The Flames defence, version 2.0: Let’s try this again

Ever since Glen Gulutzan unveiled his defensive lineup for the Flames’ first game of the season, it’s been quite the discussion point. Before the game was played many were questioning it, while others wanted to wait and see where it went. When the game was played, it was bemoaned. After the game, it was bemoaned further still.

It looks like it didn’t take too long for the lineup to change, though. Because it’s been such a key part of the start to this season, let’s talk about it.

The old and the new

For game one, the Flames partnered Mark Giordano with Dennis Wideman, T.J. Brodie with Deryk Engelland, and Dougie Hamilton with Nicklas Grossmann. This left Jyrki Jokipakka and Brett Kulak scratched, and created a lot of confusion and panic among us off the ice (and then on the ice, when it was just plain bad).

Things are looking better now, though.

Instead of having a mishmash of bad players with good ones, the pairings look much more defined now. Giordano and Brodie are the top guys. Hamilton and Jokipakka are the second pairing. Wideman and Engelland bring up the rear, probably getting fewer minutes than everyone else but with a boon of special teams (powerplay for Wideman, penalty kill for Engelland).

Meanwhile, Grossmann isn’t likely to play. (Which means Kulak probably won’t, either, but we’ll get into that later.)

How to use them

In searching for an explanation for the bizarre defence pairings the Flames opened their season with, a theory has come up: Gulutzan, as the away coach, didn’t have the last change, so by splitting up Brodie, Giordano, and Hamilton, he would ensure he’d have one of his top three defencemen on the ice at all times.

Except that doesn’t exactly work out when all three of them end up partnered with someone almost guaranteed to bring them down.

Playing bad players with good players can sometimes elevate their play (just ask Mikael Backlund about this), but doing it across the board is a recipe for failure. Who was the Flames’ top pairing last night? If you go by ice time, it was Giordano and Wideman. Giordano is amazing, but I’m not sure if Bobby Orr or Nicklas Lidstrom in their primes could make today’s Wideman a top pairing guy.

Compare that to the new lines. Who’s the Flames’ top pairing now? It’s Brodie and Giordano. Who’s going to get matched against the opposition’s top lines? Brodie and Giordano.

And here’s the great thing with top pairing defencemen: even if you don’t have the last change, you can still get them out against the opponent’s top players more often than not, because these are the guys who are capable of playing 30 minutes a game if need be. Sure, there are going to be times when your less-than-ideal defencemen are out there against the opposition’s best players, but by ensuring you have one of them on the ice at all times, you’ve already guaranteed that.

If there was any lesson for Gulutzan to learn from his opening defensive pairings, it was this:

What about Kulak?

Looking at the new defensive pairings, they look significantly better. But I still have one complaint, because complaining is fun.

If Kulak is currently partnered with Grossmann, then it looks like Kulak isn’t going to play.

Now, this is an extremely premature complaint. If Kulak is up in the NHL, he needs to be played; otherwise, he could be honing his game by playing top minutes in the AHL, which is preferable to him sitting in the pressbox any day. But fact is, we’re only two games into the season so far; while memories of Bob Hartley’s treatment of Tyler Wotherspoon may be resurfacing, it’s a little early for that.

Particularly with the Flames set to play back-to-back games Friday and Saturday. It’s entirely possible we see Kulak draw in this weekend.

But it looking like he’ll be scratched for the first two games of the season is definitely something to keep an eye on. This is Kulak’s final year of being waiver exempt; he’s also an upcoming RFA. For both his sake and the Flames’, he needs to be playing.

    • Randaman

      Believe me, it wasn’t just Wideman that McDavid made look slow. There were 5 others.

      Hamilton looked like he was skating in cement, Gio looks tired already and how about that Elliot. Pfft…

  • rakilla

    Anyone else incredibly scared for the coming years? Sometimes we get so caught up with how good our young core is that we forget the team in Edmonton. McDavid scares the crap out of me. His speed. His skill. It’s ridiculous. Yesterday they also showed that they can’t be pushed around anymore. All 4 lines had a combination of skill and size…there were many shifts where their forecheck killed us. When was the last time you could say that about the oilers?

    Even with our blueline playing well, I really don’t know how you stop McDavid long-term. We better draft and develop players to combat this guy…otherwise he’s going to dominate us for years to come.

    • Newbietwo

      1. McDavid is ridiculously good yes but he can only play on 1 line.
      2. Lucic if big money locked up and it already shows he’s slow
      3. I’d rather be Calgary in 2 years with the players we have coming up than Edmonton hands down 4 of our top six are young! We have good defenceman in two years and Janowski
      4. Edmonton is gonna have cap issues majorly and soon and it will be sad to watch them two steps back after finally having an ok team. Mcdavid is so good he’s gonna cap kill them
      5. We dominated that game last night we just missed chemistry which takes time and systems which takes time..
      6. We have Bennett who’s gonna be a monster and I think soon I really mean it
      7. We will continue to beat Edmonton starting with Friday but yes the rivalry is gone come back in a big way because it will be tighter
      8. Chicago, LA and soon Anaheim are in a downfall and both Calgary and Edmonton are moving upward so yes it’s gonna be fun to watch
      9. The goals scored last night were not superstar outplayed goals.. They weren’t power play goals either so for all this talk of man the oilers are now so good cmon give me a break.. They will struggle with secondary scoring this season and we will finally get secondary scoring

      • Arod

        perhaps most scary from last night was how non-existent Monahan was. It felt like JG didn’t have anyone with him and he was on his own last night. He at least was trying to make plays.

        Point 5 of yours is plain wrong. We didn’t have a good game last night. Can’t count on 2 shorties a game. There was literally no sustained pressure. none. nada.

        Point 6 – Bennett with JG?

        • Newbietwo

          We had 40 shots on goal and on 5 v 5 we were in the offensive more that’s what I meant as we dominated the game.. Penalties aside I agree and again it’s early in the season.. As for Monohan being non existent yes I agree look at my comments about that before however also look at how he starts seasons historically he has terrible first season 5 games.. Until he gets a few points he is a slow starter historically.. And no I’m not sure Bennett with JH but it will be something frankly on the powerplay I think this year they need to expirement..

          It has been written about significantly that both Monohan and Johnny Hockey haven’t played without each other much and to me that’s a concern given the contracts they received one would think there were elements of concern only because individually who drives who’s play?

    • cunning_linguist

      Can’t tell if you are just a trolling Oilers fan…McDavid is great, but he’s one player, and his points all came as a result of us having a terrible defenseman on the ice at all times. In our barn on friday, when GG can get Backlund and/or Brodie+Gio out against McD, I think you will see a much quieter night from him.

      • rakilla

        I’m not trolling. I’m a flames fan through and through. I’m just saying we get caught up with our players but need to realize that we might not match up well with the oilers talent. Going forward we need to develop players with speed and skill more than anything else.

      • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

        Well during game one I saw McDavid go around Giordano like he was standing still. Go ahead give McDavid Gio so he can do it again. Put your checking line out if you want , we have more than one set of lines that can score!

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      An AHL quality game makes you worried for the future? Seem to recall a similar game, oh I don’t know, the start of last season. McDavid’s coming out party.
      Similar game, similar results. Hiller played about as good as Elliott did.

      What I saw from the Oilers last night was 2/3 of one line playing well, and not much else. Not exactly scary. Take away the penalty shot, and we likely would have won the game. They are still a team that does not play close to a complete game, either duration or style.

    • al rain

      No one player dominates other teams for years on end. Not Gretzky, not Crosby, not McDavid.

      Having said that, there’s some truth to what you say. McDavid is a special player, one who is deadly dangerous whenever he’s on the ice and who may be among the best players in the world very shortly. Anyone who denies this is kidding themselves.

      Personally, I’m not quite over the injustice of having the biggest prize of the past few decades gifted to the most futile and shameful team ever precisely because they were the most futile and shameful team ever. I’ve said it before – there is no one in that organization that should be anything but embarrassed by how that played out.

      But yeah, it’s going to be tougher to beat the Oilers.

      • Highlander

        Take a chill pill people. One game.

        Johnny will get his two-line breakout timing back – very soon.

        The defense will tighten up.

        Elliot will be better, those lively boards surprised him – not so in the ‘Dome.

        Tkachuk’s antics need to be dialed down, not a lot, but he’s going to get cost the Flames some dumb penalties if he keeps with the cheap stuff.

        Sloppy, ’80s hockey. Flames will take Friday’s game 4-2 and the panic will subside.

        The potential good news is that the BoA may actually be interesting again soon.

        • McRib

          “Elliot will be better, those lively boards surprised him – not so in the ‘Dome.”

          That ice at the new arena was also atrocious, pucks were bouncing all night. Imagine if Edmonton goes from “best ice in the NHL” to crap ice in the new arena long term, it should improve though when Edmonton begins its regular -30 stretch of weather for the next four or five months. I had friends at the game who also said the leg room in the second tier of the new arena was horrendous. Obviously they spent too much time worrying about naming a burger after their president and raising seat prices, than things that actually matter in a Hockey rink (i.e. Ice, seating).

    • Greg

      Planning your entire team around 1 threat worked really well for the US in the World Cup. So ya, don’t see why we shouldn’t focus our entire drafting and development around a single minded fixation with 1 player. #sarcasm

  • beloch

    In the game thread for last night’s game, I said the key to the new pairings was for Gulutzan to depart from them at the appropriate times. Roll three pairs and keep your top guys fresh, but double shift the top players during key PK’s/PP’s and in the third if you’re behind. Gulutzan didn’t do this. In a game where the Flames needed just a little bit more from their blueline, Wideman played as much as Giordano, and nine minutes more than Hamilton.

    Frankly, Gulutzan should have gotten this experiment over with in the pre-season, and he probably should have put Johnson in fairly early in last night’s game. Here’s hoping those 2 points don’t wind up mattering in April.

    • JBulls

      Agreed. It’s game 1 of 82 but I can’t help but be frustrated knowing we essentially threw a regular season game away because the coach wanted to experiment with pairings and thought dressing Grossmann was a good idea. I think even the most casual Flames fan could have predicted it wouldn’t go well, and sure enough it was pretty much a disaster.

      On to the next one. Let’s not miss the playoffs by 2 pts this season, k?

    • jupiter

      Can I throw one more thing in cause like Ari says, complaining is fun.haha

      GG should have had a few things to say to the officials over a few questionable calls.

    • T&A4Flames

      I don’t care so much that Gully wS doing a bit of experimentation. He was trying to I still a new system to a new group with our entire 1st line absent for the entire pre-season. He should, however, have realized it wasn’t working PDQ and tried something else.

  • ThisBigMouthIsRight

    Good~! At least after tripping and smashing his face badly, Gulutzan’s D-ideas have left lala-land and have come back to common(Hockey)sense reality. I just hope he doesn’t braincramp up and go back to lala-land the next away game! That was just Brutal and painfully frustrating to watch. Pay Back time Friday! p.s.~ Hope the Flames get the Same Homer Reffing this time as was afforded to the McCoilers yesterday!

  • brodiegio4life

    now let’s see how long these pairings stick, I’m also worried the wideman-engallend pairing will end up being the 2nd pairing based on the ice times from last game

  • SickFloBro

    Hey, this is great news – GG making adjustments like this. If this was ol’ Bub ‘Artley, we’d have to endure the same pairings for at least 3-4 games before anything changed.

  • J-Hall

    and yet, in the OHL playoffs a couple years ago, McDavid was shut down, by Oshawa, so, if there is no secondary scoring, teams do have a possibility of shutting him down.

  • Derzie

    Let’s can the McDavid worship & chatter. Yeah he’s good, we get it. Sportsnet & TSN remind us dozens of times a day. I’m for a Connor-free zone. Like Oiler fans would say about our Johnny, f@!k McDavid.

  • ThisBigMouthIsRight

    Would anyone else like to see these line combos?
    With some good practice time together, then maybe get in a period together to see how they work out?
    Tkachuk/Backlund/Frolik &
    Could be interesting.

    • cberg

      I think they COULD work, but switching Ferland and Tkachuk to the current configuration I like better since the shutdown line would be out against the opposition’s best and have Ferland to pound them and wear them down.

      • ThisBigMouthIsRight

        Thanks for the reply…(it doesn’t seem like a very positive idea lol)Yup I get that, I was just thinking that it could give Tkachuk the Backlund Bump & give that line a little fun with some aggressive attack zone time, as well as help teach Tkachuk some Forward d-Hockey/shutdown skills. I’d also like to see Ferland get a little mentoring from being on a line w/Brouwer. I just thought it could kick start some points, just as a (practiced) option in game, not a permanent thing. Cheers!

  • jakethesnail

    Has Grossman put on waivrs yet????

    What a dumb-a$$ play by a veteran to open the scoring for the opposition.

    I hope that is the last we see of Grossman and those silly D pairings for the Flames last night.

  • dontcryWOLF88

    I was seriously fearing for the flames season in Gulutzan’s hands after seeing his decisions on defense blow up so terribly in Edmonton. Its just one game, whatever, but thats a game any Flames fan wanted to steal, bad. First game in a sparkly new $600 million rink that the Edmontonian tax payers got duped into buying for the Oilers ownership (Katz)? Yup, wanted to win that one.

    Mostly though, it made me very much question his judgement. If he carried those lines forward to the next game that would make him delusional. But, he changed them. They are much much better now. Im releaved, for now. Hopefully,there was some good reason he didnt/couldnt explain for doing it in the first place. That can happen….?

    Brodie and Giordano had some really impressive shifts last night. Together they have proven to be a very competitive top pairing (mostly, nobodies perfect). Hamilton also, but less consistent. Wideman, I personally think, would do just fine on even second line. Third line for sure. I thought he made some solid defensive plays last night. Plus, a goal isnt bad (lucky self-tip from an oilers player, and getting to be fed by Brodie, notwithstanding). The guys got so much bad vibes around him after last season, but that is something a person can get past. Remember when he used to be good!? (haha)

    Elliot: get that blocker down man. Flames NEED some trust in net.

  • Howedy

    It’s pretty cute to see all the oilers trolls either being flat out ignorant or pretending to be actual Flames fans and chirping. Funny thing about that, I was just saying to my friend the other day who’s an Oilers fan, is that Edmonton has been so irrelevant and squandered so much opportunity given to them by poor play and bouncing lotto balls that I have not really hated them or felt a rivalry in years. The Canucks have somehow remained the most hated team for a decade plus now, I was even happy to see the Oilers seem to finally figure out how to not mess up the gimme they’ve been gifted year after year. But now that their fairweather fan base has come out of the woodwork, I will happily state the hatred is restored and I can’t wait to see if after game 81 these same bandwagon clowns have much to say. Cheers and get ready for an actual lineup from Calgary tonight, let’s not forget that we badly outshot you last game with dead weight on each D pairing. Maybe Elliot can pull his save percentage into the realm of a run of the mill NHL goalie as well. I wouldn’t be cocky as an Oilers fan, both teams looked awful on Wednesday.

    • piscera.infada

      I wouldn’t be cocky as an Oilers fan, both teams looked awful on Wednesday.

      Re-posted for emphasis. Yes, the Flames were worse, but if that’s “good Oilers’ hockey”…

  • don’t you all just love it when people come out and declare the 82 game standings after 1 game… sheesh if you took the bullet points from Twitter after the last two nights you’d think McDavid was gonna grow wings and fly away, Matthews was gonna win the art ross, and buffalo has done something in it’s treasured history to insult some hockey god somewhere because they probably have the worst luck in the history of the NHL.

    How about we give it til Decemember before we start proclaiming Elliot HIller 2.0 omfg. People! smh