Flames 4, Sabres 3 (OT) post-game embers: It’s coming around

It took four games for the Calgary Flames to get their first win of the season. Four games is not a very long time. Heck, there are still two teams in California that have yet to get a win; the Anaheim Ducks are up at four games and have just a loser point to show for it.

(Think the Flames win in Anaheim this year? Nov. 6 will be their first test.)

That said, something still feels… off. Maybe it’s still the new coaching change. Maybe it’s the lack of preseason time. But there are signs that things are turning around.

Fun with line combos

Remember when we decided to have some fun with line combinations just a couple of days ago? Apparently Glen Gulutzan was feeling that, too. He went from his standard lineup at the start of the game to, well, something somewhat different. And that doesn’t count the mixing and matching through the second period, either; both Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan ended up playing on Sam Bennett’s line at times.

Apparently those third period lines worked, though. So do we see more of that next game, or do we go back to the original lines to start?

Here’s the thing I see with these lines, whether it’s Alex Chiasson playing with Gaudreau and Monahan, or Matthew Tkachuk and Kris Versteeg with Matt Stajan: which one is the first line, and which one is the fourth line?

You’d think whichever line Gaudreau is on is the first line by default, and Bennett’s line rounds out the top six. That would technically make Mikael Backlund a third line centre, but he’s good enough to be considered a top six guy. And if Stajan’s line is the fourth line, does that mean Tkachuk is playing on the fourth line?

We went over this in the line combinations post: there are so many options for the Flames, and a lot of them make sense. There is absolutely nothing on the level of that Bob Hartley “experiment” from yesteryear of “put Brandon Bollig on Gaudreau’s line, for reasons.” Technically Chiasson was the fourth line right wing, but him being moved to Gaudreau’s line isn’t a cry of desperation; Chiasson has been legitimately good to start the season.

(And here’s a shoutout to Micheal Ferland in particular. Bottom three for ice time. Scored a great goal, had five shots on net, was one of the top corsi players on the team despite having some of the weakest offensive zone starts at even strength [33.33% – Tkachuk was the only one with worse at 0%, which is a whole other thing in and of itself]. Everyone who likes him is right to. Here’s to something better than a 3.3 shooting percentage this year.)

If Gulutzan ends up in a situation where he feels the need to mix and match lines, the point is, he can – and no line suffers for it.

Fun with ice time

Let’s build off of that last section. If you want to go by ice time to determine which line was which, that’s a little difficult because of all the line shuffling and special teams time. Still, it does offer a hint.

Monahan and Gaudreau were the only forwards to go over 20 minutes, so their line remains the first line. Of course, they were also the major beneficiaries of powerplay time, as was Troy Brouwer. Versteeg played 13 and a half minutes and Chiasson 12 and a half, so not much difference there once they were bumped around. 

Backlund played nearly 17 minutes, while Bennett came in at 15:11. Backlund played maybe a minute more on special teams, so these two are pretty close to a wash. You could consider Backlund’s line the second line – which would technically mean the return of Top Six Forward Lance Bouma (though he played just 11:22) – and Bennett the third line, but really, at this point, it just feels like they’re an interchangeable middle six. Although it is Backlund and Michael Frolik who have provided the bulk of the offence to start this season, and they even got to start in overtime, so maybe they are the second line right now.

That leaves Matt Stajan, who played about as much as Chiasson did. Matthew Tkachuk was the forward ice time loser, clocking in at just 10:39 – but he’s a rookie still learning how to play in this league.

While the Flames are lacking in high quality forwards, there’s something kind of beautiful about being able to shuffle lines the way Gulutzan did throughout the night.

Figuring out the defence

The defence looks to have rounded itself out as well, though there are still some problems.

Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, and Dougie Hamilton all played over 20 minutes, although a third of Hamilton’s ice time came from the powerplay, while nearly a quarter of Giordano’s did. Still – those are the two guys you most want out there, because they’re your biggest offensive weapons from the backend.

Jyrki Jokipakka was the ice time loser of the night from the defensive end, playing just under 15 minutes; then again, it wasn’t by much, considering how Brett Kulak only got about half a minute more than him. Remember how both were scratched to start the season? Yikes.

Deryk Engelland played 18:27, which seems a little high; especially considering some more noticeable flubs from him. Almost four minutes of that was on the penalty kill, though; go by just even strength ice time only, he and Kulak played nearly the same amount. Jokipakka trails behind them by a little over a minute; I’m guessing the amount of powerplay time his partner got had something to do with that.

All this said, though, the defence sill isn’t quite there. Giordano got two assists last night, but he really, really, really does not look up to speed. Last season we forgave it on him being without his usual partner, as well as coming back from a torn bicep. What’s the excuse this season? This is the first year of a six-year contract with a cap hit of $6.75 million. Unlike Gaudreau, he’s more likely to get worse as the contract goes on.

Hopefully, any worries are unfounded, but Giordano needs to get it together. Preferably sooner rather than later. Though that goes for all of the Flames’ heavy hitters – then this team’s play will probably start matching the underlying numbers.

Something doesn’t feel right

So the Flames out-corsied the Sabres 61-39 last night, 44-28 at even strength. A 61% CF is dope. It’s the stuff of dreams. If I hadn’t watched the game, I would look at those numbers and be amped; a surefire sign that the Flames are turning things around. And even though the first three games were losses, the Flames were at 51.88% CF at 5v5 during them. They were at a 95.57 PDO, too, which hints at them being unlucky; well, here’s a win to start to turn that tide.

But it still feels off. The Flames had a horrific 15 minutes to start the game; they finished the period leading the Sabres 15-6 in shots, and 26-9 in corsi. Where the heck did that come from? The Sabres went half of the second period without a single corsi event for them; one powerplay later, they’d retaken the lead.

The positive signs are there. Maybe it’s the change of systems, the lack of preseason time for some players, Monahan’s back, whatever. If this team starts putting it all together while maintaining this, then we’re all going to be really, really happy later in the season.

If this extends through a significant portion of the season, then I’m going to be really, really confused as to what’s going on.

Yeah, the Flames won, and they dominated the possession marker, and a couple of kids got their first NHL points and that was cool – but it wasn’t pretty. 

Hopefully they get there. I think they will.

The powerplay is offensive…ly bad

The Flames had five powerplays to work with last night. Six, if you count the full two-minute five-on-three! (At least before they ruined it by taking a penalty of their own.) And they did absolutely nothing with any of them. The best chance might have been a Buffalo shorty attempt. 

Could they even enter the offensive zone? Yikes.

One powerplay goal on 10 tries. The penalty kill is outscoring them.

Hopefully I can pass off the mic to Mike (heh) so he can do his awesome special team breakdown stuff sooner rather than later, time permitting. But in the meantime, I’ll tide you over with what he wrote back when Dave Cameron was first hired:

The Senators’ CF60 at 5v4 last season was 80.54, good enough for 23rd in the league. Their FF60 at 5v4?57.33, which placed them 27th overall this past season. How about SF60? Well, unfortunately for the Senators under Cameron they were last in SF60 during 5v4 with a meagre 39.85.
Nearly in every statistic on the power play there are concerns and to say that Cameron’s PP knowledge will result in shooting the puck seems comically questionable from Gulutzan. The fact stands that a team with the offensive talent they possessed scored a league-worst 38 PP goals overall doesn’t add up here.

Wow who could have possibly seen this not working out? I think a lot of people in the Flames organization deserve an “it’s just the beginning of the season” pass. I don’t know if Cameron is one of them, since he isn’t an unknown commodity here.

This might even be worse than last season, and last season was bad. Though to bring up a point from back then: two Flames forwards didn’t get a second of powerplay time. One was Bouma. The other is the team’s leading goal scorer. Has Frolik just specifically asked to not be on the man advantage, or something?

  • The GREAT WW

    How on earth did GG fail to bring in a pp specialist for an assistant coach is beyond me.

    We have the talent to make the playoffs….we don’t have the coaches to make the playoffs….

    WW

  • Tanner

    I actually think Gulutzan and Jerrard have done a pretty good job to start the season, judging by the penalty kill and 5 v 5 play respectively.. However, if the PP doesn’t turn around soon, please fire Cameron.

    • The PK has been improved, yes.

      My concern with the PP outside of Sean and Johnny not starting off great is primarily on how Cameron has them entering the zone, how they set up, and how little the puck is being moved to get the opposition’s PK moving.

      A few scenarios have crept up in the last two games:

      They exit their zone -> puck carrier does this inane drop pass to the second puck carrier who tries to rush into the offensive zone. All of which brings up two predominate issues. The first being the opposition’s PK is likely ready to suppress the zone entry against. The drop pass to the second puck carrier gives them about 0.5-1.5 seconds (rough count I did last night on one) to set up even further.

      And then all of a sudden that entry the Flames wanted is broken up and it’s a race to the puck OR it’s pushed back down the ice for a retry.

      The second scenario is when they actually get into the offensive zone or they maintain possession long enough after the faceoff. There isn’t enough cycling of the puck and a high enough pass completion rate. Often than not, the PP feels immobilized because they’re not moving enough. This is giving the PK time to suppress and apply pressure at the right moments to break up passes, exit the zone, or even get offensive zone time.

      The dilemma with this and how there was concern when he was hired – subsequently there is now more coming up – is how Cameron failed to capitalize in Ottawa with some of the talent he had.

      And that’s to say that they struggled generating shots, goals (because you need shots to get goals), and scoring chances. Nearly every statistical category last season for the Senators’ PP was among the worst or actually worst.

      I know everyone isn’t a huge fan here of expected goal models (xGF) but I’m certain the Senators had the league worst xGF60 at 5v4. Corsica is downish right now so I can’t check that.

      TL;DR – It might be early but folks who have concerns about how Cameron is handling this PP have some justifiable reasons behind it.

  • Parallex

    No, Cameron get’s the same “it’s just the beginning of the season” pass. Yeah, there’s plenty to suggest that he won’t be an effective PP coach based on prior evidence… but if we’re chaulking up Johnny and Sean’s troubles to not being quite in regular season form yet then we’re saying that the 1st Unit PP isn’t in regular season form yet… and that’s not on Cameron.

    • piscera.infada

      While I agree with all of that, their powerplay zone-entry is basically exactly what it was under Hartley (perhaps it’s the one hold-over: Gelinas?). I will say that the execution has been rough when they do get set-up–and there have been plays left to be made once they are. But the impetus with regard to the powerplay needs to be cleaner entries, with more than one player trying to gain the zone.

  • redhot1

    This would be the same situation if a team brought in Hartley and Gelinas to run their pp this season.

    Makes me sad when the org says they use Advanced Stats, but then Turk around and do the opposite. Cameron hiring, Grossman signing (if this was for cap reasons, why not sign someone better/younger?).

    But, it is early, so I’m willing to give them a while to figure it out. It’s just frustrating when teams with (much) less offensive talents somehow manage to have a way better pp.

  • Derzie

    “Something is off”. It sure is. When you look to the numbers to ask ‘why’, there is a bit of a pecking order:

    1) Win/loss

    2) Goal differential

    3) Scoring Chance differential

    4) Save/shooting percentage (without using the word ‘luck’. Stick to ‘execution’)

    5) Possession

    In the summaries, Nation writers jump #5 as the go to. What about 2 & 3? Goal differential & scoring chances are much stronger indicators to start with.

    Possession can help fill in the details but you need to look at other aspects first.

    • Scoring chance data is tricky right now. Scoring chance definitions haven’t really ever been defined properly even though WOI’s (War on Ice) tracking seemed to be pointing in a good direction.

      Since then, Corsica and NautralStatTrick have seemingly different results at times. All of which muddies this area of tracking and accuracy on analysis.

      Goal differential is a huge concern, but we’ve been fairly certain that prior to last night the Flames were suffering from semblance of PDO woes. SH% hopefully should rise a bit over the next few games. Hopefully. Please god it better. Even then, it’s a scant four games.

    • piscera.infada

      Goal differential works over a large sample size. Otherwise, it’s simply restating “win/loss”. If the Flames lose a game 2-1, we know they’ve lost, does saying they’re -1 in goal differential tell us anything more? No.

      You’re correct in scoring chance differential. There is usually a positive correlation between possession metrics and scoring chance differential. Speaking to last night, the Flames held a large edge in all scoring chances–almost 70% in high-danger scoring chances. They were not as good in that area in the first three games–although they gave up a lot in the first two and generated a fair number, and limited more in the third game, but didn’t generate as much.

      As I’ve said a number of times, and you elude to it above as well. A lot of this slow start comes down to execution, more than the blanket statement “systems”. They need to execute better regardless of whatever reasonable-sounding excuses you can think of. The players and coaches know that. Outside of that though, there have been positive indicators that they are doing things that will generate scoring chances in the long-run provided their execution improves.

    • mattyc

      I think your point is a good one, but it really depends what question you’re trying to answer. If you’re interested in describing what happened, of course W/L in that order makes sense. However, if the question is “what should I expect going forward”, countless studies have shown possession to be more predictive. In other words, if you want to know what’s will happen next, your list should be:

      1) Possession

      2) Scoring Chances

      3) Goals

      4) Win/Loss

      5) Save/Shooting %

        • mattyc

          I’d tell him that’s great. He can predict about 55% of nhl games correctly using goals and home-ice advantage. But if he uses fenwick as well, he can get to about 58%. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

          link

    • cjc

      Goal differentials and SC differentials don’t create possession (unless you’re talking score effects). It’s the other way around. If you want to understand GF and SC, you need to look at fundamentals of which possession is one.

      Luck has tonnes to do with it. Goalie catches a skate and can’t get back in position. Puck bounces in off defender’s chest. You can say “Well, we had chances but we didn’t execute”, so what is the solution? Execute better? How does one do that? Trade Gaudreau (0% shooting) for Kris Kreider (16.7% shooting)?

      The point about possession metrics is that they do a very good job of explaining longer term trends. Individual games, less so.

    • cjc

      They may be 3-0, but each win has come in OT. They haven’t actually led a game at any point yet. Luckiest luck dragons that ever lucked. Then again, Calgary rode that model to a playoff spot two years ago.

  • flames2015

    I’ve been curious as to why we haven’t seen Frolik on the pp as well. Thought it was just an Hartley thing last season. Perhaps it attributes to ice time management. I’d like to see Frolik, Backlund and Bennett given a shot together.

    We need to stop taking so many penalties, we’ve gotten atleast 6 every game. Gio, Hamilton and Benett all have over 10 PIM and al without fighting majors.

  • cjc

    In fairness to Cameron, the Sens have scored just one PPG so far (and 3 teams haven’t). 5 teams (including Buffalo) have yet to allow a power play goal.

    Throughout the NHL it has been a weird start to the season. Goals are way up – only 15 of 33 goalies who have played a game so far have Sv% north of .900, and only 8 are north of .920 (including Johnson!)

    The teams with the 3 best power plays are collectively 2-6-0 right now. The 3 teams with the worst power play % are 6-0-2.

  • everton fc

    Seems a lot of people, including the author of this thread (that’s you, Ari!) seem to think, or observe Gio is not at the speed he needs to be at to play at the level his salary dictates. Hope that made sense.

    Wild question; anyone see the Flames leaving Gio unprotected for expansion, if his speed continues to pose concerns? We do have to sign Bennett and Tkachuk (and others) down the road.

    Just tossing it out there for discussion/debate.

    • Newbietwo

      I as well have a lot of concern over keeping Giordano around.. Yes pitchfork me for saying that but I think it’s true.. I do not think he’s a $6.75 million player he is way too slow and struggling to dominate period which makes him a negative as a dominant top 15 defenceman.. I would honestly have no problem if we swapped him with Trouba or a young defender with mega upside and also have gone after Gubranson

    • knappsacked

      I dont think so. If gio is going somewhere itll be a trade. We wouldnt lose him for nothing. First round oick +top for defenceman. Guy is the soul of this team.

      • Newbietwo

        He is the wrong soul of this team! He’s two steps behind and this is three years in a row now where he specifically has trouble getting going right out of the gate! Simple fact is he the one controlling or catching up in a defensive play and the answer is clear.. Is it his hit that gets the team going… No! Offensively look at his shot decisions.. Is he a great guy yes but is he an elite player no I am sorry but I have to be honest.. I honestly don’t like our last few years because the results of those efforts came from work effort but we need to start with true skill then add work effort and systems.. Last few years have overvalued him and others on this team.. If you can look at a game and not tell the difference between a Kulak and a Giodano you tell me where’s the value

    • Ari Yanover

      I think Gio will get up to speed. Or, I mean, wow, I really hope he does. There have been too many times this season he’s been downright awful, and I don’t know if that’s just early season jitters, or age settling in.

      I’m nervous about that contract, but recognize there was really no other way for the Flames to go about it, short of trading him. That didn’t happen for the same reason he probably won’t be left unprotected for the expansion draft: emotion often trumps reason, and Gio has a tooooon of emotion attached to him.

      As for the idea of leaving him unprotected/trading him one day, I think it’s too early in the season to determine what the course of action should be. But I’m definitely concerned for when he (probably) falls off regardless – hopefully the cap will have gone up enough by then it won’t hurt too much.

      • everton fc

        Good responses, Flames fans. I see Gio maybe ending up back home, in Toronto, at some point. Or here for the balance of his career.

        I will say this; at the current moment, “as I type”, Gio is more a 3/4 d-man, than a 1/2. Brodie is a 1/2, though he’s had a slow start. Hamilton, to me, is still a 3/4. If one of the kids can step into that 1/2 role, that’d give us quite a group. Could it be Kylington, down the road?

        • Newbietwo

          The problem is your defence needs to be balanced with offensive, defensive minded and grit defenders.. Hamilton will get better he really will but if you play Hamilton with Brodie one will assume a role and take away from another.. That’s why I wanted us to go after Gurbanson for years even trading Gio for him plus a pick.. Kylington is he a two way or simply offensive defender? If Brodie had a defensive minded partner he would better develop his offensive upside but too many times he ends up being the defensive minded with his line mate..

      • cberg

        Ari, I can’t recall any moment this season when Gio has been “downright awful”. Try to avoid the exaggeration/piling on and hyperbole in your comments especially when its basically a bunch of BS, and you’ll likely end up with a lot more supporters long term. That kind of unsubstantiated hatchet job is totally uncalled for.

    • I recommend patience with Gio. Last season he started the first few weeks like he was nervous too. Who knows if it’s the captaincy or being in Norris conversations or making the most money on the team–but I think the guy tries to carry too big a load at the starts of seasons and consequently over-commits on pinches or sometimes bobbles the puck. He’ll relax and return to form before long.

  • flames2015

    From Kristen Odland’s tweet at the flames practice this morning. Gulutzan ripping the Flames right now about their entries. “You’re doing the same f#$%-ing thing in games.”

    At least hes acknowledging its a problem.

    Also, Chaisson skating on a line with Monahan/Gaudreau and swaps places with Versteeg. And Ferland ans Tkachuk swap. Good changes.

  • Arminius

    I do not believe Gio will finish his contact in Calgary. But I do expect him to bounce back this season still and for a few more.

    On the bright side his contact will be tradeable unlike Lucic’s

  • Arminius

    And how bout that win last night! 3 times coming back? Good job guys. Let’s keep it going..Lots of guys looked pretty good last night. Tkachuk doing his thing. Stajan Ferland Frolik Backlund, Johnny and Monny finally hooking up when it mattered most.

  • The Real Slim Brodie

    Do you have a defenseman that can score 21 goals and 56 points on your team? Even after a slow start last year giordano was an offensive force and an allstar player.

    • Newbietwo

      With all due respect id take a 35 to 40 point defender any day that brings more grit speed and focussed defence.. In all honestly Larsen in Edmonton will turn out being a very good thing.. For defenders I focus on speed, size and the ability to get the puck out of our zone as quickly and effectively as possible specifically off the boards.. When Giordano tries to be a two way player one ends up costing the other meaning he might score or try to score but end up with a minus 1.. Brodie however just like Kylibton if paired with true stay at home defenders can focus on the offensive that’s a game changer such as say

      Brodie / Larson or Brodie/Gubranson

  • Just.Visiting

    I’m liking what I’m seeing in Ferland so far this year. It seems like he’s playing with a bit more confidence with respect to the skill side of his game.