Photo credit: Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports
Once again, the Flames deserved to win a game, but this time, they did just that. Only they had to give up a two-goal lead and play through overtime in order to get their win, which is hopefully the sort of thing they’ll avoid as they progress through their rebuild.
But when they could only come away with a two-goal lead after mostly dominating the game (and especially shot clock), there was good reason to be uneasy. And once the Predators came within a goal, the second felt almost inevitable. Poor defensive coverage unnecessarily turns games into nail-biters, and that’s what happened last night.
Another thing that happened? Johnny Gaudreau.
Back to a point-per-game again
Gaudreau has been a point-per-game player most of this season, but four straight games without a point put him back into a hole. You know, if you can really call 63 points in 65 games a hole.
But a three-point night cured that, and now Gaudreau is up to 66 in 66, courtesy of two goals in 10 seconds and Johnny Gaudreau simply existing in 3-on-3 overtime. He’s tied for sixth place in overall NHL scoring, but Sidney Crosby has played one less game than him. At the same time, he’s two points back of being third in NHL scoring, so.
This is Gaudreau’s second NHL season. He has 131 points. He’s still 10th in scoring for his draft class, but he’s on the verge of overtaking a couple of players, some of who have played 100, 200 more games than he has. He now sits at 26 goals on the season, and is on pace for 32. He’s finally passed his rookie scoring totals; 64 points is no longer a career season for him. He’s on pace for 81 this season.
And while he didn’t get a hat trick after all, Gaudreau has back-to-back 40-assist seasons – and his overtime assist was beautiful, waiting to get the puck right through Shea Weber and up to a perfectly in position Mikael Backlund. This was actually the first time Gaudreau has gotten the starting shift in overtime; with T.J. Brodie unavailable, Bob Hartley opted to go with two forwards and a defenceman as opposed to his usual fare.
Remember when he was too small to play in the NHL? Not that you really think of Mikael Backlund as a big guy, but (via flamesandpenguins on Tumblr):
What a precious little celebration.
Micheal Ferland, top line forward?
With Jiri Hudler gone, somebody has to take the third spot on the Flames’ top line alongside Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Unfortunately, with Hudler gone, there really isn’t anybody fit to take his place.
Which means it’s time to experiment! Josh Jooris, Garnet Hathaway, and Michael Frolik have all gotten looks, but last night it was Micheal Ferland’s turn. He was actually getting a bit of a look earlier in the season, once Hartley realized Joe Colborne wasn’t ever going to become a thing up there, but an injury of his own, plus a healthy (and trade-bound) Hudler pushed him off, and we haven’t really seen him up there until, well, now.
Ferland was… okay. He gets scoring chances when he plays, but he also only has four goals this season; not much is really going in for him. Barring an offensive breakout that may never even happen, he absolutely does not look like a long-term answer; then again, nobody on the current roster, or even in the system at the moment, really does.
Hence: awaiting the draft. But in the meantime, it doesn’t hurt to at least keep trying him out there. He was the Flames’ top corsi player at even strength, right up there with Gaudreau, but without real first liner ice time. At absolute worst, he could at least keep up, for the most part. Though only one of his 12 points this season has come with Monahan and Gaudreau thus far.
But sooner or later, there have to be points; if not, then his future looks to be more on the bottom six.
Which is fine. But the answer, he most likely is not. There are still 15 games left to play this season, though; someone’s gotta be on the top line through them, and there’s no reason Ferland can’t get an extended look.
A very different defence
Who, in the Flames’ defensive lineup last night, would you classify as the shutdown guy? Some of the defencemen the Flames have don’t really project to be scorers, but they don’t strike as the physical guy known primarily for hard, punishing hits, either. Instead they were all smart, mobile players who could either jump up into the play or break it up as it was coming back.
It was really, really entertaining to watch.
Brodie left the game with just 16:47 played, though when he left, he was still one of the Flames’ most-used defencemen. With him gone, other blueliners had to step it up.
Not so much Jakub Nakladal (12:57) and Tyler Wotherspoon (13:43), who acted as the bottom pairing. But Dougie Hamilton (27:12) and Mark Giordano (27:20) had to play huge minutes, and worked fairly well together. This definitely isn’t like the start of the season anymore.
But we need to talk about Kevin. Jyrki Jokipakka played a career high 23:13, and he didn’t look out of place after being asked to step it up. Brodie was his most common defence partner, with Nakladal following up when Brodie was done for the night.
No matter who he was playing with, though, Jokipakka just looked poised and confident all over the ice. He was a third pairing guy in Dallas, but he’s also just 24 years old. It’s his second NHL season. If there are more games like this one in him – more games where he’s in a clearly defined top four role, and looking comfortable with it, even as he faces some of a team’s top competition (Roman Josi, James Neal, Shea Weber)… well.
We’ll find out. Hopefully he gets more chances there. Because if the Flames really did end up getting a top four guy in his mid-20s as part of the return package for Kris Russell… That’s a lot to dream about, but it’s a nice dream, and one that might just come true.