It has been nine games, and the Calgary Flames already have two regulation wins to their name. That isn’t a lot, but considering how those regulation wins came in their most recent two games, it’s a marked improvement. They’re also up to a -2 in goal differential, and currently in a playoff spot, even when you go by points percentage (albeit with another three western teams tying them at .500, all in fewer games played).
But it’s only October, so it’s a little early to think about that.
Then again, considering the start this team had to the season, this couldn’t have come soon enough.
Taking advantage of an inexperienced goalie
Poor Chris Driedger.
Driedger has only really gotten to play a period here or there of NHL action over the past couple of seasons. I was hoping we would get to see him tonight, with no ill will intended towards Ottawa’s other goalies, if only because Ottawa comes here once a year, and this was Driedger’s barn for three years when he was with the Hitmen – and there was no guarantee he’d ever get to revisit his old stomping grounds.
But man, it did not work out for him. The Flames didn’t have a great game, but their goalie did, and that was all it took as time went on. Sure, their corsi rose as the game progressed, and they controlled both the second and third periods at 5v5, but their first period was pretty awful.
The biggest difference here was Brian Elliott against Driedger. Though in fairness to Driedger, the Flames still might have won had Andrew Hammond been able to play the full game; it’s just that on most nights, the odds are in the Flames’ favour when it comes to having the better goalie.
Elliott stopped 31 of 33 shots for a .939 save percentage, and neither goal was his fault. His past two games, he had save percentages of .958 and .939; his first three games, he had .778, .857, and .875. Which one do you think is the real Elliott? (It’s this one.)
The Flames don’t play back-to-back until they’re in southern California on Nov. 5 and 6. It’d make sense if that’s when we saw Chad Johnson again, with no slight to him. But Elliott definitely has the net now.
Points for everybody!
Eight out of 12 forwards found their way onto the scoresheet, with Johnny Gaudreau and Alex Chiasson getting on there twice. Half of the defence clocked in, too, with Jyrki Jokipakka and T.J. Brodie each getting an assist, and Dougie Hamilton being the star of the night with two goals and an assist. (More on that at the end.)
The youth are taking over. After a not-so-great start to the season, Gaudreau is leading the team with seven points in nine games. (Also, he’s back to being a marvel to watch; particularly on that one delayed penalty call where he ran the puck up and around the entire ice with nobody able to stop him. That was awesome.) Sam Bennett and Hamilton have tied Troy Brouwer, who went pointless, for second place with six.
Three of the Flames’ top four scorers are 23, 23, and 20 years old. That’s a pretty good feeling.
It was also nice to see Chiasson come out with a strong game, overall; both of his assists were beautiful, and it was especially great to watch him bring the puck into the zone with such speed on Sean Monahan’s goal. Is he the ideal top line winger? Probably not, but the most that can really be asked of him at this point in time is to have the exact kind of game he had last night.
Penalties for everybody?
Kris Versteeg, Matthew Tkachuk, and Bennett were the only Flames to take penalties, and thus, the only Flames who were forced to sit their asses down. Bennett, in particular; after his second penalty of the night, he wasn’t allowed back on the ice for the rest of the second period, and didn’t see game action again until 12:19 into the third, after the Flames scored to take a 5-2 lead. He had three shifts in the final frame.
Versteeg had to wait alongside him in the third, as well. Troy Brouwer got to play with Micheal Ferland and Matt Stajan in the meantime; he actually fared a bit better with them, but this was also about when the Flames had really taken control of the game.
Tkachuk wasn’t allowed on the ice for the end of the second, either, and had to wait 11:46 into the third period to step back out there. He also had just three shifts in the third.
Under Bob Hartley, the Flames were one of the least-penalized teams in the NHL. Under Glen Gulutzan, the Flames have now been shorthanded 41 times – second to only the Anaheim Ducks, albeit these are the only teams who have played nine games thus far – and have given up 11 powerplay goals, second only to the Chicago Blackhawks.
They still have a couple of things to work on. At least they’re getting points while they figure it out, but this can’t continue.
It is worth noting, however, that both Bennett and Tkachuk are expected to play an aggressive style that’s going to lend to them taking penalties every now and then. They’re also the youngest members of this team. They’ll come along.
The defence pairings, still…
Deryk Engelland is being played as a top four defenceman. He played 22:10 last night, just a couple of seconds short of Giordano and Brodie. I think just about everybody could agree Engelland is not quite on the level of those two players.
And yet, that’s what has to happen when he’s partnered with one of them.
Hamilton and Jokipakka haven’t been bad together, but Hamilton is being wasted on third pairing minutes. If there’s an insistence on playing him with somebody considered defensively responsible, then the Flames really can’t do much worse than having him partner with Brodie (it’d probably be mutually beneficial, too; Hamilton could probably bring Brodie’s offensive numbers up).
Since Hamilton joined Calgary, whenever he’s partnered with Giordano or Brodie, they bring each other up to above 50% CF. He had a noticeably good game, and he’s improving. The team would be better off with him playing bigger minutes.
In over 400 even strength minutes with Engelland, Brodie has a 38.6% CF. In roughly 170 even strength minutes with Hamilton, he’s at 51.6%. Granted, the zone starts are skewed, but if Giordano and Dennis Wideman are staying together – though Hamilton should probably take his spot on the first unit powerplay – this should be a no-brainer.
You may have heard a new goal song after Hamilton’s goals last night. It was Guns and Ships from the musical Hamilton, specifically from about a minute or so in until about 1:20. I am very much Hamiltrash – if you’re familiar with the musical, you’ve probably seen me slip in references over the course of the past year, especially when I’m writing specifically about D.Ham – and so is my good bud, Twitter user @ktcant, who was the prime force in lobbying to give Hamilton(s, if Freddie ever gets to join in) his own goal song.
What better song than one from the biggest recent hit on Broadway, during which the company is literally chanting “Hamilton!”? So… that’s what that was about.
Hopefully we get to hear it a lot throughout the year, both because the song is awesome, and it would mean a lot of Hamilton goals. Hamilton is the leading scorer on defence right now, though it did take a three-point explosion to get him there. In just 16:09 of ice time, only 38 seconds of which came on the powerplay. Imagine what he’ll be able to do when he’s eventually used. What’s he gonna do on the bench, I mean–?
(For anyone about to accuse me of aggressively playing favourites, you’re half right. Hamilton really does need to get more ice time at some point, but I can guarantee you I wouldn’t be displaying nearly this level of enthusiasm if it wasn’t for the musical. It’s alright. I’ll go back to regular throw-in references after this. I’m ridiculously hype that the goal song actually happened, though.)