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?