Oilers 7, Flames 4 post-game embers: Yikes

Snow shower pics are cool.

As I watched the Oilers pull away from the Flames via a couple of Connor McDavid goals, the game kind of started reminding me of the first game of the 2010-11 season. In it, the Flames came out impressively flat and lost 4-0. There was even a defenceman on the team who very much proved he didn’t belong in the NHL at that time.

Back then, that defenceman was T.J. Brodie. He was ready a year later. I’m… truly not sure what to say about Nicklas Grossmann.

Those defence pairings

Was anybody happy with the defence when the pairings came out yesterday morning?

I don’t get what the philosophy was here, exactly. The Flames have three good defencemen: Brodie, Mark Giordano, and Dougie Hamilton. They have two defencemen with potential: Jyrki Jokipakka and Brett Kulak. Then they have three defencemen it would just plain be better to not have at all: Dennis Wideman, Deryk Engelland, and Grossmann.

So Glen Gulutzan, for his Flames debut, decided he would take his three good guys, take his three less-than-optimal guys, pair ’em up, and make the two guys with pretty decent potential sit.

It’s fun to rag on the Oilers, because they’re a model for mismanaged franchises, but it turns out they actually have some dangerous talent in that lineup. So maybe Wideman on the top pairing isn’t ideal? (Maybe Wideman out there during a four-on-four isn’t ideal? Say what you will about the penalty shot call, but if it had been the defence pairing we all damn well know should have been out there, the opportunity for a penalty shot probably never happens to begin with.)

I would have liked to see Giordano with Brodie, Hamilton with Kulak, and Jokipakka with Wideman. Adjust as need be, but send Giordano and Brodie out there whenever the Oilers’ big guns are present; they’re the ones most equipped to handle things. Swap Engelland with whoever when need be. I’m sure Grossmann is a very nice man but when you’re directly responsible for the opening goal on your team and then continue to mess up, well…

All hope is not lost! (Until the defence pairings for Friday are announced, then all hope will be lost.) (I’m kidding.) (Probably.) Grossmann played just 11:32 throughout the game, so hopefully that translates into being a healthy scratch for another 81 games or so. On the other hand, Engelland still ended up with more ice time than Hamilton, which, I thought we were over this by now.

Brodie played a whopping 26:20 last night; 6:46 of that came on the penalty kill. Still, that’s number one defencemen minutes – so give him the partner to match. Over the course of 10:21 at 5v5 with Engelland, his CF was 68.75%. Away from him, it was 76.92%. (Engelland without Brodie was an unfortunate 40.00%.) We’ve seen this so many times now. He was at 80% with Hamilton over 4:13 played! True, that’s an extremely small sample size, but it kind of points to one of these working better than the other; the eye test supported them, too.

Fact is, new coaches will sometimes flub their roster. Remember the last time Brodie was a healthy scratch? It was for Bob Hartley’s first ever game coaching the Flames, during the 2013 lockout. It was a stupid decision then. It happens. Hopefully Gulutzan just wises up sooner rather than later, and also doesn’t overthink any gifts he’s been given. (Seriously: Giordano and Brodie. Together. At the very minimum, during four-on-four play. Come on.)

Defending the top dog

I’ll give you one guess as to which Flame saw the least of McDavid.

It was Mikael Backlund.

Yes, that Mikael Backlund. The guy who is easily, without a doubt, the Flames’ best option of a shutdown centre. The guy who makes everyone around him better even when playing in tough circumstances. The guy you want out there against your opposition’s best, because he’s going to be your best chance at preventing them from doing much of anything. He may not score at elite rates, but he’s gonna make sure you don’t get scored on, either.

Backlund saw McDavid for all of 55 seconds at 5v5. (His CF% against him was 100%! Small sample sizes are fun.)

Gulutzan tried to match fire with fire – Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan saw north of 11 minutes against him – and lost. Their corsis were higher; then again, the Flames were also trailing for most of the game, which makes it kind of a hollow victory thanks to score adjustments.

I’m going to go ahead and figure this is a case of Gulutzan still getting to know his new team and who’s best suited for what roles. But it’s disappointing to see things start this way, all the same.

Not worried about goaltending

At first, the Oilers were getting golden chances and capitalizing on them. When your defence fails you that badly, you want your goaltender to step up. Sometimes he doesn’t, and you’re not happy with him, but at the same time, what the hell was Grossmann doing there exactly anyway?

But when the game goes on and your goaltender is just letting pucks in, a significant portion of the blame has to fall on him.

Brian Elliott did not have a good night.

Brian Elliott is still a good goalie and there is still plenty of reason to put trust in the guy.

Last season, Elliott had two sub-.800 games; he had 10 sub-.900 games. It happens. It’s never ideal – particularly not when you’re making your debut with your new team – but good goalies have bad games, and Elliott is a good goalie who had a bad game.

(And even if it turns out he actually is awful, hey, he’s a free agent after this year, so whatever!) (But he isn’t actually awful.)

Silver lining on special teams

Last season, the Flames’ special teams were a special kind of terrible.

This year, they have one powerplay goal on three opportunities and two shorthanded goals while killing off five of the Oilers’ six powerplays.

The Flames need to show more at even strength, but that’s pretty good, isn’t it? And the Flames maybe even deserved a better fate on the powerplay; they looked dangerous quite a few times. Gaudreau, Monahan, and Troy Brouwer had just under three minutes each, while Backlund, Sam Bennett, and Matthew Tkachuk clocked in at just over two. Say what you will about how desolate the Flames’ wing group is – and it’s pretty desolate – but those are six quality names to have on the man advantage, and they showed it. Giordano and Hamilton highlighting the backend with Brodie and Wideman subbing in for them on the second unit worked great, too.

As for the penalty kill, it’s hard to complain when it outscores the opposition’s powerplay. Backlund and Michael Frolik were meant to play with each other; Frolik’s shorthanded goal was exactly why. They, along with Matt Stajan, dominated the forward ice time shorthanded. 

Plus Brouwer did pretty well for himself.

If the Flames can keep up their special teams and even fine tune them a bit while improving their even strength play and tweaking their player usage, they’ll probably be in fine shape.

I do not care about that building one iota

I just don’t.

  • Theo4HoF

    I think a random flames fan off the street could of put a better D pairing together then last night. I think if we had Hartley yesterday we might of won.

    Then there’s Elliot. He’s lucky he’s not a rookie and has a bit of a track record because if he wasn’t he’d probably not get another start.(Ortio, Irving, etc)

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    Grossman would have been a good player 10 years ago because he is a tank and would likely make less mistakes with average foot speed. But the truth is, we would of had Regher then so we still would not need him.

    IMO There are 2 diametrically opposed style of defenders. Grossman is typical of a big, bruising, physical defender who can’t afford to make bad decisions or plays because of his inability to recover. He strikes me as a player with a high hockey IQ and rarely gets into a foot race by having superior body positioning.

    At the other end of the spectrum is a player like, kjillington who is not big or physical but is blessed with great speed and skill but is far more high risk. He makes far more mistakes but has the speed to recover. His Decision making can get him in trouble.

    Despite the mistakes that Grossman made, he did not seem to get caught flat footed and forced into a penalty, he did clear in front of the net, an finish his checks by rubbing players out along the boards. Unfortunately, his skill set is not what is needed in today’s NHL.

  • TheoForever

    Only one game but Gulutzan was out coached.
    Absolutely brutal, he keeps this up we are out by the end of the month. BT’s coaching choices for NHL and AHL are both puzzling.

  • Greatsave

    I’ve gotta say, I was expecting more vitriol towards the refs for targeting Wideman and blaming that penalty shot call on the Henderson incident last season. So far I haven’t seen much on that around here.

    So proud of you guys!

    • dontcryWOLF88

      Completely agree. Dont normally say this, but I think the refs decided that game as much as any other single factor.

      The ref’s seem to have Widemans number, not good for us.

      Game was 4-3 when the refs missed that call on Johnny . but gave it to McDavid. I think we can expect this for a long time, its in human nature to reward celebrity. Thats the McDavid effect.

      Sam Bennett’s interference call for getting pushed into an Oilers player? Oh yeah?

      Oilers 6th goal (Pulijarvi) was a clearing pass-shot-type thing by Engelland that bounced off the refs shin into the slot. Obviously thats not intentional, but still.

      There were other calls missed against the oilers or called against the flames that I, personally, did not agree with.

      However, the collective edmontonian circle jerk over their new $600 million area that Katz duped tax-payers into paying for wont need to be mentioned every five minutes anymore (hopefully).

      • Randaman

        Seriously??

        What about the slewfoot on Davidson by Tkakchuk that caused injury?

        That alone should be suspendable offence.

        Quit your whining, your jealousy is showing.

        Enjoy the cow dome or is it a horse barn or maybe a chicken coop?

        • dontcryWOLF88

          I go to the Saddledome to watch hockey, not stare at fancy lights. Besides, like I said (obviously Edmonton disagreed), I have a major problem with paying for rich people to get things for free. Hearing Katz gloat how amazing he and his friends are “for getting the job done” after, makes me cringe. And thats just because I hate that sort of thing infinitly more than the Oilers.

          Nobody knows what this season will be like for either the flames, or the oilers. I think youll see a different flames team tomorrow night, though.

          g luck, may the best team win.

  • Skuehler

    Full credit to the oilers. They looked pretty good except for Lucic and Talbot. Good game for Russell. McDavid is the real deal. It was a must win for them and its great to see them have a positive start.

    It was great to see Gaudreau there for game 1 – that was important for him, the team, the fans. Frolik and Backlund were great on the PK.

    Otherwise Flames looked flat – slow, disconnected. Johnny Hockey trying to do too much in the third. Rough start for Elliot and Grossman. Systems didnt look good to my untrained eye.

  • The Sultan

    There was a stretch there in the second where it was just sloppy play after sloppy play by the Flames. It was frustrating to watch because I know that our team is better than the way they were playing. Questionable calls aside, McDavid scares me every time he is on the ice. I hate to say it but he’s the captain the Oilers need to take them out of this decade-long stretch of suckery. I don’t know if that speaks negatively about the Edmonton franchise or highly of McDavid, but the best thing is for both teams to become competitive and face each other in the playoffs.

    Plus, this was the the grand debut of Rogers Arena and it looked pretty impressive/expensive. Might have been first game jitters, players might’ve been caught watching the play as much as being involved in it. Anyways, I expect a much better outing on Friday, GFG babbbbby.

  • madjam

    Oilers club this year far different from recent past seasons . No longer does it seem possible to physically take their team out like in past . Oilers now bigger , heavier and adapt at forchecking and even the cycle game . Previous Oiler clubs were soft and easily taken off their game in past . Oilers only look to get better and more structured as season goes on from here . Their defence is getting better and now breaking other teams cycle game , and holding scoring chances away from slot . Previous years they were bad at both . Flames will have their work cut out to remain above the Oilers this year .

  • RedMan

    It was awesome to see what a true “generational player” looks like… I mean, did you catch the highlights of Mathews? Now THATS generational.

    Oh, the McDavid kid looks good too. not quite the player mathews is, but good. Not as good as Gaudreau, but good.

    • Gkpoil

      LOL, You must be high.

      Mathews is a special player and possible a generational talent. He had a great night. McDavid single-handedly took the oil from the brink of collapse (2 shorties given up) and won the game. Yes the penalty shot shouldn’t have happened because of the hook on JG, but none the less he rose to the occasion.

      Gaudreau is a very good player, but compared to McDavid, he’ll only be your Theo Fleury to our Gretzky

  • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

    Lil Johnny is a hell of a player….AT HOME. Hughson and Simpson never commented on it but SN put up a graphic last night that showed last year johnny was 106th in scoring on the road. That makes him a mediocre 4th liner when his coach can’t get him a favourable match-up. Flames just paid a lot of money for a guy with that on his resume. Doesn’t exactly scream future Conn Smythe winner to me.