Photo credit: Marilyn Indahl
Eight games to go until the formalities are over and the Flames can quietly slink off into the darkness that is the off-season.
On some level, you’ll miss them; on the other hand, this was a pretty bad game, and the sooner they’re all over with, maybe the better.
Poor Niklas Backstrom
I’ve generally always liked Niklas Backstrom. I’m pre-disposed to liking Finnish goalies in general, but he was just always there on the Minnesota Wild for the longest time. And while it’s obvious his best days are behind him, it was a rough night.
His Flames debut against the Montreal Canadiens wasn’t half-bad, but he was largely untested. Against the Wild, he suffered two quick goals against before settling in, and then had to defend against five power plays, three of which beat him (and his defence, for that matter), with insult added to injury when Nino Niederreteir put in a sixth goal against with the game clearly over.
(And so much for all those shorthanded goals. While the Flames got the occasional chance, the special teams still proved to be mostly as disastrous as ever. This has to be addressed in the off-season.)
There’s no time for love to be lost for the Wild, though: they’re three points up on the Colorado Avalanche for the final playoff spot in the west, and Colorado has a game in hand. They capitalized on the Flames early, and were able to ride that success to a dominating victory. Backstrom, meanwhile, got very little in the way of support.
So who starts the final games? I’m all for the Flames giving Backstrom whatever he wants at this point – he’s had a great career that went off the rails at the end, but it’d be really nice to see him go out on his own terms, assuming this is it.
Finding the missing piece
Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan work well together. They’re both tremendous talents and they’re coming up through the NHL together, why wouldn’t they? Gaudreau has 28 goals on the season; Monahan, 26. Time is running out, but it’s still very, very probable they both finish with at least 30 each.
I’m all for splitting them up the rest of this season, if only to see what happens. It’s not like these games mean anything any longer, so now’s the time to play around.
But that’s neither here nor there. And it makes sense to keep them together, too, if only to try to find who fits best with them.
It was Jiri Hudler. But then Hudler had a horrific start to his season, and it wasn’t him anymore; then he started resembling his old self, but then he had to be traded, and that was that. The Flames have been trying to fill that hole ever since, only they don’t have the personnel to do it.
Micheal Ferland has been getting chances on the top line as of late, and he has absolutely nothing to show for it. The best case scenario appears to be he can keep up with Gaudreau and Monahan, and that’s only if everything goes perfectly. He isn’t contributing. He hasn’t scored a single point since February.
Gaudreau, meanwhile, has nine points through March so far. Monahan has been involved in seven of them. Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, Mikael Backlund, and Michael Frolik are the other guys whose names have appeared next to his on the scoresheet. Monahan has 11 points this month, and Garnet Hathaway, Jyrki Jokipakka, Josh Jooris, and Joe Colborne have contributed on his efforts as well.
But no Ferland.
I like Ferland, and very much believe he has a future on the Flames – but it doesn’t look like that future will involve being a top six player. And when you look at the Flames’ current lineup, it doesn’t really look like anybody fits that bill. Colborne is probably the closest bet, and that’s not a good thing.
Hopefully the answer is waiting on the farm, or will come to the Flames soon this summer – because it’s hard to see them stepping towards contender status with an incomplete top line.
Jakub Nakladal is the story of the Flames season
Not in the sense that Jakub Nakladal is representative of how the Flames’ 2015-16 has gone – in the sense that he’s the best reason to keep following the team.
Case in point: look at how he reacted to his second NHL goal (which came about in a position rather similar to his first; Nakladal has a hell of a shot in his arsenal):
Return of the Nak.https://t.co/49RClVqtcA
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) March 25, 2016
His smile is infectious. You can’t help but just be thrilled for him with every success he reaches. He’s 28 years old, he’s played in just 20 NHL games. It’s only his first season in North America, and he spent the first half of it riding buses in California. He was teased with constant healthy scratches and a debut that lasted all of 1:45, but since various outside forces conspired to make the Flames use somebody new, he’s been a staple on the bottom pairing – and he’s looked great on it.
Like, at absolute minimum he’s worth a contract extension and consistent minutes to start next season. He’s not scoring crazy often but with what his shot can do when it’s on, he’s worth continued looks as the fourth defenceman on the power play (assuming nobody better gets brought in, and Dennis Wideman does not apply in that instance).
Most important of all, though, I think: he’s happy to be here. These games may be meaningless in the big picture, but on the individual scale to those on the ice, they aren’t. This is Sam Bennett’s rookie season, but he very likely has a long career ahead of him; who’s to say Nakladal was ever going to get this look, this chance for himself? Who’s to say when it ends?
We experienced this with Derek Grant when he was called up back in late October; he was sent down before he would have required waivers, ending one of the few bright spots of the start of the season prematurely. At least Nakladal gets to play his out.
He’s also become a poster boy for just how important seemingly small signings can be as opposed to the big, established veteran. Nakladal’s been the Flames’ best option on the bottom pairing pretty much all season – and it took various injuries and a lengthy suspension to get him there.
But now that he’s there, it’s really awesome to see him living it up. That’s worth watching. He even played 18:36 on the night: fourth in defence ice time for the second game in a row.