Blackhawks 5, Flames 1 post-game embers: A better fate deserved

The Calgary Flames dominated that game everywhere, except on the scoreboard.

Well, no, that isn’t quite right. The Flames’ so-called bottom six dominated the game. If the rest of the team had shown up with them, they maybe could have scored more than one goal. A 5-1 loss isn’t indicative of the game that was played; it’s indicative of a team that’s firing blanks, and then gave up towards the end.

You can’t win them all, even when it’s a game you deserved to. But you can certainly at least look at the persistent problems and actually do something about them.

Dominated, except where it counts

Brian Elliott should have had that first goal. He really, really should have. It happens, but that was a bad one for him to let in.

If he hadn’t let it in, then maybe things turn out different. The Flames take a 1-0 lead in the second period, but maybe they still get demoralized on the Blackhawks tying the game in the third off of a bad penalty call. Tyler Motte’s goal was awesome, and maybe it still happens anyway and ends up being the game winner. The Flames certainly pulled the plug when that one happened.

So they probably would have lost anyway. But. They had a 90.91% scoring chance differential in the first period. That’s absurd; the fact that they didn’t exit the period with a lead is comically bad luck (and good work on Corey Crawford’s part, too). It was 83.33% for high danger scoring chances. That was an astonishingly good start the team had, and it carried through until the almost end of the game.

If they can keep up that level of play, more good things will happen than bad. There was stuff to like. Unfortunately, their piss poor start to their season has left them completely out of chances if they want to play more than 82 games this year. The Flames are technically still in a playoff spot, but they’ve played more games than everyone else.

Enough is enough already

Here’s what I don’t get. This team has been big on pairings. But if Glen Gulutzan can break up one of the seemingly most obvious ones in Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie, why is it he can’t break up Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, even though we’re 11 games into the season now and they have still basically done nothing together?

Let’s rephrase that a touch – it’s Monahan who isn’t really doing anything.

Okay, so Monahan has four goals to his name; that’s more than anyone on the team other than Michael Frolik, who now has five. Monahan is tied with Matt Stajan in points. The team’s supposed first line centre has contributed as much to the scoreboard as the fourth line guy. Jyrki Jokipakka has four points, and he’s very much a bottom pairing defenceman. That’s the level Monahan is on.

But it’s not just that. How often do you see Monahan floating around aimlessly in the slot? He and Dennis Wideman were basically best friends doing that and nothing else last night. 

And come to think of it, as of late when it looks like Johnny Gaudreau is getting a chance to do something, it’s Alex Chiasson up with him more often than not. Chiasson is not a first line player, but he’s showing more than Monahan. (Just three points for him, though.) No wonder Gaudreau looks frustrated out there – in addition to the refs never calling extremely clear infractions on him, he is getting virtually no help whatsoever.

If Glen Gulutzan can hold players accountable by, say, benching Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennett for taking penalties, then where’s the accountability with Monahan? If he can break up pairings, why can’t he split the one that’s supposed to run the top line, and yet has a key member of it doing absolutely nothing? It’s painful to watch at this point, and a back injury from a month and a half ago only takes one so far – and still doesn’t explain the mindless floating.

Speaking of mindless floating

If Dennis Wideman isn’t on the powerplay, does he have any purpose?

The four forward configuration on the powerplay isn’t a bad idea, not with the firepower the Flames should have on hand. Maybe put Mark Giordano on the first unit and have T.J. Brodie play the point with Dougie Hamilton on the second, but it has the potential to work, and it gives the top three defenceman on the team the special teams time they’ve earned.

But who even knows what Wideman is doing out there? And he’s playing on the supposed top pairing? It’s long past time to end this. Get Brett Kulak out there; he’ll do far more at even strength than Wideman might even be capable of at this point in time.

With the defence, the mandate should be clear: if you’re a liability, you’re out. Wideman is a skating liability with a good shot and a ridiculous contract. And if there’s a mandate from above to play him because he’s expensive, then it’s clear the message is to play bad contracts in an attempt to justify them at the cost of a chance at winning.

In the seven 5v5 minutes Giordano was away from Wideman, his CF shot up from 33.33% to 53.85%. For that matter, in the seven 5v5 minutes Brodie was separated from Deryk Engelland, his CF went from 50.00% to 73.33%. These one-game numbers fall directly in line with what we’ve seen over the course of all of these players’ careers for years now. This honestly couldn’t be any clearer, and yet it’s a month into the season and this is still going on.

The Flames had a remarkably good defensive pairing the past three seasons and both players have been neutered by this nonsense.

Mikes and Matts are killing it

Mikael Backlund is the Flames’ best player. Michael Frolik is their second best player. There’s quite the gap after those two, but Tkachuk has turned into a very nice complimentary player on that line. I don’t know if he hits the 40 game mark that sees him reach UFA status one year earlier, but it does seem like the first year of his entry-level deal could be burnt this year.

(That may not be a bad thing, if he hits one benchmark and not the other – in 30 Thoughts [#15, #16], Elliot Friedman talked cap hits. Gaudreau is the exception to the three years thing, but he’s an exceptional player; getting Bennett and Tkachuk in at lower rates, on more bridge-like deals, wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.)

Meanwhile, Stajan has been everything you could possibly want out of a depth player. His cap hit is still too much, but you can’t be upset with his play. Micheal Ferland is also playing well alongside him, so that’s an effective pairing found right there, although it might be time to give Ferland more minutes (inexplicably, he was the only Flame to not hit the 10 minute mark in ice time).

If Monahan and Bennett are the supposed top two centres by default, then Backlund and Stajan are the bottom six, and they’re outperforming them hilariously. And credit where credit is due: Lance Bouma had a great game last night, too. (He’s still very much overpaid, but he did more than some other players with higher cap hits you could name.)

Actually, you know who are the Flames’ scoring leaders now? Gaudreau, Backlund, and Frolik, all with seven points apiece. Maybe it’s time to call Backlund’s line the first line.

Yes, the reffing was bad, but

Gaudreau getting blatantly tripped and not getting a call on it was awful. I don’t really know how anyone calls Bennett’s penalty a penalty. I’m not a Wideman conspiracy subscriber, but if that is what’s actually going on, then the officials need to grow up and do their jobs properly. Yikes.

But. I’m not going to go out and say reffing cost the game. 

Let’s put it this way: the Flames are 4-for-41 on the powerplay, or 9.8%. They’re 3-for-47 on the penalty kill, or 6.4%. The Flames are 3.4% more likely to score on their powerplay than on their penalty kill.

Wideman leads the Flames with two powerplay goals. Frolik leads the Flames with two shorthanded goals. Troy Brouwer leads the Flames with two powerplay assists. Backlund leads the Flames with two shorthanded assists.

Backlund leads the Flames with five shots on the penalty kill. Only four Flames have more shots than that on the powerplay (Wideman, Hamilton, Giordano, and Gaudreau). Backlund has played damn near identical ice times on both the powerplay and the penalty kill and he has three more shots on the kill than he does on the man advantage. Same player, and a good one at that. How does that even happen?

Like… it should matter that the Flames aren’t getting the calls they deserve, but does it really?

    • _vntony

      The sad part is you can’t say it’s not warranted.
      He’s paid like a star player but is nowhere close to playing to his potential.
      We all know what he’s capable of (making the Team NA roster is no joke).
      But no training camp or not, it’s been 11 games, countless of practices and he would not be playing if the doctors had not cleared him. How much longer can we make excuses for him?

      I 100% agree with Ari and many of the posters on here that feel the lines might need to be shuffled. Maybe separating Johnny and Monahan will work for them. But I’m not sure if Bennett with Gaudreau is the answer.
      Maybe it’s just me but Bennett hasn’t looked as fast or exciting as he did last season. Last season anytime he was on the ice he was flying. This season I feel he’s trying so hard to be responsible that it’s stifling his creativity. Haven’t seen him try his wrap arounds, or get good shots on goal (or any for that matter in the last few games)..
      Although, his possession numbers might be much better.

  • DeadRedRedemption

    Yay our bottom six have really taken to GG’s system.

    Do we even need our top six? Trade ’em for pluggers!

    That’s how a championship team is coached! Build a system in which you don’t even need superstars!

    Don’t know why all these other teams create systems around their stars. Sidney Crosby will never win a cup without coaching like ours… Oh. Wait.

    Disclaimer: that was sarcasm.

    Fire GG. Carry on.

  • brodiegio4life

    There are 3 main things keeping the flames from winning games no matter how well they play right now in my opinion:

    1.The D-pairings- Everyone knows it except for GG apparently but the d-pairings are awful and do a lot more harm than good. I get he’s trying to spread out the talent on the blueline but it comes at the cost of minimizing the affects of your best dmen. Wideman brings Gio down and Engallend brings brodie down. Not to mention burying Hamilton on the 3rd pairing reduces the positive affect Dougie can have on a game. Brodie also looks really uncomfortable playing on the left side which he has said isn’t his preferred side. With the “big 3” split up there isn’t a pairing you feel comfortable having out against the other teams top lines. Wideman or engallend will always be playing against the other teams top lines which is a recipe for disaster.

    2.Top-line struggles- The top line has been nonexistent almost every game this year and no matter how good backlund and frolik are playing they can’t carry the offense forever. Monahan clearly looks under 100% right now and Chiasson is not a top 6 player at all. Looks like johnny gets frustrated out there and tries to do it all himself and I can’t blame him. Most of the time it seems he’s the only fwd capable of doing anything out there. He always seems 4 or 5 steps ahead of both mony and chiasson(who goes offside about a million times a game).

    No explanation needed here but when your primary zone entry on the PP is the dump and chase you’re gonna have a bad time. The PP has literally been a momentum killer for the flames. 90% of their PP is spent carrying the puck between their red line and the opposing blue line and turning it over rinse repeat. Kills any momentum they have and shifts momentum to the other team.

    • Newbietwo

      Johnny isn’t trying to do it all!! In fact he barely holds onto the puck in his own zone.. he’s looking for quick passes out first.. it’s 60 percent him and 40 percent his line mates because they are nowhere to be seen because Monohan is slower than molasses these days.. that being said even with all this bad going on the absolute number one reason we are losing games is because we simply cannot win face offs especially while on the power play!!!

      • brodiegio4life

        they’re 7th in the league for faceoffs… you clearly don’t watch many games because saying faceoffs are the #1 reason they’re losing is ridiculous

        • Exactly. Rhys, formerly of Canucks Army (and now with the Florida Panthers) wrote this last season about faceoffs:

          Faceoffs aren’t unimportant, but looking solely at faceoff W/L percentages greatly obscures their effect and tends to overstate the important. You want to win a DZ faceoff because you want to prevent your opponent from scoring. You want to win an OZ faceoff because you want to score.

          The faceoff then is just a path to a desirable outcome. You only care about the faceoff’s outcome insofar as it affects what happens next. If you have a good faceoff guy that’s lousy after a DZ draw, it doesn’t matter if he’s winning at a 55% clip – he’s still lousy.

          [A] faceoff is just one fraction of the battle. It’s more useful to care about what happens in the 20 seconds after a draw than the draw itself.

          • It’s totally fine to want both. It sounds fine conceptually and it’s the desired outcome, but it doesn’t mean it will happen. Finding some sort of balance – and general acceptance that it will happen sometimes and won’t happen other times – is really what I’m getting at here.

            Faceoffs are just subject to immense confirmation biases and it’s an easy drum to beat the minute things suddenly go awry.

        • Newbietwo

          Is that so.. then howcome Monohan is at below 45 percent in o zone face offs and so is Bennet yet Backlund is at 88 percent? Appreciate your comments but even on the powerplay Monohan and Bennet who are the primary power play face off guys are around 46 percent.. now if you more than half the time lose the puck on your power play and in the o zone and then spend most of the time entering the zone on your powerplay how is that not a significant issue? Thank you! Backlund however wins face offs and if we run a 4 forward unit with him taking the face offs I believe we would have much greater success

          • brodiegio4life

            learn how to spell monahan and bennett, and yes that is so sorry to break it to you but I didn’t make up their faceoff stats they are 7th in the league. Regardless like I said before you obviously don’t watch many games if you think faceoffs are the main reason the flames are struggling.

          • Newbietwo

            Yet another angry girl without foresight.. we might be 7th in the league that does. It mean either of Bennet or Monahan are which is the point.. just because Backlund and Stajan are 80 percent in face offs.. two players that take d zone starts and not on powerplay..

  • Derzie

    It’s becoming crystal clear that coaching is the #1 issue. It’s a starless system on a team that has stars. That’s why the “bottom” lines are really the top lines. And the d-pairing approach of watering down weapons was wrong as idea in game 1 and is still wrong. I’m not pinning any of this on the players. This is a coaching problem as well as a GM problem (coach systems don’t match personnel). And I’m not one to support tinfoil hat theories but the Wideman Ref Bias seems real.

  • Jakethesnail

    Still would like to know why Frolik shouldn’t have a chance on the top line. He can skate,forcheck and score. What’s not to like?
    He is on pace for 35 goals playing on the third line if that’s what you want to call it? The guy deserves some time playing first line minutes.

    Gaudreau is on pace for 50 points and Monahan is on pace for 28.i thinks it’s time the coach shakes up his lineup.

    • Baalzamon

      Because Frolik and Monahan don’t work together. This has been proven, conclusively, several times now.

      If Frolik is playing with Gaudreau, either Bennett or Backlund has to be the center. Which begs the question of what you do with Monahan.

  • Thunder1

    It’s a loooong season, Ari. Don’t you want to save some of your hate for later?

    I watched the game. The Flames played great and they lost. They were the better team, but that’s hockey…

    Just maybe they come back from Cali on Sunday and you have to eat your drivel.

    We’ll see!

  • Greatsave

    Actually, the PP is 53% more likely to score than the PK. 9.8/6.4=1.53. 9.8-6.4=3.4 is in percentage *points*. The PP is dire but don’t make it sound inaccurately worse than it is.

  • Stan

    Other then the outcome of the game, you know what really pissed me off last night? The conduct of FN writers (among others) on Twitter who decided to shit all over Darren Haynes for an innocent comment he made about Backlund.

    Seriously. Haynes tweeted that Backlunds offensive game is rounding into form and that he’s a smart smart player and yet somehow people managed to turn this into a slight against Backlund? It was honestly laughable the amount of hate and vitriol that was thrown his way because of this tweet. He was complimenting Backlund FFS and yet somehow FN writers (and others) turned this into Darren saying that Backlund has always been terrible and is just getting good now…

    I appreciate a lot of Darren’s work and he seems to me to be a really nice and personable dude. Some professionalism and maturity would go a long way.

  • ThisBigMouthIsRight

    On Johnny Gaudreau’s lack of getting obvious calls by the “reffs” Why are the coaches & Captain Not vocally engaging the reffs and making a lot of noise? Call them out! Enough IS ENOUGH! Where is the team? why are they not stepping up if the reffs wont do their job? If someone hacks GH and no call… Drop the gloves and take ’em out! Old Time Hockey! Stand up for your star players!

    • snotss

      oh how the reffs like to punish the flames for widemans blunder last year…’s pretty clear you can see it in every marginal play..the reffs will say no no they don’t carry a grudge its all in the past…it’s very sad really…no the reffs are not the main reason this team is so inconsistent night in and night out…power play..defence pairing…lack of high end talent producing…I could go on and on.this year will be long one?????????……yikes

  • jupiter

    Those heavy shots from the half boards that miss the net, go off the end boards and out of the zone the other way, happen a lot. And they usually end up a rush the other way.

    Why does it keep happening.

  • Stan

    Other then the outcome of the game last night, the thing that aggravated me the most was the conduct of FN writers, commenters and others towards Darren Haynes on Twitter. The amount of hate and vitriol thrown Haynes way over a tweet about Backlund was honestly laughable. And the best part? He wasn’t even insulting Backlund, but was rather complimenting him by saying his offfensive game has been rounding into form and that he’s a smart, smart player. In spite of this, FN writers (and others) STILL somehow found a way to dump all over him. It almost makes me want to see what would happen if he had ACTUALLY insulted Backs (but not really, because based on the way FN writers reacted last night, apparently this would literally kill them).

    Maybe I am overreacting but it was just really disappointing to see such a lack of maturity, respect and professionalism. I like a lot of Haynes work and he seems like a stand up guy, so to see FN staff (and others) attack him for really no reason was super disappointing. Do better.

    • None of the FN staff actually took runs at Haynes. Maybe some former writers, friends of the site, and members in the Flames community did (they did) but none of the staff here did.

      Source: I live on Twitter and I watched it unfold in real time.

      • Stan

        Your probably right and I likely got mixed up between writers/former contributors/commenters, but it was still disappointing to see. It was like a pack of rabid dogs on a bone.

  • Brent G.

    They were discussing this on the Fan 960 this morning. They came to the conclusion they should recall someone from Stockton and send someone down. Put Smid on LTIR if you need to. Just do something because this is getting very painful to watch. I’d like to see them try Shinkaruk or Ferland on that top line. It’s gotta be better than AC.

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      I think they could do a few things. Send down Grossmann and Bouma. Bring up Shinkaruk and/or Mangiapane. I don’t think Bouma is providing anything other than hits. Offense is dying on his stick. He’s been respectable on the PK, but that’s not enough reason to keep him here.

      Shinkaruk or Mangiapane could provide some skill to an otherwise limp 1st line. Or you could replace Versteeg with one of them and bump Versteeg to the top line. Monahan and Chaisson are both North/South types, while J.Hockey is a bit of everything.

  • T&A4Flames

    Wow Ari, the claws are really out today on Monahan and a couple others. We out played the Hawks, we lost, it happens. We should be happy that they played well and take it as a sign that the systems are continuing to take hold in the player habits.

    Yea, we lost, it f’n sucks. The ref’ing was terrible….terrible. This always happens when CGY plays CHI. How many hacks does Johnny take. Sideman conspiracy or not, NHL, step up and take a look Be better!

    I agree with other, it may indeed be time to change things up between johnny and Mony. Hell, put Johnny with Backs and Frolik.

  • dontcryWOLF88

    Yeah, I agree with other about the reffing. Seems it’s been an issue for Flames this season. Anybody notice that penalty against the Flames for tripping Kane?….was way lighter than what happened to Gaudreau.

    Admittedly though, these sorts of things can ,at times, be a product of fan bias….but this isn’t the first time I’ve felt this way this year. And honestly I almost never bring these things up. Maybe the ref community is pissed that Wideman is still playing/ playing on the first line? I dunno.

    That game might have looked very different without the numerous questionable calls and lack of calls.When the turning point of the game is a ref s highly questionable decision, it’s at least fair to talk about. I’d love to see Mr robot gulutzun stand up for the team at those times.