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?