Kings 2, Flames 1 post-game embers: Keep playing the kids

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.

  • Kevin R

    They need to get Engellend off of Hamilton’s pairing. Hamilton has been playing different since Engs has been paired up with him. Can we get a 4th or 5th for Engs on Monday as a depth playoff guy. What if we carry 1.0 mill of his salary?

    Hope Colborne is being showcased to be part of a Russell or Hudler package to get a Nichushkin or Drouin. Not that those two would get one of these guys, I know we will have to add but those guys are the type of targets I see BT honing in on as the perfect pieces to speed up this rebuild.
    After last night, we definitely need more talent.

    • everton fc

      Russell. Hudler. Colborne. Jones. Wideman. Hiller. All need to be moved. I’d have added Stajan, and maybe even Bouma, but can’t. Yet. And if we had depth down the left side, who does the organization value more, Bouma, or Colborne??

      The 7th defender should be Kulak. He should play with Hamilton. Why not?

      Engelland should be the 7th defender. He’s earned stripes this season, and is probably to expensive to move, though “you never know”. He’s had a good year. He’s good with young defenders. Other team’s know this…

      Treliving has to be talking to the Bolts and Stars about both players. And don’t forget Matt Murray, though i think the Pens would be crazy to move him.

      We need wings. Our defence looks like it’s coming together, and the farm has a few potential players on the cusp of “ready”. Some of the plays above (Wideman, for example) may require eating salary. Something we should try to avoid, obviously. Tampa, Dallas – both loping for defence. Florida is looking for help. Ditto Pittsburgh.

      And the Canadiens… Who would they sell, and what do they need??

      And there’s no question Ortio just won the starting job, as Hartley’s been riding the hot goalie all year, for the most part. He’ll get the balance of starts until he falters. Here’s hoping he doesn’t.

      • everton fc

        Hudler and Russell are two of the best players available this deadline. Colborne, Jones and Wideman would all help teams looking for depth in the playoffs. You get less for the latter three, Colborne probably scores you the most, which ain’t sayin’ much! But Colborne’s still young. They may hold onto him. He has done more offensively than Granlund. Can’t argue that. And maybe playing w/Backlund helps him find his place on this team (why Bouma isn’t playing w/Backlund, who he had chemistry with in the past, I find interesting)

        Though I’d rather see Agostino on the left side, than Colborne.

      • Kevin R

        Did you read my post. I know they won’t be enough we would have to add. & add significantly. Point is, those are the type of targets if you want to speed up the rebuild, which seems to be Burkes & BT’s mandate.

  • aflame13

    I only saw highlights, but Ortio looked great and poised in a few clips. It looked like he had great lateral movement and awareness. If he can do that the majority of the time, he’ll be an NHL goalie

  • Mullen7

    Please please PLEASE let them be showcasing Colborne for a trade!

    Let it turn out that Hartley is a mad genius who has been favoring Colborne, Russell, Bolig, etc. because we are going to gloriously trade them for sweet, sweet assets.

    • wot96

      Nah. Hrudey is quite the homer. The embellishment call on Frolik was poor but aside from that I didn’t see anything worth remarking.

      I’m not sure why anyone things we should be targeting Drouin or Nichushkin – they aren’t actually proven talents and TB and Dallas are not going to hand them over for a crutch and a motorized unicycle, or a bag of pucks.

      Here’s the thing, right now we seem to be missing at least one and maybe two top six forwards. We suck for most of the rest of the season and the reward is that we get a good draft pick and maybe fill that need, in part, in June. But we lose Hudler too. Leaving us…one maybe two top six forwards short of a load next year too.

      Well cr@p. Were it possible to do so, I would keep Hudler. I’m not convinced that someone is going to back the brinks truck up for him. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe he’ll like Calgary enough that he will take a discount after Johnny and Mony get paid.

      But if he does get PAID or doesn’t but doesn’t sign here, the Flames aren’t materially better after the draft unless they luck out and get in the top three (and even then it isn’t certain). We would (still) have to hope that someone in Stockton or elsewhere or that we can acquire (because top six wingers are easy to find, and cheap) can step up.

      Who’s that going to be? Poirier? Agostino? They don’t seem to shape up that way. Is there anyone currently playing that can step up? Many want Ferland to be that guy but…

      Sorry – just not seeing that we are better next year without Hudler unless BT pulls a scoring or playmaking winger out of his hat somehow.

      • Cfan in Vic

        The thing is, you’re looking at Present Day Hudler. He’s talented (regained some form), fills a role, and is good with the kids. That’s today, where he makes 4M per season.

        He’s going to get a raise. That’s a fact, largely related to his points last year. How big is another question. He’s going to decline. Another inevitable fact, as he’s crested his peak.

        We can’t keep declining vets on premium contracts. That cap money has to be thrown towards the up and coming kids, of which we have at least 3 needing contracts in the next few years.

        MUST cash in on Hudler as best we can. There’s no other choice. A good draft pick is critical to replacing that talent, yet far from guaranteed. We can’t look at Hudler as the answer, moving forward.

    • hulkingloooooob

      you know….i hate to sound like a conspiracy theorist but the reffing for the last 4 or 5 games has seemed really weird and one sided against the flames. The only other time i start to think this way is when things go weird in the playoffs and suddenly one team (usually the kings, nucks bruins etc….) get away with stuff you’d never let go in the regular season.

      now maybe i’m just seeing things through my (flames) rose tinted glasses but it does make me wonder if bettman et al have the refs in their pocket/corner and give them little instructions to lean this way or that. I can see betts seeing the flames as an exciting team down the road if we get a top draft choice, so maybe he’s just trying to help us get there….haha. i know this is rediculous but sometimes so is the reffing.

      anyway, go columbus/toronto/edmonton/winny/buffalo go! i’m hoping we can get a top pick without tanking cause all the basement teams go on winning streaks. a boy can dream!

  • Baalzamon

    Is it just me or has David Jones been just awful lately? Bennett was hindered less by BRANDON BOLLIG against the Ducks than he has been by Jones in the other two games.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    Squadron. I love that word. It’s right up there with Juggernaut.

    I have to think that Bobby is smart enough to see that Colbort hasn’t had a single PP point this year, despite getting lots of PPTOI. So he must be trying to showcase him, hoping that he finally gets a couple of points and then traded for more than beans.

    I really do think that Colbort’s only real value to any team is his shoot out ability, and with 3v3 the shoot out is pretty rare now, so Colbort’s NHL value is really damn small. Trading him might be tough.

    Ortio played well last night, I thought, although what the heck do I know. I’d like to see him get some regular starts, so he can have a chance to prove himself. It would come at the cost of Hiller, but he had his chances and didn’t do much.

  • Captain Ron

    Colbourne would be a healthy scratch most nights on a good team. No chance he is here when the team improves to contender status. He is and always has been a fringe player. My biggest beef with Hartley is his inexplicable love affair with this guy. Playing him more than Hudler and Frolik is madness.

  • hulkingloooooob

    as for the game last night…..lots of good happening out there.

    1 – we lost. (i’m so sad to say it but yes, this is a good thing for our rebuild. obvi, but i’m not one for tanking.

    2- orts was great! as everyone knows, goalies can take a while, most good ones start as projects and then finally grow into solid nhlers. so show a little patience, throw the guy a bone (a string of starts) and sign him for cheap for next year. nothing to lose there. plus he has good hair.

    3 – jooris was playing well! keep him as we need guys like that. big time!

    4 – the third pairing. wow, i mean, they look really good out there. and they are still learning. theres no way both of them don’t improv significantly given solid time in the nhl. so i feel like we NEED to sign them both (they are both up for contracts no?) or get something decent in return. naks i was expecting but t-spoon, looks better then i thought.

    5- as for colby, damn, i mean the package is there for this guy to turn into a seriously good player, but we’ve watched it time after time, he just doesn’t have the “quick wit” needed to play this game at this speed. thus is best on a fourth line and i for one don’t want him on mine… i think they really had to try and get him out of his funk, give him more opportunity then is even fair to others, but damn, i think it’s well past time to throw in the towel. so when did the “teaching” end and the “marketing” begin? who knows but i sure hope someone bites. love ya joe but calgary needs to move on….

  • FlamesFan1489

    I said this in the game thread by Colborne is like the kid you played little league with, whose dad was the coach of the team, and made him starting shortstop despite the fact he has no hands.

  • Justthateasy

    I agree the Colborne should not be on the power play. He does have skills and he does remind me of Jagr with that a long reach.
    LA looked so much more organized and skilled than the flames. They had their breakdowns as well but what is the intangible that allowed them to play keep away on the cycle.?
    The referees were a definite factor in calling a phantom tripping on the flames and then equalizing with a diving on a real tripping call against the flames.