The last time the Flames and Blackhawks met was all the way back in November. Back when the Flames were struggling to climb out of the hole their disastrous October sank them in, back when they could still have hopes for the post-season.
And while those hopes officially died yesterday, you wouldn’t have known it from how the Flames played. These aren’t playoff games, not even close. But they’re still games, and the Flames – a young, scrappy, and hungry group – are still playing them.
Lose a close game, get the score blown out of proportion by empty netters, stay in pace with the bottom of the league but still put on an entertaining show. That’s not a bad night.
Johnny Gaudreau’s durability
It wasn’t just Johnny Gaudreau’s skill that was debated before he made his NHL debut. Sure, he was lighting up the USHL, the NCAA, and occasionally in international competition, but let’s see him do that against real NHL defencemen— and he has, multiple times, to the tune of 73 points in 74 games in just his second NHL season. (I’m going to be so disappointed if he doesn’t finish at a point per game.)
But of course, his size was also questioned in the realm of simply being able to play, period. “He’ll get murdered out there!” detractors would cry, as though high-skilled players of smaller stature had never been able to survive in the NHL before.
The Blackhawks displayed rather unimpressive behaviour throughout the night, really kicking off with the latest inane offence thrown Gaudreau’s way that, once again, received no call:
No call on the trash of a trailer park Duncan Keith pic.twitter.com/7nPkd3FqlI
— FlamesNation (@FlamesNation) March 27, 2016
It’s not like what Keith did was anything new. Gaudreau has been getting hacked and slashed at all season, and rarely aided.
Which just further points to how impressive he is. He’s had a lot to overcome – the concern over his size comes from a real place, on top of just how difficult it is to make the NHL in general – only to have this nonsense thrown on him, too.
And he’s never been injured, and is still tied for top five in NHL scoring. In his second season. It’s like, you already know he’s amazing – but then you sit down and think about it for a moment, and realize you aren’t even properly fathoming just how amazing he really is.
Ferland, Hathaway, and F.Ham
Micheal Ferland, who spent considerable time on the top line until recently, played just 8:23 last night. He was on the fourth line with Matt Stajan and Brandon Bollig and together, they were the only Flames who did not hit the 10-minute mark in ice time.
This is where you breathe a sigh of relief that the Flames gave him a modest two-year, $825K AAV extension: because he isn’t proving to be worth much more at the moment. You step back, realize he had one phenomenal playoff series, and the rest of his career hasn’t been much to speak of. That’s not to say he can’t get there, but the returns from this season have been lacking.
Then there’s Garnet Hathaway, who’s been rather quiet since the first few games of his NHL debut. He was out there last night, though, causing havoc, being a nuisance, and getting a fair amount of minutes to show for it.
— Cristiano Simonetta (@CMS_74_) March 27, 2016
To which Hathaway responds, “You know me,” and that’s awesome.
But entirely replaceable. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the efforts these guys do – it’s that they aren’t hard to duplicate. After his playoff showing, Ferland was the guy. Now he may or may not still be the guy. But last night, Hathaway was the guy. Bollig was traded for to be the guy, and that’s at least two kids he’s been replaced by. To say nothing of the current state of Lance Bouma, or even what someone like Turner Elson, still on the farm, could do.
I will very happily take a fourth line of guys who can actually play a regular shift and be the most annoying person ever, though. But this is why you don’t fall in love with the first guy you see just because he happens to play for your team. Because there are a lot of them out there.
Case in point, in another avenue: Freddie Hamilton, who got his shot alongside Gaudreau and Sean Monahan last night. (And already has more points playing on that line than Ferland got, in a very heartwarming, very brothers-centric moment.)
The top line actually looked pretty decent out there with F.Ham on board, posting the best even strength corsi numbers on the night: 66.67% (Gaudreau), 75.00% (F.Ham), and 78.26% (Monahan) (it should be noted Gaudreau had more ice time, likely contributing to his lower percentage). And this success came from two guys on the team who are irreplaceable… and one who was acquired essentially for free, a conditional seventh rounder whose conditions will not be met, and someone who will have to be sent back to Stockton as soon as all forwards are healthy.
At least F.Ham isn’t throwing away his shot right now, though. Two points in four games, a season-high 14:03 played last night, and aw:
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) March 27, 2016
His first ever NHL assist was on his brother’s goal. That’s really sweet. We will have more on this later today, because it was really, really cool.
Speaking of not throwing away shots…
Holy fuck Dougie Hamilton tonight:
All at 5v5 for the #Flames
— AOL KEYWORD: Mike (@mikeFAIL) March 27, 2016
That is a lot of offence. Dougie Hamilton played 20:58, behind Deryk Engelland in ice time yet again. What’s he gonna do on the bench? Not get the chance to keep putting up numbers like that – though he did set a new career high in goals, and is three points back of his career high in points, and that’s with him having to fight all season for respectability, so next season might just be the one to really look forward to.
No one had more resilience, at least offensively; and the best defence is a good offence. Throw in that hit on Brent Seabrook (and withstanding the ensuing Jonathan Toews temper tantrum), and you’ve got a 22-year-old who’s still rounding out into a really high-end defenceman.
He was also just behind the top line in CF%, with 60.53% at 5v5. Reunited with T.J. Brodie, their corsi together was 59.38%; his few leftover minutes with Mark Giordano saw them at 60.00%. Put good players with other good players and good things will happen.
Joni Ortio: just fine
Joni Ortio has had the last three games off while the old men have had their turns, but he didn’t look any worse for the wear returning to the crease. He saw 25 shots, stopped 23 of them, and it’s hard to really blame him on the goals that went against him considering they were the result of a Brodie turnover and unrelenting chaos that saw him lose his stick.
Worthy of bringing back? Well, he’ll be 25 years old next season, probably really cheap, easy to bury if someone else outperforms him, and it’s not like there are many other options. There are flashes of something there every now and then. Maybe there can be more over a consistent period of time. Maybe not.
But he’s a warm body who actually displays potential, and this time around, the whole three-goalie thing isn’t causing problems.