Photo credit: Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports
Joni Ortio’s first start of the 2015-16 season came nine games in. Mostly asked to sit in the press box, he finally waited out another goalie being sent down on waivers, and then, after sitting on the bench for two games, got to start – against the New York Islanders.
It didn’t go quite the same as this game. On Oct. 26, the Flames lost 4-0, Ortio only letting in a single goal against despite facing 24 shots through the first 40 minutes. But then the floodgates opened in the third period, and a surmountable 1-0 deficit turned into another three goals against. A second start and a 6-2 loss seemed to end things.
Four months later, Ortio got his first back-to-back starts of the season. And while his team only managed to score two goals for him over two games, he put together great back-to-back performances of .946 and .941 save percentages, and was one of the best Flames on the ice both times.
But hey, how about more goals for your goalie?
Ortio has yet to record a single win this season, but it’s hardly through any fault of his own. Well, maybe early on it was – but, when over a two-game effort you stop 67 of the 71 shots you face and don’t get a single win, that’s on your teammates for not producing, not you.
During Jonas Hiller’s recent stretch of starts, the Flames scored the following number of goals for him: one, four, three, five, and two. The Flames only won one game of the bunch – the five-goal game, a 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks – but 15 goals over a five-game stretch works out to three goals a game, which would have been enough for the Flames to have gotten Ortio the wins.
Just bad luck timing for him – but certainly indicative he should be the Flames’ starter going forward. Because especially right now, he’s proving the Flames really need to figure out just what they’ve got with him.
The last days of Hudreaunahan
Before the game started, Jiri Hudler left the warmups earlier than normal, causing an instant stir amongst fans and media. You know those seagulls in Finding Nemo that just say “mine” over and over?
Trade? Trade? Trade? Trade?
It turned out to be a false alarm, as Hudler is still a Flame – although it’s possible that was his final game, or the last one will be tomorrow. But once again, he’s giving us some really fond memories to go out on.
And you know what? That’s really nice. Because to start the season, Hudler was awful. And it didn’t just potentially decimate his trade value, but it also left you with a sour taste watching him. He was kicked off the first line, he was scratched – possibly healthy or not – and while we weren’t necessarily expecting the same Hudler that had a career season the year before, the Hudler we got was a pathetic, pale imitation.
He only has 10 goals at this point of the season – it almost feels inadequate in comparison.
But he’s come back to life as of late. His 10th goal of the season was yet another beautiful passing play between him and the kids. Through the 12 games played so far this month, he has four goals and 11 points. He looks alive out there again, a true pleasure to watch.
And seriously, that goal – his play – with Gaudreau and Monahan was beautiful. After one period, the trio were all sitting at 90% or above in even strength corsi; after two, they were still way up there, albeit more than one corsi event had finally gone against them.
They took a beating in the third period, but all three still finished confidently above 50%. Really, the only thing they did wrong was not scoring more than one goal on the night, because they were thoroughly dominating and controlling the ice most of the time.
It’s no coincidence that the Flames were dominating when they were; when the Islanders took over, it was when the top line dropped off. The third was the only negative corsi period they had all game.
Maybe the future, rebuilt incarnation of this team will be able to have more periods like the first and second ones – but with more goals.
3-on-3 OT: Still fun
When once the Flames could only win in overtime, nowadays, we barely see it anymore. The last time we did was two weeks ago, in what ended up being a 6-5 shootout win over the Sharks; before then, it was a 2-1 shootout loss to the Edmonton Oilers back on Jan. 16. The last time the Flames won in overtime? Dec. 15 over the Nashville Predators.
So it’s been a while. Though the Flames lost at the end, it was genuinely exciting, and they had quite a handful of chances. And really, if you look at them and the roster’s makeup, they have an excellent cast of characters to deploy.
Take a look at the defencemen used: T.J. Brodie (3:05), Dougie Hamilton (2:31), Mark Giordano (2:11), and Jakub Nakladal (0:56). The Flames’ top three defencemen are perfectly suited to the 3-on-3 game, all with the smarts and skating ability to both create offensive opportunities and the mobility to back check. There’s a reason Bob Hartley deploys two defencemen in 3-on-3: because he can, at no sacrifice to his team’s chances to win.
Then, there were the forwards: Sean Monahan (2:13), Johnny Gaudreau (2:08), and Mikael Backlund (1:02). That’s still leaving out a handful of forwards who probably should be out there, most notably Sam Bennett, maybe even Michael Frolik and, still presently a Flame, Hudler.
But as long as the Flames have Gaudreau, overtime will always be entertaining.
They lose, but still, appreciate the little things like these pic.twitter.com/SqhZVmnnuJ
— FlamesNation (@FlamesNation) February 26, 2016
One last thought
Remember how Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman were a steady part of the top four for the Flames last season, and kind of became the number one pairing when Giordano went down and Deryk Engelland ended up with Brodie?
The Flames have been without Russell and Wideman for a bit now. And while they aren’t winning, neither Wideman nor Russell seem particularly missed on the ice. It’s not ideal to have Engelland still playing top four minutes, but would the Flames be better off with Engelland on the bottom pairing and Russell or Wideman alongside Hamilton?
The new bottom pairing of Nakladal and Tyler Wotherspoon is even, evidently, more trusted than the previous Ladislav Smid – Engelland incarnation. Through four games so far this season, Wotherspoon has averaged 14:17 in ice time – more than the other three bottom pairing guys. Engelland is next up with 13:17, but that’s including his recent top four minutes. Nakladal comes in at 12:05, and remember, that includes his NHL debut in which he played just 1:45. And Smid clocks in at 11:35.
It’s good to see players without bloated contracts getting a chance, and proving they can outperform others. And this is precisely why you avoid giving money and term to mediocre players: because they get in the way.