Flames 3, Blackhawks 2 (SO) post-game embers: Everything that was bad became good

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.

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.

  • Just regarding Bennett, he did spent quite a bit of time in the dressing room getting looked at after that hit took by Seabrook (?). Then he came back to the bench and still looked like he was in pain.

    That could be why he had fewer minutes than expected tonight.

  • mattyc

    PSA: If you have to preface a stat with “asterisk, small sample size”, you really shouldn’t use it. 5 minutes of a stat tells you almost nothing, especially when you aren’t going to dig into the context of it. At best, it’s a *highly* unreliable measure, at worst it could be downright misleading.

    *steps off soapbox*

    • Ari Yanover

      You’re right. I should’ve also mentioned that over the past three seasons, in over 400 5v5 minutes, Brodie is a 38.4% CF with Engelland, and shoots up over 10% when he’s away from him.

      • Greatsave

        You should also mention that Engelland has a 44.3% CF away from Brodie over that time.

        A big fat asterisk is needed if we look at Brodie-Engelland’s 68.4% CF in the first 6 games (prior to our win in Chicago).

      • mattyc

        So then why focus on the 5 minutes? Cherry picking data doesn’t do anyone any good.

        If in every climate change debate I stated “it was warm today” it doesn’t actually do my argument any good, even though I’m ‘right’ that global temperatures are increasing.

        • Ari Yanover

          Because the post was specifically about the game last night? I’ve always pointed out little moments like that in these posts. The morning after stuff is for little quirks I’ve noticed throughout. This apparently wasn’t a problem over the course of the entire past year?

    • Greatsave

      *shrug* We’re two weeks into the season, every stat is going to be based on small sample sizes. Unless you’re suggesting that nobody talk about numbers, I say we just live with the context.

    • FLT

      It tells you a lot if you’re interested in understanding what happened in this one particular game.

      I read her disclaimer as a caution not to extrapolate these results beyond a single game. I don’t think she was trying to put together a big-picture prognostication as your comment seems to suggest.

      Thanks Ari, it’s good info.

  • Thatz Nuckin Futz

    Chi’Town got their 2 goals off a Derek E give away and Brodie who scored on his own net. And we clanged 2 shoot out shots off the iron. Felt like the hockey gods were toying with us.

    Overall, a good effort thru all the lines. Nobody mailed it in. Derek E is strong as an oak tree but unfortunately skates like one too. Would like to see Kulak draw in to the lineup.

    Let’s see how we do with St. Loo finite. In the last tilt the Blues activated their defense from the get go and the Flames didn’t make any adjustments. Their break outs resembled a plugged toilet for most of the night.

    Baby steps. GFG

    • Greatsave

      This might amount to blasphemy, but Brodie gives me heart attacks sometimes, coughing up pucks and getting caught out at inopportune moments.

      On the sequence in the dying seconds, he stripped the puck from Hossa along the boards, only to play it weakly off the boards to Toews. Maybe he didn’t have enough time to get it up off the glass, so it’s hard to fault him for this.

      But then he stopped and let Hossa go, and got caught in no-man’s land reaching for the puck while Toews slipped it through him back to Hossa for a 2v1 down low, forcing Elliott to come up with that spectacular save.

      Maybe I’m being too hard on him, but it just seems like every now and then he’ll cough up the puck in dangerous situations. IIRC he did a couple times in the Vancouver game too.

  • RyanCoke

    Was it just me or does chicago look like they will be going downhill from here. I mean calgary played good but chicago looked bad too. Crawford single handedly kept them in the game. Could have easily been 6-2.

    • Greatsave

      If you look at their line-up, you’ll see why. Two defencemen with zero NHL experience before this season. Two forwards with zero NHL experience before this season. One forward with 44 NHL games, another with 8.

      I get that Desjardins and van Riemsdyk are injured, but that’s still a very, very weak supporting cast.

      • Greatsave

        Having said that, I’m very surprised they decided to bring in:

        A 20-year-old D from Sweden (Forsling),

        A 26-year-old Czech D from KHL (Kempny),

        A 22-year-old 3rd-year pro F who scored 0.55PPG in AHL the last two years (Hartman),

        A 22-year-old 2nd-year pro F who only played 2 years of college (Hinostroza),

        A 21-year-old rookie F who only played 3 years of college (Motte), and

        A 20-year-old rookie F who only played 2 years of college (Schmaltz).

        Meanwhile, 22-year-old Pokka (2 years of AHL experience), 24-year-old Gustafsson (41 games with Hawks last year), 23-year-old McNeill (3 years of AHL experience, former 1st-round pick), and 24-year-old Carrick (5th-year pro) all failed to make the team.

        • McRib

          Like us with a new coach, It’s still very early on in the season to write off such an overhauled roster, as familiarity with one another grows Chicago could still turn a corner, although I think everyone agrees they aren’t the class of the West anymore (Cap Hell is a bugger).

          I wonder if Toews or Kane will look back in four or five years and regret taking such large contracts (likely not, three cups is enough for most), as we know Hockey is a “low impact” sport (whereas Basketball is high impact), which means just having a couple elite players doesn’t have as large of an impact as other sports, depth is everything (see Wideman, Engelland, Bouma, Bollig, etc dragging us down last couple years).

          Preseason being shortened this year (also with players away at the World Cup) has had a larger impact than most were anticipating I think. It will be interesting to see if the Montreals, Edmontons stay “legit” when other more star laden clubs start to figure it out in the coming months, I was reading an article last night after the game that says Toews has basically been indivisible so far this year.

          • Greatsave

            Not writing them off by any means. Merely pointing out that a) they’re becoming increasingly top-heavy thanks to their cap management, and b) surprised that a number of long-time prospects were cut in favour of even less-experienced ones. The lack of experience, I think, explains their poor start (if 3-3-1 can be called a poor start; their PK certainly needs sorting out). I do expect them to improve as the weeks go by.

            On your points:

            Montreal and Edmonton are riding extremely high PDOs (107.62 and 104.75 respectively, in all situations), so no, I don’t believe they’ll “stay legit”. Only one team since 2007 has stayed above 103.0 over 82 games, so these two have to come down at some point.

            And if you’re saying Toews has been *invisible* so far, his basic stats seem to agree: no goals, 2 assists in 7 games. If you’re saying he’s been *indivisible*, I’m sure that, yes, Chicago would like a Toews on every line too. But also note that he has had new linemates this season. He has played only 20% of his 5v5 minutes with Hossa this season, compared to over 66% from 2013-16.

  • jakethesnail

    Both Montreal and Edmonton are one injury away (Price and McDavid) from turning a good season into a disaster!

    As far as Chicago with Joel Quenville as coach they will figure it out before the playoffs…