Upon returning home from a two-game road trip that saw the Flames perform well for the first time this season, they extended their winning streak by laying five goals on the opposing team, including four on a rookie goaltender.
Sometimes, that’s just the luck of the draw. And had the Flames had the chance to face an inexperienced goalie last night, maybe one of their handful of chances throughout the games would have gone in.
Not quite the case against Braden Holtby. Brian Elliott did his best to match, and indeed, played a big part in keeping the game within reach.
But it wasn’t to be. And, turns out, the Flames aren’t there quite yet.
Just one period of scoring
Losing a man two minutes in and then giving a powerplay that features Alex Ovechkin as a weapon a choice to double the lead just a couple of minutes later probably wasn’t conducive to a strong start. This was a winnable game for the Flames, but taking that much air out of the building that early on didn’t help matters.
The Capitals’ first goal was preventable; the second one was probably going in no matter what. Unfortunately, that was the difference between getting at least a loser point out of overtime, and a regulation loss.
Scoring only once, then failing to capitalize on the few chances generated in the 45-ish minutes that followed didn’t help matters. The Flames actually directed fewer pucks on net in the second and third periods than they did in the first, even though they were down by just one at that point, and had nothing to do but get one more goal to tie it up.
The two later frames were much more low-event than the fist. The Capitals have a good excuse for that: they got an early lead, and were a team on the road playing their second of a back-to-back. While the Flames didn’t appear as bad as they were to start the season, though, they still needed to do a little more.
The Mikael Backlund show
Mikael Backlund’s stat line of the night: 16:01 played (17 seconds shy of Sean Monahan’s time), one goal, six shots on net, and all while facing off against Alex Ovechkin.
Remember when Glen Gulutzan started the season not utilizing Backlund as his shutdown guy? We’re one month in, and that lesson has been very much learned. These are the types of opponents and games Backlund was made for: he’s not going to be an offensive force, but he’s going to contribute on both sides of the puck, regardless.
Though Backlund and Michael Frolik also had the best chances to tie the game up, including a just-missed pass in the third. Had they gotten that second goal, they would have tied Johnny Gaudreau for the team scoring lead.
Does Matthew Tkachuk stay?
Matthew Tkachuk has never looked more like he belonged than when he ended up on Backlund’s line. Sure, in preseason he looked good with Sam Bennett and Troy Brouwer; during regular competition, he’s been the best linemate Backlund and Frolik have played with. And considering how few offensive zone starts they get – Tkachuk had even fewer than his linemates – and the quality of competition expected to go up against Backlund, that’s a real testament to Tkachuk’s current abilities.
Tkachuk did get the shaft in ice time, as he played just 10:58 – 1:10 more than Lance Bouma, and that was it. It should be noted that Tkachuk hasn’t gotten any really big minutes through his eight games so far; twice he’s hit a little over 13 and a half minutes, and that’s been it.
Still, he has four points in eight games. And that’s as a learning rookie who has only just recently been put on the exact line combination he needs to succeed. And it’s not as though he’s being fed easy situations; while Backlund and Frolik can handle top six minutes against top-tier opponents, Tkachuk isn’t there yet. Taking everything into account, he’s doing rather well, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him stick around if his current circumstances persist.
Besides, he was a part of his line’s scoring chance generation, too.
The continuing defence shenanigans
The Flames had even ice time, for the most part, from their blueline. Three defencemen played over 20 minutes; the other three were no more than 2:16 away from that marker. (That would be Deryk Engelland who clocked in at the lowest time.)
Given such an even approach, it would appear Gulutzan has finally nailed the purpose of his defence pairings. His weaker defencemen didn’t receive additional ice time at the expense of, namely, Dougie Hamilton – not as drastically this game as it has been since these configurations first stuck, at least.
However, this still provides little excuse as to how the stronger defencemen ended up with such even ice times. Just because Mark Giordano and Dennis Wideman are partners at even strength doesn’t mean they should be point men on the same powerplay, particularly not with Hamilton’s availability. It shouldn’t come as a pleasant surprise to see T.J. Brodie with Giordano or Hamilton at the end of the game when the team is most desperate to tie it up – it should be expected, and more frequently than that (they’re called special teams, after all. There’s no problem in playing Brouwer with Monahan and Gaudreau on the man advantage, even though they’re not a line at even strength, but the defence can’t be broken up?).
Though Giordano didn’t work out at the end and was a catalyst for Washington’s empty netter, I still take Giordano and Brodie out there in that situation every single time. Quite frankly, they have a better chance of success than any other combination possible.
For what it’s worth, by my eye, Brodie played a solid game, too. His 56.52% CF at 5v5 would seem to agree with that; only Backlund’s line performed better by that metric.
Is it just me, or…
Does it feel like nobody else can really keep up with Gaudreau? Or at least, not the players he’s playing with on a regular basis?
Gaudreau is the one creating offensive chances out of nowhere; he had a golden setup he and Alex Chiasson just missed connecting on. He’s apparently the only one that can enter the offensive zone on the powerplay, in which the solution seems to be “just give it to Johnny and he’ll do his thing and we can come in after.”
It’s not that Gaudreau can’t do a hell of a lot by himself – it’s that his team would be better served when he ends up playing a regular shift alongside someone who thinks and sees the game on his level. Maybe it’s the lack of preseason, maybe it was just this game, but it feels as though that’s been hard to come by thus far.