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.