The biggest reason, at least for me, the start to the Flames’ season has been so awful is because it took seven games for the team I expected to see all along to show up.
They were on their game from the very beginning. They finally played like a team. The effort was there, and even in the game’s most perilous moments, it didn’t feel as though the end was nigh. They didn’t trail once. Their powerplay, defence, and goaltending all came together, for the most part.
And hopefully, this isn’t just a blip. Playing back-to-back probably isn’t going to make the next game look too pretty, but as long as this game carries over the rest of the season in general, things will be okay. You just hope their start didn’t bury them – providing that we finally, finally saw the real Flames.
Not a world beater, but at least a team that can hang with a good one.
Turns out Brian Elliott is good after all
The Flames made the right move when they acquired Brian Elliott in the offseason, because he was the best possible goalie they could have gotten, and they did it at a relatively cheap price, too.
I know, I know, one good game does not a good goalie make. Then again, three less-than-optimal games in which the entire team was playing less-than-optimal does not suddenly make a good goalie a bad one. Elliott has been, without a doubt, one of the top goalies in the NHL the past five seasons; last night, we got a firsthand look of exactly why.
Yeah, he let two goals in, the results of an awful turnover and just plain awful luck. It happens; goalies tend to get scored on, most nights. But if you were one of the people clamouring for “that big save when the team needs it”, I think this qualifies.
THA GOD pic.twitter.com/B3nDek1G8I
— FlamesNation (@FlamesNation) October 25, 2016
Even the penalty kill in overtime wasn’t as concerning as it should have been, and while the shootout was filled with pathetic attempts from just about everyone, with Elliott in net, there was no cause for worry in the slightest.
Just remember all of this in case Elliott ends up with the start today. It’s like a perfect storm: he finally comes off a fantastic game, and it’s his return to the team that traded him. Except playing goalies back-to-back isn’t a good idea, so we’ll just have to see how things go.
We need to talk about the defence
The Flames won. They even did it by limiting stupid gaffes, for the most part, Deryk Engelland’s gift that led to Chicago’s first goal aside.
Speaking of Engelland, he officially played in the top four last night, as did Dennis Wideman.
The current makeup of the Flames’ defence – saddling Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie with two defencemen let’s just say aren’t as good as them – creates the existence of a Jyrki Jokipakka – Dougie Hamilton third pairing, even though it’s very clear neither is a bottom pairing defenceman, at least not on this team.
Ideally, your better players are playing your bigger minutes. The concept of trying to offset some defencemen’s less-than-ideal abilities by playing them in the top four with the defencemen who can handle those minutes does not create an ideal situation. It’s probably not the best way to go, going forward.
The variance between Giordano and Wideman wasn’t great, but both Brodie and Engelland were remarkably better away from one another. The usual asterisk, small sample size – but in the five 5v5 minutes Brodie spent away from Engelland, he shot up from a 26.09% CF to 50.00%.
And really, there’s no reason Brett Kulak should be sat. I suspect it has something to do with whatever plan it is Glen Gulutzan has for Matthew Tkachuk, and Kulak, as another rookie, gets looped in with that, but I don’t really have anything concrete to base that off of. But a Kulak in the lineup means an Engelland or a Wideman isn’t playing 20+ minutes a game, and that’s probably more for the better.
The forwards who played the most
It’s almost criminal Johnny Gaudreau was held pointless. He had six shots on net – no one else had more than two – and looked like his old self out there, including a pretty great pass to a wide-open Giordano for what quickly led to the Flames’ second goal. This is the Gaudreau we’ve been waiting for.
We got our first real look at top line forward Alex Chiasson, a big-bodied right winger who was a potential missing piece to Gaudreau and Sean Monahan’s line. He played 17:30, the most ice time of any non-Monahan or Gaudreau forward, and while you could tell he was doing his best to keep up with the play, it wasn’t quite clicking. Maybe Kris Versteeg should get another shot there, now that things look like they’re going better?
Mikael Backlund played heavy minutes, too. Remember at the start of the season, when he wasn’t being put in place to go out against the opposition’s top lines? It looks like Glen Gulutzan heeded that concern, because he was facing the Blackhawks’ top players throughout the night, and had just 10.00% offensive zone starts at 5v5. He was put in position to have a difficult game, and he played his role to a tee.
That said, if Backlund is going to be playing minutes that difficult, it would probably be more ideal for him to not have Lance Bouma as a linemate. Backlund can handle those minutes. Michael Frolik can handle those minutes. Bouma cannot, and he probably looks more out of place than Chiasson did on his line.
The forwards who played the least
Sam Bennett played 12:57 last night. The only player who played less was Freddie Hamilton, who clocked in at 9:48.
Does anyone else feel that Bennett getting the shaft when it comes to ice time is a little… odd? He finally got his first goal of the season; would that not have been the time to keep him rolling? Five forwards spent over three minutes on the powerplay; he played 1:32.
This would be one thing if he was a Micheal Ferland-type player. And that’s not a slight on Ferland; he was right at home with his 13:39 played, and continues to look to be, at absolute worst, an extremely solid depth player. (Ferland is what Bouma should aspire to be.) But what are the expectations for Bennett this season, and how are we going to reach them? I’m not sure if getting one of the lowest ice times on the team is the answer to that second question.
For the record, Bennett’s most common opponent was Patrick Kane. They shared the ice for 6:04. Bennett was a 55.56% 5v5 CF player then. His 44.00% overall was sixth best on the Flames. He wasn’t struggling, so to see him get so little time was odd in this particular game.
The powerplay scored goals!
Two of them!
Now with three goals on 30 attempts, the Flames are tied with the Jets and Bruins for the fourth-worst powerplay in the NHL. Moving on up! Unfortunately for them, they’re moving on from the Blackhawks’ league-worst 46.1% penalty kill (the only one in the NHL below 50%, somehow), and up to the Blues’ 95.0% (second best in the league, with just one powerplay goal surrendered over six games). So… we maybe can’t expect that little burst to continue.
And the Flames needed their powerplay to win last night. They’re going to need it going forward. Until it can do better than score against a truly abhorrent kill, it’s still gotta be scrutinized.