In three of six games now, the Flames have scored four goals. They have won just one of those games, and the win came in overtime. They’re averaging three goals a game, which is good for middle of the pack in the NHL right now. When you’re scoring that often, you should have more than one win.
But they’re also giving up 4.33 goals against per game. The only team that’s doing worse? The Arizona Coyotes. (Coincidentally, the Coyotes are the only team lower than the Flames in the standings, too, though they’ve played two fewer games, so give it time.)
And it turns out that even Chad Johnson, in a good game, is vulnerable to it, too.
It’s both everybody and nobody’s fault. Though that kind of seems to be the theme this year, isn’t it? It’s the one thing that’s been consistent so far.
What’s a lead?
The Flames took the lead early in the second period when Kris Versteeg and Micheal Ferland both scored in 35 quick seconds. The Flames led the game for all of three and a half minutes, until a defensive breakdown allowed David Perron to get multiple whacks at the puck before getting his second goal of the night and tying it up at two.
Three and a half minutes. That’s how long the Flames led in this game. Sure, you can point to a valiant effort in the third period – and we will get to that in a second – but if you’re always chasing, you aren’t going to be doing a whole lot of winning.
And the Flames are always chasing. Through six games this season, they have led for 67:38. If you only count goals that they, themselves, have actually scored – so no charming Vancouver Canucks own-goals in here – they have led for 23:43.
The Flames have 18 goals to their name so far. None of them are insurance goals; they’ve never led by more than one. Five of their 18 goals (well, four; one of them was Loui Eriksson’s) have been to take the lead. The other 13 have been trying to tie it up.
Almost every time the Flames show a glimmer of hope – Mark Giordano and Versteeg being the latest embodiments of it – they’re still down.
What about that comeback?
The third period was easily the best effort the Flames put in the game. The Blues dominated the first period, as their 71.88% 5v5 CF would attest to; things evened out a bit more in the second, though.
But the third? The Flames had themselves a 60.71% 5v5 CF frame, plus those two goals to get them back into it. Though being down 4-2 to start – and then going down 5-2 – probably had a hand in that.
The Flames were lucky to get as far as they did, though. Ferland’s goal, in particular, absolutely should not have gone in. Fact of the matter is, though, the Blues had no need to dominate the third period. And they’re a good enough team that, when trouble started brewing for them, they were able to shut things right back down.
They were also smart enough to take a penalty to immediately extinguish the Flames’ comeback. Touche, Blues.
What’s to be done?
Tighten up the defence, for one thing.
This can’t all be blamed on Brian Elliott. He was very much not playing tonight, so that is certain. (It can’t all be blamed on Giordano, either, much as he – at least somewhat deservedly – tried to throw himself under the bus following the game.) But the general consensus of Johnson has been, in his appearances, he’s been capable and encouraging enough. He gave up five goals, anyway, including two on the powerplay, a rifle that could not have been stopped, a breakaway the result of a stupid giveaway, and just allowing Perron too many chances.
In this particular loss, Natural Stat Trick registers the Flames as having gotten a grand total of three high danger chances at even strength. The Blues had 16. How do you compete with that? Probably by making Johnson’s life easier. And Elliott’s, too, for that matter.
A 5v5, the Flames have given up 58 high danger chances through the season. Change that to all strengths, and they’ve given up 79. The only team that’s been worse is Chicago, who have given up 59 HDC at even strength, and 82 overall. (Oh, hey there, next opponent.)
The Flames need to tighten up. Elliott and Johnson were the best possible goaltending switchover the Flames could have asked for this past offseason. I doubt any other pair of goalies would be faring much better under this right now.
Is there a fix?
If there’s any fix to be found at all, it’s going to be the Flames sticking with what they have, except maybe minus Dave Cameron.
When the entire team fails on this level, it’s easy to point to coaching. Heck, I’ve been happy enough to do it; it’s one of many things not up to snuff. But there’s no easy solution here.
Say the Flames give up on Glen Gulutzan right now. Right this second. Who’s the new head coach? The season’s only just started; everyone’s in place for the time being. Out of all the possible candidates we looked at early in the offseason, basically none of those guys are available now. We’d be looking at a John Tortorella kind of hire; the Blue Jackets brought him on board a year ago almost to the day. Or someone already with the organization, like Ryan Huska.
The time to decide on a coach was in the offseason. The Flames decided on one. We’ll see how long this lasts for, but the replacement probably isn’t going to be optimal – not for this season.
For real, though, what about the powerplay?
Yeah a drastic change has to be made here though. The powerplay is where the Flames go to die. It’s where hopes and dreams go to die. The blue line is littered with the skeletons of failed zone entires, their bones piling on top of one another, just making it harder to one day maybe enter the offensive zone and get an actual setup going. I don’t know where this metaphor is going.
The Flames are middle of the pack in scoring and that’s with a powerplay success rate of 4%. If they had something competent they would probably be in the top 10. As garbage as the defence has been and as few stops as they’re getting when things really matter, a competent powerplay probably has the team at at least a .500 record.
They’re 1-4-1. They close out this month against Chicago, St. Louis, Ottawa, and Washington. Unless they tighten up immediately and fix the powerplay just as quick, they’ll probably finish October well under .500.