Photo credit: Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports
The last time the Flames had a multi-goal win over the Blues was Oct. 28, 2011, when they defeated them 3-1. Tom Kostopoulos and Roman Horak got the Flames a 2-0 lead, but a mere 12 seconds after Horak’s goal, Alexander Steen scored to bring St. Louis back within one. Fortunately, an Olli Jokinen empty netter sealed the deal, and Miikka Kiprusoff stopped 28 of 29 shots in the win.
… It’s been a while.
Last night wasn’t just one of the best efforts we’ve seen from the Flames against the Blues in several years, though – it was one of the best games of the season, almost completely uninterrupted from start to finish.
When you get going, you get going
The Flames didn’t have a single shot attempt until 5:03 into the game; their first actual shot didn’t come until Kenny Agostino registered it 1:01 later. But that was the start of a flurry of activity for the Flames, culminating in that bizarre bounce that gave Joe Colborne a wide empty net to shoot at, and to his credit, he didn’t miss.
The Blues came right back with some wacky bounces of their own – and Joni Ortio is completely blameless on that second goal against; he played it correctly, and the puck came back off the official. Physics, or Dennis Wideman conspiracy? – but that didn’t deter the Flames.
Just as it never deterred them when they had to go on the penalty kill; rather, the Flames outscored the Blues on their power plays 2-1. And they kept the pressure up… and up… and up all throughout the second.
So there was the expected drop off in the third, when they were up three goals and seemed to be more messing around to try to get Sean Monahan his first career hat trick more than anything else. But the Inferno the Flames are not, and really, if anything, this works as a great learning opportunity.
You played well most of the game. You got the win, a bunch of you picked up a lot of points. Now don’t take your foot off the gas again.
Three point nights for everybody!
Or rather, for four people. Let’s have some fun with basic stats.
Johnny Gaudreau had a three assist night: two primary, one secondary. In two of his last three games, he’s had three point nights. The Arizona Coyotes held him off the board, but look out: Gaudreau now has 69 nice points over 68 games. He’s almost certainly going to be a 70 point player in just his second year in the NHL. Probably an 80 point guy. He’s on pace for 82 now, and he had to sit out that one game against the Leafs (and imagine how many more points he could’ve picked up that night).
Gaudreau is up to 134 points over 149 games for his career. That ties him with Andrew Shaw for ninth overall in points by players drafted in 2011, except Shaw has played 165 more games. He’s three points behind Nikita Kucherov for eighth, seven behind Mika Zibanejad for seventh, 13 behind Sean Couturier for sixth. Every player ahead of him has already passed the 200 games played mark; Gaudreau is only just going to get his 150th.
Monahan has scored seven two-goal games in his career, but he’s yet to get his first hat trick. He came close with the empty netter right in front of him, but he was generous and gave it up for his teammate who had, arguably, the more awesome night. Still – it was a three point night for Monahan, which now puts him at 51 points on the season, on pace for 61 overall. He scored 62 points last year, so – consistency!
Monahan is not as awesome as Gaudreau, that much has become clear over the course of the season. But we can’t forget that he’s still going to get paid. Look no further than the stats of the 2013 draft class. Nathan MacKinnon has scored the most, with 151 points through 216 games, but… oh. Monahan has 147 points through 224, now. And I’d wager he passes MacKinnon this season to become the top scorer of his draft year. Right before his entry level contract comes up? Good timing for him.
Dougie Hamilton had a three assist night: two secondary, and one absolutely gorgeous stretch pass that makes you excited for how dangerous a pairing of Hamilton and T.J. Brodie can be in the very, very near future. He has 34 points through 69 games this season, on pace for 40.
Now, that wouldn’t set a new career high, but he’s just eight points back of that – and that’s all the while he’s had to fight and claw for ice time, time on the power play, to be treated as a top four defenceman in general. (Deryk Engelland played nearly five more minutes than him last night, to which I say: WHAT?) Assuming he’s accepted as such next season, it’s probably going to be a really big year for him. In the meantime: 117 points through 247 games, the highest scoring defenceman of the 2011 draft class. (Second is Adam Larsson, who has 67 in 262.)
Michael Frolik, in general
— ari y (@thirtyfourseven) March 15, 2016
Frolik scored the second hat trick of his career. Both have been pretty special ones, too! You may remember his first, against the Edmonton Oilers back on Oct. 31, when he scored the game winner with just nine seconds to go – the Flames’ first regulation win of the season.
This one was just as awesome, though. Okay, so it involved an empty netter… and two shorthanded goals. Shorthanded goals aren’t that common to begin with, let alone two in one game.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) March 15, 2016
It’s hard to believe that’s the first time Frolik has scored shorthanded all season – but he’s now tied for sixth in the NHL with four shorthanded points, and that’s really awesome.
(No, Frolik has zero power play points this season; no, he did not play a second on the power play this game. Joe Colborne led everybody with 4:18 on the man advantage. Yes, I agree: dghoisfhdsgpjdsgkl;dhlfd??? Frolik has more points on the kill than Colborne does on the power play, but okay?)
And here’s a really fun thing in regards to Frolik’s performance on the kill last night: his corsi +/-, exclusively shorthanded, was +2. A positive corsi differential shorthanded is just insane. For perspective, Alex Pietrangelo played 3:03 on the Blues’ power play, and his corsi differential then was +1 – Frolik out-possessed him on his own man advantages.
Now, let’s go back to that tweet up above, and acknowledge the alternate spelling of Michael, too.
Mikael Backlund and Frolik were meant to play together. Frolik assisted on Backlund’s shorthanded goal the game before, so now it was Mikael’s turn to return the favour.
And look – I’m all for experimentation as the season winds down and there’s nothing left to really play for, but prior to the third period, Backlund and Frolik were the Flames’ starting forwards on the kill, as they should be. When the Blues scored a power play goal 10 seconds into a penalty in the third, though, it was Backlund and Monahan out there, and it was unmitigated chaos. It was Backlund and Monahan again together late in the game, and Frolik and Lance Bouma when Frolik scored his second shorthanded goal – and that’s fine, for now.
But next season, Backlund and Frolik have to be the go-to guys on the kill, assuming both are available. That’s the Flames’ strongest shorthanded pairing, even when you don’t count the three goals in the past two games.
I also love the idea of playing Agostino on a line with them. This solidifies just how perfect they are for each other: it doesn’t matter who you put with them, they’ll succeed. So they’re the perfect pair to place a rookie alongside and help break him into the NHL.
For example: of Sam Bennett’s 32 points this season, Backlund leads the way by having had a hand in 14 of them; Frolik is second on the Flames with eight. It’s time for Bennett to play centre, so that line likely won’t be reuniting any time soon, but to get your start in the NHL, with the right linemates? Backlund and Frolik played a huge hand in that – and Agostino is having a good couple of games to start, in part because he’s playing with guys who will ensure he stays above water.
Here’s the one problem: the Flames don’t have enough forward talent. Picture this: a Flames lineup in which Backlund and Frolik are on the third line, either breaking in a rookie or shutting down the opposition (or both), leading the kill and chipping in 40 or so points apiece each season. Who plays above them? Gaudreau, Monahan, Bennett, sure, maybe the 2016 first rounder as well. Two spots still need to be filled. Do they come from within? Free agency? How does it all fit under the cap?
But go back to that picture, with Backlund and Frolik deservedly on the third line, and tell me the possibilities of such a forward lineup don’t have you really, really excited. It’s still a matter of getting there, and it’s going to be difficult; the hardest part of building a team, in fact – but if the Flames do get there, they have the depth firmly in place to become a force.