Flames 3, Predators 2 (OT) post-game embers: Still some things to cheer for

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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.

  • cberg

    I’ve noticed with Ferland the last little while, as well as last night, that he often misses the net with his shots. As you mentioned he is definitely getting his scoring chances, and can keep up, but when he shoots its almost as if he loses focus and the puck veers off. It is frustrating to watch, almost like he has the yips, as he could easily have had a couple goals last night. I hope he continues on the top line to see if he can get comfortable there and get in a groove with Gaudier and Monahan, because, man, he really fits the bill in many other aspects.

    As for Jokipakka, wow, he had a great game. I recall a stretch in the 2nd period where it seemed the announcer was Jokipakka, this, Jokipakka clearing, Jokipakka… Distinctive name and it was very present.

    The only downside I saw last night, and this is common with most of the Flames D, is taking the man out in the scrums in front of the net. Still relies a lot on his stick rather than bowling guys over (not technically legal, I know, but generally accepted) but almost everyone on the Flames do this. Frustrating as it leads to mad scrambles and goals like the Preds scored last night…. Of course, having relatively small forwards battling in the scrums doesn’t help things out either.

  • brodiegio4life

    the dman depth on the flames is becoming one of their biggest strengths, problem is flushing out all those garbage vet contracts of smid wideman engallend so that some of these younger guys can stay in the lineup

  • RedMan

    “…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.”

    i gotta be honest, i thought this player was more of a throw-in for the deal to keep both teams at the same amount of contracts and keep from having to send ‘Kevin’ down to their AHL camp, and I didn’t expect much from the player. In fact, when he showed up in the NHL instead of the AHL, it definitely caused raised eyebrows.

    He has looked good though, as have the other defensive prospects (Nakladal/Wotherspoon).

    Now, what to do with the placeholder Engelland, which would actually make an excellent 5/6/7 guy if the money was right, and Wideman (a marked-man) and (the-broken) Smid?

    can the team afford to send these guys down? i don’t think so, as we need room in our AHL team to add prospects graduating to pro (like Rasmus Andersson).

    My guess – Flames buy out both Smid and Wideman, assuming Smid is not placed on LTI until his contract is over, or trades wideman by retaining salary, and Engelland becomes the 6/7 guy that rotates in and out next year when one of the prospects needs to see the game from above or their is a need for a heavy in the lineup/.

  • Parallex

    Yeah, I don’t think “Michael Ferland Top Six Winger” will ever be a real thing… but we’re in garbage time now so it’s the time to experiment. I can easily see him slotting alongside Backlund and Frolik thou… The Mike line.

    Glad that Jokipakka stepped it up, if he can do it night in night out then we would have traded Russell for a younger, cheaper, bigger, better D-man AND a good prospect AND a 2nd/1st round pick… how great a trade would that be.

  • WildfireOne

    Based on what I saw last night (well, actually since he got here), I would take Kevin over Russell and his walrusing any and every night.

    Kevin reminds me of a younger, more mobile, better passing, unbroken version of Ladislav.

    One thing is clear: we don’t miss Wideman, Russell, or Smid. I would add Engelland and his inability to make passes to anyone with a Flaming C on their jersey to this list, but he can hit and that makes him useful….ish.

  • RedMan

    talking about defenseman,

    I have to believe that Wideman is a marked man now, like Bertuzzi was after he broke Moore’s neck.

    Remember when Flames brought in Bertuzzi? he could hardly look at another player without being called for a penalty for 2 years after the incident.

    this is how it will be for Wideman, but maybe even worse.

    Anyone else expecting this?

    and what is with the atrocious officiating this year? it hasn’t been this bad for a while. and I’m not talking about the conspiracy theories involving some kind of “Wideman effect”, I’m tlaking about league wide.

    example involves the Nurse altercation; not only should there not have been any fighting penalty assessed to Polak, but nurse should definitely have received a 2 and 5, plus a 10 minute and game misconduct, as notes by Fraser:

    …Polak didn’t deserve the fighting major penalty that he was assessed. To be perfectly frank, Roman Polak did not deserve a single penalty in this encounter with Nurse. Bloodied and with his gloves still on his hands, Polak was a victim of the unprovoked attack.

    The penalty assessment in this incident was poorly handled. A player that is deemed to be both the instigator and the aggressor of an altercation, shall be assessed an instigating minor penalty, a major penalty for fighting, a ten minute misconduct which is elevated to a game misconduct in the final five minutes, plus an additional game misconduct for being the aggressor. That is what Darnell Nurse should have been assessed on this play instead of a roughing minor and five minutes for fighting.

    http://www.tsn.ca/c-mon-ref-darnell-nurse-and-rule-46-11-1.450649

    • piscera.infada

      example involves the Nurse altercation; not only should there not have been any fighting penalty assessed to Polak, but nurse should definitely have received a 2 and 5, plus a 10 minute and game misconduct, as notes by Fraser:

      I don’t really want to get into the Nurse thing, because low-hanging fruit (I have personal beliefs on it, but that’s neither here nor there).

      However, It’s kind of funny because Hathaway (correctly) had the exactly same thing called against him (minus the game misconduct) in the game against the Sharks. No one can tell me Hathaway’s was any more instigating than Nurse. At least Burns directly pumped him in the dome before. Nurse was just choked about a phantom trip (that didn’t even occur).

      Now, I’m still not tinfoil hatting officiating, but it does go to show you how inconstant the calls are from crew-to-crew, night-to-night.

  • Brodano12

    Ferland may not have gotten any points, but he’s been really good on the top line imo. They’ve always been very effective when he’s up there making room for Gaudreau and Monahan to do their shit. He’s great at board play and laying on a heavy forecheck – things that Gaudreau and Monahan aren’t as good at – which really helps that line keep possession in the offensive zone. Because he’s doing all the dirty work, he doesn’t get as many points, but the top line’s possession stats are always stellar when he plays on it.

    Not sure if he’s a long term solution, but he always seems on the cusp of a breakout, so who knows? If he actually hit the net on his scoring chances he’d have at least a dozen more goals this year.

    As for the question of defense – I think between Wotherspoon, Nakladal and Jokipakka, one of the three will end up as a legitimate top 4 option to play alongside Dougie next year. My guess is Wotherspoon, since his defense first, physical style of play is a good complement to Hammy (like Regehr to Phaneuf). He’s only been on for one goal against in his time up, and that was on the PK. Zero ES goals against in almost a 100 minutes of ice time is very impressive in the NHL, especially for a 22 year old. And his possession stats have been very good in the limited sample size, though that can be said for any of the three.

    Once we get rid of Smid and Wideman through LTIR/trade/buyout, then our defense core will be one of the best in the league, and it will help cover for our average goaltending until Gillies is ready. Then we can win the cup.

  • Baalzamon

    I think it’s becoming pretty clear that Jokipakka was held back by Jordie Benn in Dallas.

    We’ll see if Kevin can be a top four guy, but it’s pretty plain by now that he’s a perfectly serviceable third pair.

  • KiLLKiND

    On the note of experimentation I want to see Backlund on the 1st ine with Frolik and Gaudreau. We all probably realize that Monahan is being bumped up by playing with Gaurdeau. Gaudreau can make silky smooth passes that anybody can tap in. Backlund is our best corsi% centre, and has never been given a chance with Johnny. When he and Johnny played together in OT it looked like Backlund was making better reads of Gaudreau than Monahan. I think Backlund would be able to surprise quite a few of us with his offense if he got a chance.

    This also lets us find out how much Monahan is doing himself compared to with Gaudreau. Which would be really great for upcoming contract talks.

    Gaudreau – Backlund – Frolik

    Ferland – Monahan – Jooris

    Agostino – Stajan – Hathaway

    Bouma – Colborne – Engelland

    This is obviously assuming Bennett is hurt for a period of time and the Flames call up Agostino. This shouldn’t really effect the Flames top lines though. This would also already be Calgary’s 3rd and potentially 4th call ups if Kulak gets called up as well. I hope they are saving their last call up for Grant, if possible. Especially with Wideman’s decision coming I don’t think they will need to call up a defensemen for at most 1 game, as Engelland is a maybe same with Brodie, and Wideman.

    • RedMan

      I would prefer to see Agostino and Hathaway with Monahan; otherwise, yeah bring it on!

      also, why did you put Engelland on the fourth line? was that an error?

      • KiLLKiND

        Hahaha I meant to put in Bollig, thanks for catching it. As far has Monny being with Agostino and Hathaway that is a very real possibility, I just thought that going with Stajan would be a great learning and development line. Stajan is really one of our veteran leaders and getting him off the 4th line every once in a while would be nice. I also was hoping that the three of Ferland Monahan and Jooris clicked as a unit.

        @CBerg Yeah the season is over and really outside of Gaudreau and Brodie the Flames haven’t had much to be wowed by this year. Monahan is developing and same with Bennett which is great, but Backlund was supposed to be a high offensive draft pick and I have no complaints with what he has become, I still want to see him given a chance. I think you could make an argument that he is the best all-round centre Calgary has had for the last 10 years. He does all the little things right and can play really well against the other teams top lines. I just think he can put Gaudreau even more over the top than Monahan.

        • Baalzamon

          I think you could make an argument that [Backlund] is the best all-round centre Calgary has had for the last 10 years.

          I love me some Mickis, but let’s be honest here… Daymond Langkow is the best all-around center Calgary has had in the last 20 years.

        • piscera.infada

          but Backlund was supposed to be a high offensive draft pick

          He actually wasn’t. He was never a player with a high offensive ceiling. This is one of the biggest misconceptions amongst Flames fans.

          He never produced at a high level in any of his pre-draft, draft, or post-draft seasons in Sweden. He never produced at a high level at the AHL level. He only really produced numbers at the WHL level in 28 games as an overager (roughly 1 point per game), and in Sweden during the 2012-13 lockout (again, roughly 1 point per game).

          Backlund is what he is, an exceptional (if not elite) defensive forward. People projected him rather unfairly as being “offensively gifted” because he was a first round European draft pick, by a guy who usually picked the ‘big western Canadian’ (Sutter). He never actually showed that though.

          • OKG

            It’s a little bit of both. They definitely sold Mikael Backlund as a “skilled, high-IQ” player, and he represented a shift in drafting philosophy.

            But skilled doesn’t mean elite skill, it just means… skill. And I think Backlund is showing his skill.

          • piscera.infada

            He is skilled with a high-IQ–no doubt about that. But “skilled” does not necessarily mean “offenisvely skilled”.

            The point is, some people always expected him to produce more offensively. He has never shown that kind of a ceiling in his hockey career. So is it really fair to expect that?

    • cberg

      While I agree Backlund might really explode with Gaudreau, I don’t like those lines as I believe Backlund can carry a line on his own (and has been this year) whereas I am somewhat suspect that Monahan can do the same. Of course, it might light a fire under Monahan and he may surprise us, which would be a great thing… OK, try it.

  • Flaymin Frank

    Love Ortio’s work in the last 3 games. Can’t help but wonder if we’d started the season this way the playoffs may have been a reality this year. The boys have seemed really energized for the last three outings – that’s what will happen when your goalie makes timely saves. Nothing saps your team’s mojo more than soft goals going in your net.

    Its a small sample size but I’m hoping we’re seeing what Ortio is consistently capable of doing on a nightly basis.

  • Flaymin Frank

    Glad to see Ferland get a look on the top line. He hasn’t exactly lit it up but this guy is deserving of it and I feel he’s one of those players who’s gonna take a few years to blossom into top six player. Luv the fact that he’s a prairie dog kid who has a fire in his belly. There’s been a few times where we’ve seen his slick hands with the puck, he’s more than just an ‘energy’ player.

    I think this kid is all about self confidence. When he’s got lots, we’re gonna see some good stuff for years to come.

  • mattyc

    Couple thoughts from the game last night:

    – I thought Nakladal looked really good (relatively speaking). To me, he’s the kind of player you should build your bottom pairing around; he’s a good skater, reasonably strong defensively, and is cost-efficient. Having him and Engelland as a 3rd pairing next year would be alright by me. (Though imagine having Naklada + Schlemko as the 3rd pairing this year…)

    – By my eye, Wotherspoon really struggled. His positioning is OK, be he often makes a poor breakout pass, and has been caught throwing the puck up the middle quite a few times.

    – I thought “Kevin” was OK, though his skating leaves something to be desired.

    – Backlund: I would love to see him play with scoring wingers. I agree with (what seems to be predominantly) the old-school types that he’s not a primary-scorer, though he’s excellent at everything else. Though I also wonder if his numbers are somewhat muted because he’s played most of his minutes with guys who don’t really score much (Bouma, Jones, …), with Frolik being the exception.

  • everton fc

    Ferland’s off-season regiment should focus on proper release of the puck off the tape. Once he figures this out, he’ll pump in goals.

    As for Jokipakka, if he continues to play like he has thus far, this Russell trade is robbery.

  • mattyc

    One more:

    I’ve been a guy who’s been hard on Joe Colborne. By the eye-test, he’s looked a lot better the last quarter of the season. This is supported by the data as well: His possession stats have been steadily improving, and he’s been above 50% since the new year. Add in the fact that he’s been scoring at a 2nd line rate this year (2pts/60 mins), I’d expect him to get a new contract this summer from the Flames, and I think that’s probably the right call.

  • KACaribou

    I liked Ferland’s game last night on the top line. Yes it is frustrating to see him miss a lot of chances, but I agree he just has the yips. He’s nervous out there with the big boys, in my opinion.

    However, I will say that he keeps up and goes to the net and causes problems for the opposition nobody else seems to. He makes people aware he’s out there and I find that extra ice only makes Johnny and Mony better.

    As well, if the sh@t hits the fan “Ferkland” is a large enough presence to calm down a situation.

    My observation this season: He’s confused. I think his coaches are telling him he could be a player. Yet he is also a hitter. Is it possible to be both? Not sure, but I think so.

    Offensively Ferland has made strides this season, maybe not on the scoresheet but in his play and the amount he hangs onto the puck. Possibly at the expense of his hitting. But I thought the top line with Ferland last night dominated play very often. The more he plays with Johnny/Mony the more comfortable he will get.

    I hope it continues.

  • KiLLKiND

    Well one look on the top line couldn’t hurt even if he isn’t projected at being a great offensive producing guy. A guy that is able to possess the puck and get said puck to Gaudreau in the offensive zone will be a guy who gets points. That is one way I see it, give Gaudreau someonw who has enough skill that he can play against the oppositions shut-down line and post positive corsi numbers, is something I don’t think Monahan can do… yet.

    Monahan is still young and I see him becoming Calgary’s #2 C behind Bennett, so why don’t we let him play in a slightly more sheltered role albeit away from Gaudreau and see what he can do. He has been playing in a role over his head for the last few years and it might be hampering his development, take a look at Edmonton’s 1st’s. He needs to get more comfortable in all areas, especially the defensive zone. The season is over we should start teaching him how to play different roles, as he currently is not nearly as defensively inclined as previously hoped.

    Langkow is actually correct in being Calgary’s best centre of the last 20 years!