnny Gaudreau, and Hudler all combine on a single scoring effort. If it was, though, that’s perfectly fine, because the passing was brilliant to behold.
It’s surprising to see Hudler only played 14:01 – more than just the fourth line, all of whom failed to crack even 10 minutes. He had the team’s best corsi stats, with a 56.52% 5v5 CF. Only he and Josh Jooris were positive possession players against the Kings: quite the feat, because considering how much better the Kings simply are, it’s absurd the Flames even had any positive possession players at all.
Though most of the guys at the top barely played, so that would explain that.
Gaudreau dropped to a 20% CF when separated from Hudler; Monahan, 25%. Both were 52.38% with him. He was an asset to their line, and it was like watching them from a year ago, when they were kicking ass throughout the NHL in a domineering March en route to a playoff spot.
Hopefully Hudler’s value is going up with this final stretch of games, because he’s certainly looking like a valuable asset to a playoff team right now.
(Gaudreau, meanwhile, remains a point per game player, and the sixth highest scorer in the NHL. He’s six points away from matching his rookie year totals; he’s got 23 games left to beat them.)
What is it, exactly, Joe Colborne did?
I understand coaches favouring certain players, but for the life of me, I cannot fathom what it was Colborne did to make him worthy of this much preferential treatment.
What was the logic in playing him on the point in the power play over Dougie Hamilton? Fine, whatever if Bob Hartley didn’t feel Hamilton was worthy of power play time – even though he’s tied for second in team scoring with the man advantage – what did Colborne do to “earn” it? Again? Was it his sparkling 0 power play points this season despite him being given every single opportunity possible?
Furthermore: why is he the choice to be the team’s extra attacker? He’s 10th in team scoring. There are, using the most basic stats available, nine better options than him. Five of them are already out there; that still leaves four other guys more likely to help actually tie a game in the dying minute.
He played more than Micheal Ferland, he played more than Michael Frolik, he played more than Hudler. And Hudler was one of the best forwards the Flames had.
Explain, please. There’s favouritism, and then there’s whatever this is.