Canucks 2, Flames 1 (SO) post-game embers: Wake me up when the Flames do

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.

  • BlueMoonNigel

    In Tre we trust!

    Have we already forgotten how he “ninjaed” the Sharks? Yes, “ninjaed” is the exact word used by Doug Wilson to explain why Brouwer, who he apparently had signed and sealed, ended up being delivered to Calgary.

    As was reported by the old flower and drum girl herself in the Sac Bee in July, Tre made Brouwer an 11th hour offer “he couldn’t refuse” and when the smoke had cleared Brouwer was a Flame and not a Shark. This led to Wilson’s famous quip, “I was ninjaed.” Absolutely brilliant, Tre! Luv ya!!!

    As for that useless Colborne, he will finish the season with fewer than 10 goals as he doesn’t have Backlund’s coattails to ride on.

    Finally, for all you naysayers and ledge jumpers, all I can say is don’t bust an ankle jumping back on the bandwagon when the Flames start to roll. Can’t recall the last team that either won or lost the Stanley Cup after 3 games in October.

      • Crakupov

        So what you are saying is that it might be tougher for 6.75 million Johnny on a line with Vertseeg and Monahan as compared to his worldcup line of MCdavid and Mckinnon?

        My guess for the year Johnny Hockey slows down a bit on the ice and nets 22 and 20 assists this year. On the plus side he his net worth will enjoy some nice growth on the European exchange this year.

  • gm649

    I’m concerned about the flames defense. I was at the game Friday it looked like the entire D core was just a step slow. Even Gio looked slow. Wideman should not play again this year if what he showed Friday was not injury impaired. I don’t think offense is going to be an issue as long as Gaudreau and Monahan keep getting the chances they have had.

    Having said that I don’t think the Flames will make the playoffs. GG was hired to reverse basically everything BH had instilled. These two guys could not be more different. The problem with a players coach and youngs stars locked up on long term deals is that they eventually start tuning you out. BH was tuned out too but at least he has created some excellent work habits. If optional skates, no commitment to work, giving free reign to party boys is what you want, then we mise well be the Edmonton Oilers of the last 10 years.

  • KACaribou

    The thing I don’t understand is that all pre-season they are playing Ferly on the RW, in other words getting him ready for the top line.

    Then all of a sudden Tree signs Versteeg, and suddenly Gully has Ferly back on LW and being traded between Line 4, 3, and 2.

    Holy crap let the kid fit in somewhere!

    It’s not like signing this PTO who nobody wanted, was the second coming of Gordie Howe on RW.

    I blame Tree if he guaranteed Versteeg top line minutes to get him away from Edmonton, who didn’t have room in the line-up for him anyway. Combine that with not getting JG signed in a timely way, and everything is out of sync to start the season.

    Who was it again who thought it was integral for the Flames to start fast this year?

    On the bright side, our defense played pretty damned well last night.

    • jupiter

      Guilty as charged in thinking the Flames had to have a fast start.I said they would need to play at least 500 hockey in Oct/Nov to have a chance.A fast start would also mean the new coach and new system had impact. Change has not been easy, and i’am now looking for a sign that GG is even in control.

  • Dan the flames fan

    People, slow the heck down, and look at some positives!

    Giordano looked back in for, and Kulak proved that he can play with the big club. Overall, Calgary did not lose that game because of defense. They lost that game because not one player could develop a solid offensive rush. JH is not scoring, and it shows in frustration on his face. I’m not fully convinced that Moneyhands is 100% healthy-his skating and ability to join the rush seems too hesitant.

    While Tkachuk is playing ok, he is still playing more aggressively than Ferland’s, and that should not be acceptable.

    Next game, keep the same defensive pairings. Switch Chaisson and Verzteeg, cause Versteeg is not effective on the first line. Johnson earned a second game.

  • jakethesnail

    My biggest concern entering the season was how GG will fare as the new coach on the block….well, so far no good.

    He looks as aspiring as he speaks – dull.

    Dumb theories on how to play offence, cost the Flames two important games against the oilers. Run and gun against that bunch?

    Dumb theories on defence, pairing Lefties and RIghties with a quality D-man playing with one who is not NHL capable.

    Playing Grossman at all….

    Last year it took more than a month for the Flames to recover from the three-headed goalie monster. Just how long will it take to recover from a young coache’s mistakes…

  • Derzie

    We’re in a bad place boys and girls. On paper, we all thought the moves Brad was making were aces. Now that we’ve seen camp, pre-season and early games, the theories are not playing out. ‘Patience’ the glass-half-full crowd say, when we know full well Bettman’s loser-point NHL does not allow for easy movement upwards in the standings. It’s one thing to lose, it’s another yet for all the indicators to be negative. No stars are playing well, acquisitions have been shaky, team play has been full of holes. Coaching has been confused and reactive. For contrast, look up north. Their GM was lambasted for his moves. Their first 2 games were a success. Last year Jim Rutherford was raked over the coals for his moves. They won the cup. What looks good on paper doesn’t always translate to success. What happens on the ice is ALL that matters at the end of the day. A big red flag is when a GM is calling his new coach a ‘possession’ coach. The Flames have a resume where their possession was atrocious and the went 2 rounds deep and their possession is awesome and they are 0 and 3. Possession is nice but is not a place to focus. Also, whens the last time you heard a winning NHL coach talk about his coaching systems with the media or though the GM? You don’t. The focus on coaching, not summarizing it for the media or competitors. If we know what GG is trying to do, you think other coaches don’t? Silliness. We are in deep folks.

    • Crakupov

      Elliot will get better, but he is not a panacea to the other issues on the club. Moneybags Gaudreau will improve but for a club up against the cap limit there is no much flexibility left to improve the team.

      – Tkachuk looks very slow for a young player just entering the NHL which seems to be pivoting towards speed and there is not much else at Stockton.
      – The Defense is not as good as we thought and this was supposed to be the teams bright light
      – The offense is anemic, watching Calgary get blown away by the aging Sedin line is not a good sign considering that many consider Vancouver the 30th team.

      The 2-1 victory and goal tending that stands on its head will be the calling cards of the 2016 Flames if they make the playoffs.

    • Captain Ron

      Come on Derzie. I sure wouldn’t want to be stuck in a foxhole with you with this kind of panicky mentality.

      YOU DO REALIZE THERE ARE 79 GAMES LEFT TO PLAY RIGHT!

      That’s like 95% of the season. Lot’s of good teams have had struggles early in a season. What we have seen so far is certainly disappointing but lets not go all manic like a typical Oilers fan and start cracking after losing the first three games. This is a major marathon not a sprint. The Oilers, Canucks and plenty of other teams will have their hiccups too don’t kid yourself.

      We have a long way to go before it’s time to write off the season. Anaheim has the same record as we do should they be throwing in the towel too?

      • wot96

        Good comment. Whatever joy we may feel from Edmonton’s latest setback doesn’t advance the Flames one iota.

        No one is happy about the state of affairs in the Saddledome. It was made so much worse by losing twice to Edmonton – though I am not sure that it would be much better if the first two losses were to Vancouver with the third to Edmonton.

        The sky isn’t falling. The season is young, there are new systems and new players and two of the best players on the team didn’t have much or any of a training camp.

        • jakethesnail

          The isn’t falling in Calgary, but it sure is in Edmonton…such angst in oil city about the stinker their team put in at the brand new spanking Rogers Place. Any more stinkers like that and they will call it “The Barn”!!

          They want to run Poulliot out of town because he keeps taking stupid penalties.

          Interesting note that O’Reiley said he practises those long shots from beyond centre ice on bad ice surfaces. He said that the ice at Rexall is worse than at the Coliiseum… A half billion dollar arena and they can’t make good ice??? LOL Note: O’Reilley’s winning goal came on a bouncer from beyond centre ice and Talbot completely fluffed it.

          Same old oilers!

  • FlamesFanOtherCity

    Must be some bored Oiler fans with nothing new to talk about. Concentrate on the team being able to do something with 16 other players. McDavid has looked good against the Flames so far. Two goals, a penalty shot and a few secondary assists. Good start against a team lacking chemistry on their top scoring line. The rest of the team has looked mediocre at best. Two shorties scored on them. 24 shots against in one period. Not exactly world beaters.

    • Arminius

      Most Oiler fans don’t have a significant other interested in them enough to spend time with so what else are they going to do? Hike the lameo “historic river valley ” and take the chance of getting mugged by a transient?

  • Aendayana777

    My favourite part so far this season has to be Saturday nite when one announcer asked the other 2 who would you rather have Oilers or Flames core? They looked at him like wtf man?! Even without 97 its the Oilers. Enjoy the basement ladies and gents

    • Newbietwo

      Look mate if you have to rely on media driven announcers to try and prove your point you are already lost! Even with 97 I will take Calgary over Edmonton any day for the next five years

    • Jumping Jack Flash

      By now you have heard the oilers got trounced by Buffalo 6-2 in their own barn…. Looks like the Stanley Cup parade in Edmonton will have to wait yet again. Don’t let it interfere with your trolling.

  • Jakethesnail

    You are still trying to downplay what Edmonton has done so far?2-0 doesn’t mean much but it beats being 0-2.
    Calgary needs to take a good look at that d again. 2 games against Edmonton and people are freaking out then they let in 2 against Vancouver and all of the sudden the defense looks great?
    Most here figured Vancouver would finish last in the league. Calgary should still come around but there is still a long way to go before they are contenders which a lot of people in Calgary thought they were after getting Brouwer and Elliot.

    Things are going to get tough real quick. Check the schedule.
    You have two easier games against Carolina and Buffalo and then 12 games in a row that really should be losses.
    The bleeding needs to stop quick or the playoffs will be out of reach by mid November.

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      What has Edmonton actually done? 6 points from one player against the same team? A team in disarray to start the season. Big deal. EDM is not exactly looking like much of a team. Where is Nuge? The defense is content to surrender 30 shots per game and hope Talbot will be able to handle it. The PP has been largely useless. Sure had lots of opportunity.

      Not that I care, but Puljujarvi needs to learn the NA game. He hasn’t done much to warrant a NHL spot. Russell will be a good fit there, because he will be asked to block about 10 shots per game.

  • aflame13

    So I’m mostly a lurker and never post, but I gotta say…after reading everyone’s panicking and condemning talk recently, I’m really interested in hearing what Kent thinks of the first 3 games cause his opinion is generally well balanced.

  • Mullen7

    Is there any possibility at all of moving Wideman? I so wish we had moved him and Hudler after the playoff year while their stock was highest (like many of us suggested). How about packaging him with a semi-promising prospect like Klimchuk that may have not lost their luster to some hapless GM? NMC and retained salary obviously would come into play as well.

    • BlueMoonNigel

      The Flames have the 5th highest payroll in the NHL. Mercy!

      Canes have a huge amount of cap space. Were Tre the ninja without tap shoes, he might be able to make a sweetheart deal with them to absorb Wideman’s contract. We shall see.

  • dontcryWOLF88

    Stats fiends have such a hard time coping with the start of seasons. All the numbers are exaggerated and lead to endless misconceptions with such small sample sizes.

    Who knows what will happen. Its way to early to tell though.

    Look at the rankings for our division right now:

    SHARKS
    CANUCKS
    OILERS
    COYOTES
    DUCKS
    FLAMES
    KINGS

    Does anybody, anywhere, really think thats the way these teams will finish off after 82 games?