Wild 6, Flames 2 post-game embers: Something something tank

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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):


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.

  • MattyFranchise

    The Flames final game of the season is in Minnesota. If Backstrom chooses to retire, and I suspect he will because reasons, then that would be perfect for his last NHL start.

  • KACaribou

    Backstrom has had a great career, however the Flames owe him nothing. Maybe Minnesota did, and perhaps they didn’t handle things in as classy a way as Backstrom.

    Ari wants us to play Backstrom to encourage a tank. That isn’t going to happen. Ortio, it’s pretty obvious, is playing the best now and he will likely be back for the long haul.

    Ferly has had his chances, but to be fair, Johnny Hockey has been terrible feeding him passes. In skates, in crowds etc. That’s when either he or Monny actually look Ferly’s way on the ice. Normally they just look for one another.

    As for Jakub Nakladal, I have no problem with his play this year. I’d bring him back. But unlike Ari, I don’t find his smile infectious. Not sure who you’re writing for exactly here… but I am sure some FN readers also enjoy his smile.

    • MattyFranchise

      Regarding Backstrom: giving him that last game in Minnesota is, I think, a matter of showing other prospective players around the league that are free agents or that have nmc/ntc that this is the kind of respect you will be treated with if you sign/waive to play in Calgary.

      Play Ortio the other six games for sure but give Backstrom that last one.

      • KACaribou

        I guess from what I saw last night, although your heart is in the right place, playing Backstrom in the Twin Cities could end his career in humiliation.

        Likely because he’s been out so long, I thought he looked awkward and uncomfortable in net last night.

        I know Backstrom is Minnesota’s Kipper, but like Kipper the days has to come when Backs has to decide on his own to hang ’em up. The greater the player, the sooner they need to understand this before they leave horrible residue in the minds of fans.

    • Cfan in Vic

      “I don’t find his smile infectious. Not sure who you’re writing for exactly here… but I am sure some FN readers also enjoy his smile.”

      Not sure why you’d take exception to this. Do you hate his smile, or are you angry that Ari finds Nakladal’s positivity a much needed boost during a pretty lame Flames outing? Strange comment, in my opinion.

    • Dan the flames fan

      I agree with using Ortiz for the remainder. I’m still not convinced that the best he will be is back-up, and still think that he can develop into a solid starter, aka Dubnyk. Dubnyk made it there with solid coaching and PATIENCE!! The one thing Calgary has never had is time and patience with developing g goaltenders.

      I don’t put Ferland’s lack of success onto JH and Mony. If Fernand is missing passes, etc, it’s because he may be skating with them, but he’s not playing with them. That eventually generates a lack of trust that he will finish. Hudler was able to do both for the first year; skate the speed and anticipate the play.

      Nakladal is Smid’s replacement at a quarter of the cost.

  • Catlord

    So Bollig took multiple shifts on Bennett’s wing yesterday due to Stajans injury. What is it exactly that Bollig does well? I can’t even remember the last time he fought and all he did well on Bennett’s line was take stupid penalties (2 separate penalties in a span of under 2 minutes because they scored on the first one) we need a good winger for Bennett so badly on any given game (since his switch to center) his linemates are usually Joe Colborne and a 4th liner.

    • Cfan in Vic

      Definitely true.

      At this point in the season, I think it’s just a matter of giving Bennett some time at center. He needs good wingers, top line needs a winger, and we’ve got injuries at the moment. The offseason is the time to try and plug the holes, the remaining games are going to be “just making due” while Benny gets some valuable integration time (although probably poorer counting stats).

      Now if that’s the type of line he’s on to start next season, then we’ve got something to complain about.

  • freethe flames

    The Ferland with the top line experiment should end. Virtually everyone who can play RW on the club has been given a chance and none of them have worked. So try something else a chance; here’s two ideas. Let Bennett play with big two for the rest of the season; not ideal but maybe something worth trying. Bring up someone from the farm and give them a chance.(With the Heats 2 loses to the Moose last week they are just paying out the string anyways) Ideally bring up 2 of the following 5 guys; Grant(C/LW), Shinkaruk(LW), Poirier (RW yes he has not had a great season), Agostino (LW) or Shore(C/RW) and let them play. Sit Stajan and Bollig please.

    I would be perfectly fine with the following for the next 8 games:

    Johnny/Monny/Poirier

    Grant/Bennett/Colborne

    Ferland/Backs/Frolik

    Bouma/Jooris/Hathaway

    Not that I believe these will be the lines next year but it would be more fun than watching Bollig and Stajan.