Welcome to the rest of the season.
Last night was game one of 21. The Flames lost. They have 20 more games to do their best (or worst, depending on how you look at it) to secure themselves a spot near the bottom of the NHL. Sure, winning would still be fun – but with winning comes points, and points decrease your lottery odds. And right now, there’s one goal left for this season: increase them.
Game one was a success, but at least it was an interesting route to it.
A decent debut
The Flames would have been shorthanded for this game, had they not had the foresight to pull Garnet Hathaway out of Stockton and bring him over to the east. Of course, they knew it was a risk – with David Jones, the Flames had 12 forwards, and he was obviously on the block – but it was one they prepared for, and as a result, Hathaway got to make his NHL debut.
We’re encroaching on Josh Jooris story territory. An undrafted 24-year-old who eventually works his way up to an NHL contract and gets to play? Sounds familiar. Jooris came about in a bit more immediately gratifying way – playing his way onto the team from training camp (and waiting for someone on the main roster to get hurt, which didn’t take long) – while Hathaway toiled in the minors until they had to bring somebody up.
Hathaway played 12:51, which was more than the entire fourth line, and two seconds more than Micheal Ferland. He wasn’t thrown to the wolves (in fact, he was heavily sheltered, seeing a lot of the offensive zone and the bottom of the barrel when it comes to Flyers competition), but his dreams weren’t immediately stymied, either. It was pretty much as ideal a debut as one could hope for a prospect towards the end of the season, even without his breakaway chance.
He registered three hits and was generally a physical nuisance all night – and it paid off in the form of Ferland’s goal. Hitting Michael Raffl took the puck away from him and started the cycle on which his linemate scored; it was great to see Hathaway display singleminded focus on the play, too, making sure the puck was in after the goal happened. Play to the whistle, and the whistle hadn’t gone yet, so he kept playing.
War on Ice credits Hathaway with three high danger scoring chances, tying Michael Frolik for the most on the Flames. He actually got credited with just three individual corsi events period, so hey, you know he was picking his spots.
Is Hathaway a full time NHLer? Well, the Flames have already burned one of their recall spots on him and have zero extra forwards to speak of, so we might get a little closer to answering that question as the season goes on. But he performed about as well as one could expect in his first game.
T.J. Brodie, offensive defenceman
Brodie is rolling along with 40 points in 53 games played; like Johnny Gaudreau, he’s one away from matching a career high – except this one has taken him 28 fewer games to get there. He’s third in Flames scoring, two points up on Mark Giordano and four back of Sean Monahan.
Brodie only has four goals to his name. But just look at his passing plays, and it’s easy to understand where all these points are coming from. He’s second on the Flames with 36 assists: three behind Gaudreau in eight fewer games played, and 11 up on Jiri Hudler. He’s fifth in the entire NHL when it comes to defencemen assists: one back of Kris Letang (who has played two fewer games than him), and six back of P.K. Subban (nine more games played) and John Klingberg (11 more). (Erik Karlsson leads the pack with 56.)
Brodie is one of the leading defencemen scorers nobody is talking about, because nobody thinks of him as an offensive defenceman. He rarely scores goals, he’s adverse to shooting, and he’s only just now getting first unit power play time.
I think of it this way: Brodie is becoming one of the best in the world at something, and it isn’t widely discussed, because it isn’t even his best skill.
If he is not on the World Cup roster, I am not cheering for Team Canada.
Which defenceman comes out of the lineup?
While the Flames have no extra forwards, they have one extra defenceman. Jyrki Jokipakka is joining the Flames in Boston, and at some point, somebody will have to sit.
It obviously won’t be Brodie, Giordano, or Dougie Hamilton. Deryk Engelland played nearly 20 minutes last night and seems cemented in his top four role, so you have to think his spot in the lineup is safe, too. And besides – Jokipakka was a bottom pairing guy for Dallas, so it would make sense to have him play in that role here as well.
So that leaves the question: Jakub Nakladal or Tyler Wotherspoon?
Nakladal and Wotherspoon both play roughly the same minutes, but Nakladal gets more time on the power play (2:07 last night) than Wotherspoon does on the penalty kill (52 seconds). In Dallas, Jokipakka played a bit on the penalty kill, but basically never saw power play time. Nakladal being a regular on the power play now seems to point towards Wotherspoon sitting when Jokipakka draws into the lineup.
Here’s another reason: via the AHL transactions page, both Joni Ortio and Wotherspoon were sent down and then called back up, making them eligible to play for the Heat should they make the playoffs. Nakladal, on the other hand? He wasn’t – and it’s likely the NHL from here on out for him, at least this season.