The Calgary Flames, in their third game of the season, played 65 minutes and failed to score a single goal. They rode an adorable own-goal by the Canucks until there were just under four minutes left in the game, when their top players got hemmed in their own zone for about a minute and a half, couldn’t regain the puck, couldn’t clear it, couldn’t do anything, and gave away the game Vancouver had been trying to give to them.
They have played three games against the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks. These are not two teams that are world beaters. These are two teams who are closer to the bottom of the rung than the top, and the only one who has any say in changing that is Connor McDavid.
And Glen Gulutzan’s Flames – the ones that took three games to dress the defencemen who should be dressed, the ones with a still-dysfunctional top line, the ones finally with a group of 12 functional forwards on the ice but one that’s so thin on depth they can’t really do anything as a collective whole – have lost three games to them, and any silver lining that initially glimmered is growing dull and faded by the second.
They are, in a word, pathetic.
There’s still time
That said, there are still 79 games to go in a season. A rough start is magnified by the fact that there’s nothing good to compare it to. The only positives you can point to towards this team is that they seem to be applying much more pressure than they were last year.
Pressure doesn’t mean a thing if goals don’t come with it. The Flames have currently scored eight. Michael Frolik has a quarter of them. Sean Monahan has one, as does Troy Brouwer, and Loui Eriksson. The other three have come from a guy who has been designated a fourth liner (Alex Chiasson, though in fairness, he might play himself up the lineup), a defenceman who was inexplicably scratched to start the season (Jyrki Jokipakka), and one who should find himself scratched throughout the season (Dennis Wideman).
They’ve had a lot of chances. There have been posts hit, there have been quality saves by Cam Talbot and Ryan Miller, there have been plenty of just-misses. Those count for nothing more than moral victories. Moral victories are for rebuilding teams only, which is exactly what the Flames continue to look like at this point in time.
The Flames lead the league in goals given up with 14. To be fair, they’re one of just three teams to have played three games to date, and the Chicago Blackhawks are also already in the double digits against, having surrendered 11. But this isn’t even something you can really blame the goaltending on, Brian Elliott in part of the first game aside. What are the goalies supposed to do when Nicklas Grossmann and Deryk Engelland are serving up golden chances for guys? What’s Brian Elliott supposed to do when the team in front of him keeps giving up breakaways? What’s Chad Johnson, who played a near-flawless game, supposed to do when his top teammates in front of him lose all composure?
There’s still time, but unless they figure it out, and fast, it’s not going to matter a whole lot. Three losses to two subpar divisional opponents who are absolutely beatable is a sad showing for a team that should be looking to turn the corner this season. It doesn’t matter that they were doomed to some degree of failure with three games in three cities in four nights – not when the failure is 100%.
The Flames have five defencemen, and one just played his 10th game
We know Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie are good and will get it together. I’m really, really enjoying the Jyrki Jokipakka-Dougie Hamilton pairing so far. Brett Kulak was solid in the 13:47 he played in his season debut, and looked sharper than Deryk Engelland most of the time.
As it would so happen, in the roughly two 5v5 minutes Engelland spent away from Kulak, he was a 16.67% CF guy (and that was with 37.50% offensive zone starts with Kulak, so there was no boost to be found there). With Kulak, he shot up to 44.44% CF. Tiny sample sizes, but the eye test liked Kulak out there, too.
That leaves the Flames with a suboptimal defenceman who has to be dressed at all times. Pick your poison: Grossmann, Wideman, or Engelland, of which Engelland is probably the best of the three, and that’s still not saying much.
The Flames have some hope when it comes to the kids. Kulak, for one. Oliver Kylington, Rasmus Andersson, Brandon Hickey, even Adam Fox – all are exciting. None are ready. I’d say Tyler Wotherspoon should have a shot to prove he’s better than any of the other three currently up, except wait, the Flames have mismanaged their cap so poorly they can’t even afford to recall his $625,000 cap hit without sending Ladislav Smid to LTIR, which causes its own host of complications they probably want to avoid.
Though I suppose sending down Engelland would bring just enough room to recall Wotherspoon, except I doubt ownership would be cool with him making nearly $3 million to play for Stockton. A Grossmann demotion doesn’t provide enough space, and in case you forgot, Wideman has a no movement clause, which, wow, Jay Feaster.
This is a team with five functional defencemen, and that’s assuming Kulak sticks. When the top guys can’t get their engines going, the entire team is left hopeless.
Mikael Backlund is the best Flame right now, and it’s not even close
That’s a lie. Michael Frolik has been pretty good, too. Then again, those two go together so perfectly I’m angry this is only their second year as linemates.
Backlund leads the team in scoring with three assists. He is a beast on the penalty kill and can be an inspiring forward on the powerplay. He is defensively strong and creative enough to be an asset in every single situation imaginable, and it is genuinely amazing he has gone underappreciated for so long in Calgary.
Backlund shouldn’t be the Flames’ best player though. He should be their strongest secondary player, but while we’re waiting for everyone else to figure it out, he’s one of the very few worth watching. And Gulutzan could barely get him out against the top line.
It’s hard to see Matthew Tkachuk staying up
Matthew Tkachuk’s most common linemates were his usual guys, Sam Bennett and Troy Brouwer. But they didn’t play the whole game together, as Micheal Ferland ended up taking his spot. Tkachuk dropped down to Matt Stajan’s line, aka the fourth line, and the 11:42 he played reflected that. He hasn’t been getting big minutes so far, but the drop in both the lineup and in ice time is uninspiring.
In fairness to Tkachuk, most of his team is uninspiring, so it’s not like this is entirely on him.
But then again, that just further fuels the point: why would you keep him up? The Flames are looking hopeless to start this season. Why would you burn a year of his entry-level contract on whatever this is? The team – and Tkachuk himself – have six games to get it together.
Tkachuk has to be an undeniable part of that resurgence. Right now, he isn’t Monahan riding a crazy shooting percentage, nor is he Bennett in the playoffs. I don’t think he’ll reach those levels before the deadline comes up. And that’s not an indictment on him; most players aren’t that good right away.
But especially looking at how contracts and raises have hurt the Flames, this year in particular (would things be different if Gaudreau had been here for all of training camp? I’m going with probably), there’s no sense in bringing up that date for Tkachuk a year earlier than necessary.
Especially when the clock on Hunter Shinkaruk’s ELC is already running, and they play the same position.
Poor Chad Johnson
He deserved some help from the team in front of him. He was fantastic. It wasn’t like he could go out there and score a goal himself. That would have been awesome though.